Unbeaten in four consecutive fights against the best of the bantamweight division and with no significant fight looming for him at 118 pounds, Abner Mares has vacated his world title and plans to move up to the junior featherweight division.
Mares decided to move up rather than face obscure IBF mandatory challenger Vusi Malinga of South Africa in a fight American television networks Showtime and HBO had no interest in.
"The whole team came to a decision to give up the title when we sat down and talked with Richard (Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions) and the staff," Mares told ESPN.com on Wednesday. "The IBF ordered the mandatory against Malinga and the team asked me, 'What do you think?' We knew TV didn't want the fight because the guy is not known and I didn't really want to go back fighting on a smaller show.
"I'm in a great position and I want to continue to fight the best. So no disrespect to Malinga, but I just feel there's more fights at 122 pounds, and I am struggling to make 118 anyway, so why not move up to 122 and fight the best up there?"
"(The IBF was) forcing the South African guy and there was no interest here in the fight," Schaefer said. "The money is not there. You have to decide if you want to go for the title or the money. Abner has a big name and a good following and we have Televisa in Mexico interested in him and Showtime.
"Every fighter wants to have a belt and be called a world champion, but they have to make a living as well, and that was important to him -- to do a fight commercially more viable than fighting a South African mandatory."
Mares is scheduled to return April 21 on Showtime in a fight that is supposed to take place in Mexico City. Although Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs) grew up in Southern California and lives in Lakewood, Calif., he was born in Mexico and has wanted to fight there.
"I'm really excited and thrilled that I can fight in Mexico City," Mares said, adding that he would head to Mexico in the next week or so to train there in order to get used to the altitude. "What I told (manager Frank) Espinoza and my team is that even though I can make 118, I would rather have this April 21 fight be my debut at 122."
Other than not facing Nonito Donaire -- a fight made impossible to put together because of the reluctance of Golden Boy and Donaire promoter Top Rank to work together -- Mares fought the best the bantamweight division had to offer over a four-fight stretch in 2010 and 2011.
He fought to a debatable majority draw challenging then-titlist Yonnhy Perez for his belt in May 2010 and then went into Showtime's four-man bantamweight tournament, which he won.
He took a bloody split decision in the December 2010 semifinals against Vic Darchinyan in a fight in which they were both knocked down. Then Mares claimed a world title by winning a majority decision against Joseph Agbeko in August. The result was controversial and a rematch was ordered by the IBF. In the Dec. 3 sequel, Mares defeated Agbeko again, this time on a lopsided decision to retain the belt.
Now he is giving it up for a new weight class.
"I think it's just the way the business goes," Mares said. "I did fight the best at 118. I fought four tough opponents back to back and I don't think anyone could take that away from me. It's the right decision to fight at 122 now."
Mares, 26, fought his first eight pro fights in the junior featherweight before dropping down to bantamweight, so the adjustment to returning to the weight class should not be an issue.
"I have no problem moving up and fighting the best fighters at 122," he said. "This is the best decision we could have made. There's no use for us to fight at 118 for this next fight. I don't want to struggle making 118 anymore. Why kill myself to make 118?"
Mares does not yet have an opponent for the April 21 bout but he said Golden Boy has brought up three names: former flyweight and interim bantamweight titlist Eric Morel (46-2, 33 KOs) of Puerto Rico; former junior bantamweight champion Cristian Mijares (44-6-2, 20 KOs) of Mexico, who has been fighting at junior featherweight; and junior featherweight contender Victor Terrazas (32-2-1, 18 KOs) of Mexico, who is coming off an upset decision win against former bantamweight champion Fernando Montiel in November.
Schaefer said Mares probably would face Morel.
"It will be a classic Mexico versus Puerto Rico rivalry fight and it's a fight that means more to Abner than fighting the South African," Schaefer said.
Malinga (20-3-1, 12 KOs) is now expected to face the Philippines' A.J. Banal (26-1-1, 19 KOs) for the vacant title. In his only previous world title fight, Malinga was knocked out in the first round challenging Japan's Hozumi Hasegawa for a version of the bantamweight title in March 2009.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com.