November opened a potential can of worms in terms of action, whetting the appetite of boxing fans that have been long looking forward to the excitement that December may bring.
In a division filled with solid, name fighters, three separate promoters found a way to join forces and stage a tournament between four of the best guys at bantamweight. Not exactly a common occurrence these days, fans have been salivating at the idea of this single-elimination event since it was officially announced mid-September.
Though the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament hasn't been without its own hitches and venue switches, Gary Shaw and Golden Boy Promotions teamed up to headline the telecast with a collision featuring unbeaten rising star Abner Mares and former flyweight and super flyweight champion Vic Darchinyan.
This rematch of one of the best scraps of 2009 is set to open up the broadcast from the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Washington, and hasn't been without its own sub-plot since their first meeting.
Claiming almost 250 amateur bouts, the Colombian Perez has fought out of Santa Fe Springs, California for most of his professional career. Turning pro at 26-years old in 2005, "El Colombiano" took his first significant step up in decisioning tough journeyman Oscar Andrade in his 10th outing. Perez earned 12 stoppage wins in his first 15 fights, with the 15th being a knockout victory over pug Alex Becerra on the undercard of Vazquez vs. Marquez III in March of 2008.
Yonnhy returned to the Home Depot Center in Carson, California two months later to decision veteran Manuel Sarabia, in a fight that proved to be more difficult than expected, on the undercard of Escobedo vs. Arrieta.
A second decision win over Oscar Andrade and a slow beatdown of game former prospect David Martinez on Showtime's ShoBox led to and IBF title elimination showdown with South African bruiser Silence Mabuza in May 2009.
Not surprisingly, Mabuza took the fight directly to Perez, who deftly countered and seemed to be landing cleaner punches, but was probably getting outworked while being pushed backwards in the Mabuza's backyard. The entertaining tumble came to an end in the 12th round when, behind on all cards, the Colombian landed a hard jab on an off-balance Mabuza that sent him falling backwards into the ropes, where he landed awkwardly. As Mabuza rose on seemingly unsteady legs, Perez dialed in with a hard left hook that had his man stumbling, forcing a referee stoppage at 1:06 of the final round.
The emphatic win set up what would be a sometimes rough, but always fun 12 round battle with Joseph Agbeko in a Showtimes Championship Boxing Halloween headliner .
Agbeko was as advertised early on in the fight, constantly throwing and moving forward, while Perez again countered with sharper punches, occasionally rocking "King Kong" back on his heels. Things got noticeably sloppy as the bout progressed, both fighters complaining about head clashes, both guys showing signs of wear (including a cut caused by a head clash for Perez), and a few seemingly intentional butts from the champion Agbeko for good measure. An unintentional headbutt in the 10th caused Agbeko to turn his back and eventually drop to a knee, resulting in a called knockdown. Perez then used better footwork to walk Agbeko into shots late in the fight, finishing strong and winning a convincing unanimous decision.
Efforts by Don King and Gary Shaw, who promote Agbeko and Perez respectively, to talk Showtime into airing an IBF-mandated rematch proved fruitless, and after seven months off, Perez was slated to defend his IBF title for the first time against unbeaten potential star Abner Mares as an opener for the fourth and final war between Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez in May of this year.
The Colombian's counter-punching opened the door for the younger challenger Mares to take a lead early in the fight by out-hustling the champion, though Perez once again appeared to land the cleaner shots in many rounds. Perez took over as Mares faded in the middle rounds, clearly gaining momentum. But by the 9th round, Mares was landing thudding body shots and finding a groove with good footwork and quick combinations. Both men were sore and swollen after the contest, which resulted in a majority draw.
A relatively small country in West Africa, Ghana has produced a number of solid, and even world class fighters. Joseph Agbeko hopes to be mentioned among names such as Roy Ankrah and Azumah Nelson if he wins this tournament.
Fighting in or around Ghana against opponents with unverifiable records, Agbeko went 21-0 (19 KO) before running into future longtime WBA bantamweight titlist Volodymyr Sydorenko. The Ukrainian handed Agbeko his first loss by decision in May, 2004.
After going 12 rounds with a 3-2 opponent in Accra 5 months later, Agbeko took over 2 years off from the sport. Following a return to the ring in March of 2007, Agbeko fought in a support bout for a Top Rank-promoted card televised by Versus and featuring fellow Accra native Josh Clottey against Felix Flores. The TKO win over unheralded Fidencio Reyes marked the first time Agbeko had fought in the US after having relocated to New York.
Evidently "King King" impressed enough to be given a title shot against scrappy, yet woefully inactive IBF champion Luis Perez in September 2007. Opening up for a mismatch between Chad Dawson and yesteryear spoiler Epifanio Mendoza, Agbeko beat down the brawling Nicaraguan over seven rounds, forcing the ringside doctor to stop the contest due to a nasty cut below Perez' left eye, and seizing the title with relative ease.
After more than a year off, the champion, now under Don King's promotional banner, defended his title for the first time in another Versus co-feature against Nicaraguan boxer-puncher William Gonzalez in December 2008. Perhaps because the main event of Tomasz Adamek vs. Steve Cunningham was so thrilling, Agbeko failed to impress in winning a majority decision. The champion never seemed to find a rhythm, and Gonzalez used a consistent jab to thwart Agbeko's advances.
Agbeko's second defense came a full seven months later against Vic Darchinyan, who had moved up two divisions and gone 4-0-1 since being stopped by Nonito Donaire at flyweight two years prior. A rough and often dirty fight, both men forearmed, elbowed and shot below the belt, with Agbeko continuously interrupting Darchinyan's offense by moving forward and outworking the Armenian. The Ghanaian was awarded a close unanimous decision, leading to his next defense against "El Colombiano" Perez.
Although their last fight was a headliner, Yonnhy Perez finds himself fighting in the opening bout of the broadcast yet again. But it should be markedly less pressure than trying to preemptively outdo Rafa Marquez and Israel Vazquez, and he still performed well in both instances. Agbeko doesn't have the overall ring smarts and multiple gears of a guy like Abner Mares, and while I don't see Perez as having developed a ton since their first meeting, I believe he has the wider range as a fighter and will slightly improve on his first performance, beating Agbeko more convincingly this time around. Perez may even be able to avoid head collisions early on as he appears to have worked hard at his footwork, but later on it could get interesting.
PREDICTION: Perez by unanimous decision.
PREDICTION: Perez by unanimous decision.
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