Abner Mares would have preferred to be at Tuesday's news conference in Los Angeles hyping up a much-anticipated rematch with fellow featherweight titleholder Leo Santa Cruz. Instead, Mares had to settle for a newss conference to get the promotion rolling for the card they will share, in separate defenses, on Oct. 14.
Santa Cruz, who holds a top tier belt, and Mares, who holds a secondary title, were supposed to face each other in a rematch on Oct. 7 on Showtime in a major fight at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Instead they will appear on a Premier Boxing Champions card at the StubHub Center in Carson, California (Fox/Fox Deportes, 7:30 p.m. ET), where Santa Cruz will defend his 126-pound belt in the main event against Chris Avalos, and Mares will face a decidedly tougher opponent in Andres Gutierrez in the co-feature.
The reason for the change of plans was not because of Mares. He wanted the rematch badly to avenge a loss he suffered in August 2015, when Santa Cruz (33-1-1, 18 KOs) outpointed him (30-2-1, 15 KOs) by majority decision.
They went on to have other bouts, but when Mares won the secondary belt from Jesus Cuellar by hard-fought decision in December, he became Santa Cruz's mandatory challenger.
Although Mares has not fought since, he was ready to jump back in the ring with Santa Cruz without the benefit of a tune-up fight to shake off the rust of a 10-month layoff. He was not pleased when he learned that he would have to fight at least once more before he got his rematch -- and that is only as long as they both keep their belts.
"Yeah, I am a little disappointed because for a second there I thought everything was 100 percent confirmed (for the rematch) and I was excited to face him again, but it happens," Mares told ESPN in Las Vegas during the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor fight week.
Santa Cruz, who regained his belt from Carl Frampton by majority decision in their January rematch, had other ideas about the timing of the sequel.
Although his layoff has been shorter than Mares' he wanted another fight before facing his rival again. Showtime wasn't interested in a doubleheader of the two in lesser fights, so the card was shifted to another date and a smaller venue on their manager Al Haymon's PBC card.
"Hopefully, I can come out victorious and then face all of the big names. I want to rematch Mares and Carl Frampton, then unify the division," Santa Cruz said at the news conference. "I'm going to be ready to face anyone. Some fighters, when they take long layoffs, feel a little bit rusty. I wanted to get in there and test my body and see how I feel heading into the bigger fights in the future."
The 31-year-old Mares, who like Santa Cruz, 29, has won world titles in three divisions, took the change of plans in stride.
Gutierrez (35-1-1, 25 KOs), 24, of Mexico, is a dangerous opponent and Mares said he will treat him like that. Gutierrez was supposed to face Frampton on July 29 in Frampton's first fight since the rematch loss to Santa Cruz. However, he fell in the shower the day before the fight, broke his nose, lost two teeth and cut his chin.
"Andres Gutierrez is a tough fighter and he's only got one defeat. He's no tune-up fight," Mares said. "He's going to give me a good fight. I'm going to learn a lot and try to make the best of it and put on the best performance that I can. Gutierrez is no easy test, but he doesn't have the talent that I have. He doesn't have the heart that I have. He doesn't have the corner that I have. I'm going to come out victorious and give the fans a good fight.
"Leo and I have two tough opponents in front of us. My opponent was ready to fight Carl Frampton. I've been training hard for this fight because we all know that young fighters like Gutierrez are warriors."
Santa Cruz does not figure to have many problems with Avalos (27-5, 20 KOs), 27, of Lancaster, California. He is just 2-3 in his last five bouts and has been knocked out inside six rounds in the three losses, including by Frampton in a junior featherweight world title bout and by Oscar Valdez, who went on to win a featherweight world title. Since moving up to featherweight in 2015, Avalos is 2-2.
Still, Santa Cruz claimed he would not look past him to the rematch with Mares.
"Chris Avalos is a tough fighter. He has 20 knockouts, so I'm not going to underestimate him," Santa Cruz said. "Up there in the ring anything can happen. I'm going to be smart, be patient and do what I have to do to win the fight. I've known Avalos since the amateurs. I beat him the one time we fought but it was a really good, close fight. We went toe-to-toe. He definitely thought he had won the fight. They've wanted a rematch since the amateurs.
"A lot of people think this will be easy for me, but I don't see it that way. I've been in there with him so I know. I'll never underestimate an opponent. Anyone who gets in that ring with me is dangerous. Avalos has good power that I have to be prepared for. I'm really focused on beating him. We both like to come forward so I'm thinking it's going to be a war."
If he wins, Santa Cruz said he will then be ready to fight Mares again.
"If I can get the win, I'm going to rematch Abner Mares," he said. "It was a really close fight the first time and I think the fans will really enjoy the rematch."