Saturday night in Los Angeles, Abner Mares will face Jesus Andres Cuellar. This is yet another case of the WBA turning a perfectly compelling clash of contenders into a phony world title bout. According to the WBA, Cuellar is the reigning world champion and his title is up for grabs against Mares.
But, of course, anybody paying attention to the sport already knows that Carl Frampton is in fact the WBA world champion at 126 pounds. He won the title earlier this year when he beat Leo Santa Cruz, in one of the year’s best bout.
The WBA can call Frampton the “super” world champion if they want. That doesn’t make it any more legitimate for them to recognize a second world champion. I could call my wife my “super” wife and she might smile. But the compliment would hardly earn me a free pass for going out and selecting a second, “regular” wife.
Nevertheless, Mares vs. Cuellar is a great matchup. They are both top-10 contenders and by facing each other, they are embracing the sort of risk-reward equation that makes for truly competitive and exciting fights.
Cuellar has not lost a fight since 2011. During his current, 11-fight winning streak, he has beaten name opponents such as Claudio Marrero, Rico Ramos, Juan Manuel Lopez, Jonathan Oquendo and Vic Darchinyan.
Cuellar might not be a real world champion. But he is a true, top-level contender, riding a hot streak.
It was not that long ago that Mares was viewed as one of the sport’s top, pound-for-pound stars. From 2010 to 2013, he beat a murderer’s row of opponents and collected world titles in three weight classes. Many observers viewed him as a pound-for-pound, top-10 fighter.
But in August 2013, Mares walked into a buzz saw in Round 1 of a defense against hard-punching veteran Jhonny Gonzalez. After a break of nearly a year, he won three straight, before losing to Santa Cruz in a great, August 2015 fight for the real WBA world title.
This is a great crossroads fight between two contenders in their early 30s. The winner will deserve a title shot in the coming year. The loser will move to the back of the line in a division crowded with worthy contenders.