Monday, December 13, 2010

A Bantamweight Success - Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares Through to Showtime Final

Photo: Marty Rosengarten/

There sure was hurlyburly, but we're not done.
The opening round of Showtime's Bantamweight Tournament last night appeared to reinforce what many pundits and fans have been saying for more than 2 years: bantamweight may be the best division in the sport right now.
While most would agree that Vic Darchinyan, Yonnhy Perez, Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares are top level fighters and among the best of the division, the fact that the winner of this tournament likely won't be considered the absolute best at 118 lbs. speaks to the depth and quality of bantamweight.
The excellent card also taught us a number of new things.
In Mares' split decision win over Darchinyan, we learned that Vic did indeed bring stinging power up to bantamweight with him, and that Mares' chin was good enough to take it. Unfortunately, we also learned that referee Robert Howard has no business refereeing a world title fight, and that Darchinyan can apparently sell a non-foul with the best of 'em.
Agbeko's clear decision over Perez in a rematch of their terrific October, 2009 meeting reminded us that we can never underestimate anyone at this level. No matter how we pigeonhole guys into certain style categories, world class guys will surprise us with a new trick or two every so often.

Inexplicably, the broadcast opened up with what had been previously reported as the main event by Showtime, Abner Mares vs. Vic Darchinyan.
Darchinyan appeared to be on a comeback since failing to snatch the IBF bantamweight title from Agbeko in July 2009, going 3-0 with so-so opponents upon entering the tournament, with two fights lasting the distance. On the other hand, the fast-rising Mares had given a great account of himself in his last fight against Yonnhy Perez, holding the former champion to a draw in an entertaining match many felt he won.
Darchinyan's awkward style and a deep gash opened up by a headbutt in the 1st round made Mares hesitant to engage early on in the fight, but he moved forward. The speed of Darchinyan's lead left hand surprised Mares, although the younger man found a groove with some nice body work before getting decked by another lead left in the 2nd. Undaunted by the knockdown, Mares recovered well and walked down Darchinyan to end the round.
A recurring issue began in the 3rd round, with referee Rob Howard continually warning Abner Mares for punches below the belt as Darchinyan pulled his head down with his lead right hand. None the less, Mares continues to press and work hard to punish Vic to the body.
Darchinyan began moving to the ropes consistently as Mares continued his pressure in the middle rounds, all the while complaining of fouls. Ref Howard deducted a point from Mares for low blows in the 4th round, without giving any clear warning, potentially widening the scorecards for Darchinyan in a fairly close round.
Mares found a home for the uppercut in the 5th and 6th rounds, taking the occasional left-hand bomb from Vic and the more-than-occasional talking to from the ref. Darchinyan didn't do a ton when Mares would drag the contest to the ropes, but used his legs to spin towards the middle of the ring, preventing Mares from sustaining his offense. But frustration mounted for Darchinyan, as his best shots weren't affecting the younger man.
A counter jab by Mares put Darchinyan down in the 7th round. The punch didn't shake Vic in the slightest, but Abner cruised to the end of the round, taking a big left hand but continuing forward. Mares continued to work in the 8th as Darchinyan's rushes while backing up became fewer and farther between as the round wore on. Vic may have been landing at a slightly higher connect percentage, but his shots weren't deterring Mares from marching forth and landing.
The undefeated Mares stormed forward in the 9th round, landing a number of hard straight right hands and roughing Darchinyan up on the inside. Again the ref continued to admonish Mares for fouls and rough tactics at inopportune moments, specifically after landing clean right hands and uppercuts on his opponent. Darchinyan seemed unable to find any rhythm, resorting to trying to land hard single shots in the 10th, mostly unsuccessful, and Mares landed several big right hands.
Darchinyan's lack of inside game continued to hurt him in the 11th. Mares landed lead right hands and followed up to Vic's body consistently, driving him backwards and forcing him to clutch.
The second half assault continued for Mares, and he forced the issue in the final round, ignoring the referee's meddling and catching Darchinyan on the way in when he attempted to hold. The blood-covered Mares walked through a handful of missile left hands to finish the round, and an exhausted Vic Darchinyan walked to his corner for some rest.
Abner Mares, now 21-0-1 (13 KO), overcame an early defecit to earn a unanimous decision with scores of 115-111 for Darchinyan, and 115-111 and 114-112 his way.
In the end, Mares simply moved Darchinyan, who fell to 35-3-1 (27 KO), back for the majority of the fight, threw and landed more, and showed a respectable chin. While Vic was able to land with his lead left and an occasional right hook, Mares took them well and generally fired back immediately.
