His brains still scrambled, Abner Mares stood before Showtime cameras and was asked to comment on the first defeat of his professional career, a stunning first-round TKO loss to 11-1 underdog Jhonny Gonzalez. What he offered, beyond congratulations to his friend and former sparring partner, the same man who had minutes earlier dumped him on the canvas at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, was a maxim that could have been taken out of Letters from a Stoic: “As you learn how to win you have to learn how to lose, too.” This is not entirely true: matchmaking can insulate a fighter—Gary Russell, Jr., for example—from ever having to learn the ins and outs of coming up short. But a fighter like Mares, Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, had to know this moment was coming, if not against Gonzalez then against another opponent with aspirations rivalling Mares’ own. Facing the caliber of opponent Mares has since fighting Yohnny Perez to a draw in May, 2010, means inevitably taking a loss: at some point, the other guy will be the better man.
Of course, no one was expected to learn much from Mares-Gonzalez—not the fighters, not the viewers, no one. Gonzalez, Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Mexico, figured to give a good account of himself before his shaky chin and wobbly pins succumbed to the bullish Mares’ youth and pedigree. Who knows, had Mares escaped the first round, that scenario might very well have played out; early stoppages permit such considerations. (Perhaps it is partly in these hypotheticals that a fighter learns to lose?) But Mares did not escape the first round, and there is little to glean from his undoing.
That result, however unexpected, largely reiterated what was already known: that even an eroded Gonzalez can bang; that Mares, while redwood sturdy, can be hurt; and that no punch wrecks you like the one you don’t see. These three truths told the story of the fight.
With a minute left in the opening round, Gonzalez faked a left hand to the body that got Mares, 125 ½, to lower his gloves. Planning a decapitation the entire time, Gonzalez punctuated his trickery by smashing Mares’ exposed jaw with a left hook that crumpled him like a marionette with his strings cut. Mares beat the count, struggling confusedly to his feet like a drunk woken up on a park bench. A fighter more familiar with getting his bell rung would have held, buying time to crack the disjointed code transmitting from his brain. Instead, Mares tried recalibrating amidst the familiar swirl of leather, where Gonzalez unloaded as if a second round would seal his doom. A combination deposited Mares on the canvas again, where referee Jack Reiss kept him. The end came at 2:55 of the first round. Perhaps Reiss was a bit quick with the hook, as the round was ending and Mares was never permitted the chance to regain his feet. But Mares offered no protest in the aftermath. Who better than him to comment on the appropriateness of the stoppage?
With the win, Gonzalez has guaranteed himself another payday. Talk of a rematch has heated up, though Mares may want a soft touch before climbing in with Gonzalez again. His own boxing education having begun fourteen years ago, when he turned pro at age 17, Gonzalez, 55-8 (47), has the type of speckled ledger that speaks to both his merciless apprenticeship and his resolve. He is racing against the clock a bit, as the weaknesses that made him a heavy underdog against Mares are still very real. His chin and his legs will let him down soon, but Gonzalez should be better compensated for his inevitable fall.
Mares, 26-1-1 (14), never expected to remain undefeated; which means, ironically, he is better positioned to endure the loss. Moreover, his inevitable defeat came swiftly: ostensibly ended by a single punch in the first round, Mares was spared the type of protracted clubbing that leaves ugly residuals. “He will be champion again,” said Gonzalez of his fallen friend. There is no reason to doubt either of them.