- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Junior featherweight titlist Abner Mares, unable to make the fight he really wants -- a unification bout with Nonito Donaire -- is vacating his world title and moving up to the featherweight division.
"Moving up to featherweight was already in our plans even before this Donaire situation," Mares told ESPN.com on Thursday. "We wanted to fight Donaire and we did whatever was possible in our power to make that fight. That is the fight that I wanted. That is the fight the fans wanted. It didn't happen.
"There needs to be a reason to stay at 122 (pounds). I don't make 122 easily. So I have the chance to move up to 126. I have accomplished a lot already, so I said let's give this a try and conquer another weight class."
Mares had been hoping to face Donaire in his next fight, one of the most hyped potential bouts in boxing. However, Donaire and his promoter, Top Rank, rejected a $3 million offer -- likely a world-record amount for one side of a junior featherweight fight -- from archrival Golden Boy, Mares' promoter, this week. Golden Boy made the offer in a detailed 13-page contract proposal for the fight to take place no later than June 30.
"The ball was thrown to Donaire and Top Rank and they didn't want to take the fight," Mares said. "It was a very good offer. They could have thrown a counteroffer but they never did. That says a lot."
Instead, Donaire is headed to an April 13 HBO fight, likely against fellow 122-pound titleholder Guillermo Rigondeaux, who is also with Top Rank.
That left Mares (25-0-1, 13 KOs), 27, to make a mandatory defense against Mexico's little-known Victor Terrazas (36-2-1, 21 KOs), 29, after the WBC scheduled a purse bid for Friday. Terrazas is on a 10-fight winning streak since suffering a ninth-round knockout loss to Rendall Munroe in a title eliminator in April 2010. During his winning streak, Terrazas outpointed former bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel in 2011 for his biggest victory.
However, a Mares-Terrazas fight would likely not attract much attention nor would it generate a substantial purse, leaving Mares, also a former bantamweight titleholder, to look for a bigger fight in a heavier weight class.
"Terrazas needs me more than I need him," Mares said. "If I fought him and won the fight, everyone would say 'Who is Terrazas?' I don't need that fight or to do a mandatory. I paid my dues. There's no better time to move up to featherweight. My goal is to become champion again in that weight class."
Frank Espinoza, Mares' manager, told ESPN.com that he was disappointed that the fight with Donaire did not come through but that even without it, he would keep Mares' career moving forward.
"We were looking to fight Donaire but that fight didn't develop so we are moving on," Espinoza said. "Abner is giving up his title and we'll start entertaining the 126-pound division. We look forward to him going up to challenge the fighters in the division."
One possible opponent down the road could be titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon, whom Espinoza also manages. Ponce De Leon and Mares are also both promoted by Golden Boy, making it a relatively easy deal to make. Mexico's Ponce De Leon (44-4, 35 KOs) makes his first title defense against Jayson Velez (20-0, 15 KOs) of Puerto Rico on March 2 in New York on Showtime, the network that has been showing Mares' fights for years.
Before any title bout, Espinoza said Mares likely would fight in April.
"We'll get Abner a tune-up fight and sit down with Golden Boy and discuss the future," Espinoza said. "He had been wanting to move up but he was willing to still fight at 122 if the Donaire fight would have happened. But since it didn't happen, he wanted to move up and try to become a three-division world champion."
In 2011, Mares won Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament and a world title against Joseph Agbeko. Mares defended the title once in a rematch with Agbeko and then moved up to junior featherweight in 2012. He easily outpointed former flyweight titlist Eric Morel in April to win a vacant belt and then made one defense, a similarly lopsided decision win against Anselmo Moreno, a bantamweight titleholder who moved up in weight to challenge Mares, in November.
Although he is moving up in weight, Mares said he is not closing the door on a Donaire fight for good.
"I want to say that I am still open to fighting at 122 to make the fight with Donaire," Mares said. "I know Top Rank said after his fight is done on April 13 that they are willing to negotiate. I hope that's the case. If it is, and they want to do the fight at 122, I am more than open to it. Or we can do it at 126. Either way.
"I'm not saying Nonito is afraid of me. He's not. He's a fighter, but sometimes business makes it tough. If Nonito doesn't wind up fighting Rigondeaux I want people to know that I am willing to fight Rigondeaux also."