In a candid post-fight interview, Mares praised his opponent's punching power and gave credit for a very tough fight. Conversely, a noticeably sour Vic Darchinyan disagreed with the scorecards and again complained about fouling.
The converted main event didn't produce the sustained action many had hoped for, but former IBF champ Yonnhy Perez and new champ Joseph Agbeko still thrilled the crowd in attendance at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington for a few rounds.
In a bit of a shocker, Agbeko showed almost no ring rust whatsoever in spite of not fighting since his first match against Perez over a year ago, and used intelligent footwork and tricky angles to fluster and stifle Perez' frequent advances, earning a well-deserved decision.
The Ghanaian Agbeko began the fight moving his head well and jabbing to the body in the opening stanza, seeming to confuse the Colombian Perez, who likely expected Agbeko to begin aggressively. Instead, the challenger stayed mindful and patient through the first two rounds, walking Perez into a variety of punches while minimizing the effect of Perez' landed shots with a greatly improved defense.
Perez cut off the ring much better in the 3rd round, landing well to the body, but still got peppered with shots upstairs from Agbeko. A cut over Perez' left eye opened up, a result of a jab from Agbeko in the 4th, and while Perez wasn't totally ineffective, the challenger darted in and out with sharp leads and counters effectively.
The champion looked to be closing the distance in the 5th, just barely missing most of his shots and dialing in with a few right hands and hooks in a close round that saw him take a few big rights himself. Perez then pushed Agbeko to the ropes early in the 6th, finding success with a left hook downstairs and chopping hooks up top to a more stationary target, while Agbeko fought back and tried to gain control. The round closed in exciting fashion, with Perez landing a devastating right hand and Agbeko gamely responding with rights of his own.
Perez' right hand again found a home early in round 7, until Agbeko began using his legs effectively again and bouncing combinations off the head of Yonnhy Perez halfway through the round. The champion stayed on his opponent, but Agbeko's much-improved defense had him missing more often than not.
Going back to the body in the 8th was Perez, but Agbeko worked to push Perez back for much of the round, landing a good jab and looping right hand. Perez caught up and landed one more nice right, but was countered by four or five rights from Joseph Agbeko, who continued to show a great chin.
Early momentum for Perez in the 9th was again stalled by Agbeko's deft footwork and pot-shotting. Agbeko landed long rights to the body and head, and was greeted with some solid hooks and thudding rights. The round ended more slowly than others, though. A lot of glancing blows in the early goings of the 10th turned into Agbeko controlling the round with his jab, taking a few solid shots and landing a handful of his own.
Agbeko leaped in with more right hands in the 11th, moving his head and avoiding most of the incoming fire. Agbeko continued to land crisp combinations, following up with a sweeping left hook that caught Perez on the chin a few times late in the round.
Clearly aiming to regain his former title, Agbeko resumed a high workrate and in-and-out movement to nail Perez repeatedly and outmaneuver the Colombian in the 12th and final round, closing strong with a few hooks from both sides.
Showtime's punch stats seemed to show a much closer fight than the scores indicated, but the judges' cards of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113 all went to the right guy, Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko.
Gracious in defeat, the now 20-1-1 (14 KO) Perez praised his opponent's gameplan and versatility, admitting he simply wasn't prepared for that type of fight from Agbeko and had difficulty adjusting mid-fight.
With the win, Agbeko improves to 28-2 (22KO ) and moves on to face Abner Mares in the final of the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament.
An eye-opening performance, the now two-time champion from Ghana may indeed become worthy of a coveted comparison to countryman Azumah Nelson with a win over Mares. Though Agbeko would have his work cut out for him in terms of proving himself the best at 118 lbs., his performance against Perez was the best of the night.
Already a success, the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament followed through in providing a very interesting and fulfilling night of boxing action.
With the consensus best bantamweights Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel presumably squaring up sometime in 2011, the obvious hope for sane fans is for the winner of this dog fight to meet the winner of Donaire- vs. Montiel to establish unquestionable bantamweight supremacy.
Not to be forgotten, the loser of each matchup is obligated to fight the other. Despite their circumstances, a Perez-Darchinyan showdown should result in a worthy contender or title challenger advancing in the division.
Indeed, the twilight of 2010 may carry us over to a promising 2011.


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