L.A. Golden Boy boxer Abner Mares ready for title shot

Aug 13 2011 - 4:17pm

LOS ANGELES -- From the time Oscar De La Hoya saw Abner Mares box for Mexico in the 2004 Olympics, he was sold on the kid's potential.

On Saturday Mares aims to fulfill the hopes by becoming the first homegrown product of De La Hoya's Los Angeles-based Golden Boy Promotions to become a world champion.

Mares (21-0-1, 13 knockouts) will fight International Boxing Federation bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) in the finale of Showtime's four-fighter bantamweight tournament at Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

"This will be a special moment for me," De La Hoya posted on Twitter this week. "It's like planting an orange tree when I first started Golden Boy, and now we will witness the first orange growing."

Mares, 25, has traveled a traumatic road to get to this title bout. He was brought to America as a child by his Mexican mother and grew up in harsh poverty in Hawaiian Gardens. While growing up Mares avoided the lure of street violence that ensnared one of his brothers, who is now incarcerated. He made it to the Olympics but was eliminated in 2004.

After turning pro, he also endured a career-threatening detached retina in 2008.

In April, Mares' title shot against Agbeko was delayed when the fighter from Ghana suffered a debilitating case of sciatica, collapsing after arriving in Los Angeles on a flight from New York.

"It was a roller coaster," Mares said after defeating hard-hitting Vic Darchinyan by decision in the tournament semifinal. "After seeing (Agbeko) limping with the cane, I just took a little vacation, and now I've been training for about seven weeks. If anything, it gave me more time to study Agbeko.

"I don't like to look at a lot of tapes, but I've seen everything I need to see and I brought in sparring partners to show me any possible (Agbeko) style."

Agbeko won the IBF bantamweight title in 2007, lost it to Yonnhy Perez in 2009 and won it back last December in a decision over Perez.

De La Hoya's business partner, Golden Boy's Chief Executive Richard Schaefer, said he's long anticipated the final championship step by one of Golden Boy's prospects.

The company started in 2005 and added a slew of veterans, including De La Hoya, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins and Juan Manuel Marquez, while complementing the big-money fighters with youngsters such as Mares. Golden Boy now has a stable of 70 fighters.

"I was new to boxing when we were ready to sign him, and I remember being so impressed when (Golden Boy staff) told me Mares was so big in Mexico, his face was on milk bottles there," Schaefer said. "After the Olympics, I was totally blown away when he showed up at our office and gave me one of those bottles. I still have it in my office.

"I was just very impressed with him -- a clean-cut, bilingual, good, nice guy. I related to him right away, and I'm so happy he's at this point now -- for him and his family."

Mares weighed in at 11.5 pounds Friday, and Agbeko was at the bantamweight limit of 118.

Mares said he plans to use Saturday's purse money on a new home with his wife.

"This one is a fight for the whole team," Mares said. "I just need to be smart, not lose my head. Once I define Agbeko and see if he's going to trade punches or box ... if I can figure him out quick, that's the key, along with my body work.

"I'm going to leave everything in the ring. I've gone through so much, there's no way I can lose this fight."

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