Unbeatens to square off on May 22

When Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez meet May 22 in the fourth chapter of their storied rivalry, expectations are high for yet another exciting fight. But the Yonnhy Perez-Abner Mares undercard, too, also could provide an all-action slugfest.

Perez (20-0, 14 KOs), who won a bantamweight belt by outpointing Joseph Agbeko in a brutal October fight on Showtime, returns to the network to make his first defense against Mares (19-0, 12 KOs), a 2004 Mexican Olympian and one of Golden Boy Promotions' rising contenders.

The unbeatens are scheduled to meet at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where Mares lives, and not far from Santa Fe Springs, Calif., where Colombia's Perez, 31, is based.

Perez-Mares will open the telecast headlined by Vazquez and Marquez, who waged three epic junior featherweight fights -- Vazquez leads 2-1 -- and will meet at featherweight. Their second (2007) and third ('08) bouts were named fights of the year by a variety of outlets, including ESPN.com. The reason the first fight didn't claim the award was because it also took place in 2007.

Perez-Mares looms as a competitive fight as well that promises plenty of action.

"I think it's a great opening fight for that main event and the right fight for that arena," said Gary Shaw, Perez's co-promoter. "I think it's a 50-50 fight."

Shaw said he could have matched Perez with an easier opponent, but there was no point.

"I believe if you're going to preach and talk about doing what's best for boxing, then you have to do what's right," Shaw said. "Yonnhy has an optional defense and I could have put him in easier [company], but what does that do for him or for boxing? If Yonnhy loses and it's a great fight, which I expect it to be, he's still very viable. If he wins, he's bigger."

Frank Espinoza, Mares' manager, told ESPN.com that their side has agreed to the fight but that the 24-year-old Mares would take a tune-up fight in March. He said he's working out the specifics of the tune-up with Golden Boy.

"We like the fight and we've agreed to the fight," said Espinoza, who also manages Vazquez. "We have to finalize the contract but I don't foresee any problems. It's a fantastic opening fight. It's going to be quite a doubleheader. We're going to take a fight in March and then go ahead and fight in May. That's what we need to do.

"Abner needs a tune-up fight to get the rust and kinks out. It's always dangerous because you never know what will happen, but it's more dangerous for a guy going in there with so much inactivity. We want to get him in shape, get the kinks out and prepare him to fight Perez. Abner really wants the fight. It's his time. He's been waiting and he wants to do it in L.A. in front of his hometown. He's really excited and pumped up for it."

Dan Rafael is the boxing writer for ESPN.com.