In fact, the result reduced Donaire’s incentives for moving from 122 pounds to 126 before 2014.
Gonzales, 31, took the WBC featherweight title in Carson, Calif., by surprising Mares with a left hook that knocked him down and following with a barrage that put Mares down a second time and ended the fight at 2 minutes, 55 seconds. Mares said he could have continued, but “the ref (Jack Reiss) did his job. He felt I wasn’t ready, and I respect that.”
It was the 47th knockout for Gonzalez (55-8), who also has beaten Fernando Montiel, Hozumi Hasegawa and Roger Mtagwa but had lost to Toshiaki Nishioka (whom Donaire defeated last October), Gerry Peñalosa, Israel Vazquez and, in his last fight, Daniel Ponce de Leon, from whom Mares then won the title.
“Only my corner believed I could win this fight,” said Gonzalez, who is trained by Nacho Beristain.
Mares (26-1-1), promoted by Golden Boy, was a recent addition to the featherweight ranks, having relinquished the WBC’s 122-pound belt (which had been stripped from Nishioka) and then failing to line up a showdown fight with Top Rank’s Donaire. Donaire fought Guillermo Rigondeaux last April instead and lost.
That defeat has knocked Donaire out of The Ring magazine’s top 10 pound-for-pound (Golden Boy owns the magazine) and helped Mares reach the No. 5 spot despite his never having done anything that would suggest superiority over Donaire.
The fact that a left hook, Donaire’s specialty, felled Mares underscores that emphatically. It’s doubtful Donaire would beat Mares in one round, because Abner wouldn’t be so careless against Nonito, but Mares would have to be the aggressor against the taller Bay Area fighter and would be vulnerable to the fabled counter left hook.
Saturday’s upset leaves the featherweight ranks a shambles. Gonzalez’s win will be seen as a fluke by many. The division’s true kingpin, Mikey Garcia, failed to make weight in his last bout and surely must graduate to 130. Unbeaten WBA champion Chris John, 33, hasn’t fought anyone of consequence in years. Little-known IBF champion Evgeny Gradovich, who sparred with Donaire before the Nishioka fight, lacks marquee appeal. The WBO title is vacant. Former champions Juan Manuel Lopez and Salido have been beaten too badly too recently to be viable.
Mares’ best bet is probably a rematch with Gonzalez, and he won’t be discouraged by his first defeat. “I’m not letting it get to me,” Mares said. “You learn how to win. You’ve got to learn how to lose, too.
That’s Donaire’s attitude, too, but lost stature is lost stature. Defeating Mares impressively no longer would restore his pre-Rigondeaux regard in one night.
The only way to do that is to beat Rigondeaux. Donaire is tentatively scheduled to fight Nov. 16, his 31st birthday, in San Antonio against an opponent (and in a weight class) still to be determined. Maybe he needs a tune-up before he chases down Rigondeaux, but chase the Cuban southpaw down he must.