Thursday, August 11, 2011

Showtime for the Bantams

Photo: Tom Casino

Lately it almost seems as if boxing matchmakers have taken pleas from fans to simply make good fights to heart. 

Results aside, we've been treated to a number of meaningful fights between top guys that should be fighting each other. 

It's not as if we should be sending out high fives to promoters, matchmakers, managers and whomever else for simply doing their jobs, but not having to endure foregone conclusion after foregone conclusion should be appreciated.

In most other popular sports, playoffs determine a best.

Until the early 2000's, single-loss elimination tournaments were how boxing created a champion. Unsurprisingly, they all but disappeared on a meaningful level right about the time Cedric Kushner held a heavyweight exhibition tournament called "Fistful of Dollars" between a bunch of unsavory characters for a winner-take-all $100,000 prize. 

The countless, arbitrary "eliminators" ordered by sanctioning bodies that often wind up being anything but a stall tactic don't count.


Clearly the bantamweight division didn't quite sort itself out the way we'd hoped it would when the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament was announced a little under a year ago, but that may result in the tournament finale going a longer way in bringing closure than initially supposed.

Not long after the 118 lb. tournament was announced, some press focused on the bantamweights that wouldn't be participating - namely Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel.

The initial idea proposed by Showtime was apparently a Bantamweight Super Six, but as Montiel and Donaire passed, the format was scaled down to a four-man, two-stage tournament. 

Between then and now, a nice scrap between Abner Mares and Vic Darchinyan and a surprisingly dominant rematch between Joseph Agbeko and Yonnhy Perez comprised the opening round of the tourney, while the final was scrapped when Agbeko collapsed less than a week before the fight in April with a sciatic nerve issue.

The B-sides still fought to declare their importance in the division that weekend, but Darchinyan out-classed a lackadaisical Yonnhy Perez before a headbutt in round 5 opened a nasty cut over the left eye of Perez and stopped the fight. Darchinyan took a Technical Decision.

As for Donaire and Montiel, Nonito disastered Fernando in less than two rounds, leveling the Mexican with a left hook that left him completely disconnected from his senses, despite being able to rise to his feet on instinct. 

Nonito, known for his outside-the-ring issues, had another little promotional snafu, however, when he attempted to sign with Golden Boy Promotions on the sly and apparently without consulting an attorney or simply reviewing his contract with current promoter Top Rank, who seemed annoyed by the incident. 

Donaire has subsequently gone back to being inactive, while interestingly Montiel stopped former interim bantamweight titlist Nehomar Cermeno at 122 lbs. in June, and is scheduled to fight again in a little over a week. 

Needless to say, the Showtime tournament has turned heads, and the final is a fight between two talented guys in or around their primes, and able to win in more ways than one. 

But not mentioned much is the legitimacy the tournament may lend to the idea of that particular format in today's sport. The consensus absolute best of the division didn't participate, but three different promoters broke bread to match four fighters who otherwise probably wouldn't have fought each other, and certainly not in that time span. 

The added bonus is Showtime maybe redeeming itself for the debacle that was and is the Super Six at 168 lbs. 

The fight?

Abner Mares essentially jumped into the deep end of 118 with no floaties on. The young potential star battled then-IBF champ Yonnhy Perez to a highly entertaining draw before the tournament, on the undercard of Marquez vs. Vazquez IV in May, 2010. Abner didn't win the title nor the fight, but he inserted his name into the mix at bantamweight with the gutsy effort. 

At that point, the main question mark surrounding Mares was his stamina and confidence, as he seemed to fade periodically and go defensive in spots against Perez.

But he again proved his mettle with a split decision victory over the popular Darchinyan at the start of the tournament, taking some brutal shots from the Armenian bomber and continuing to march forward and generally outwork the more experienced multi-division champ. 

Agbeko has been equally inactive, though it's a hallmark of most Don King-promoted lower weight fighters. 

"King Kong" seemed more like a swarming mauler than any sort of stylist in most of his fights leading up to his bout against Darchinyan in July, 2009. Vic had been on a 4-0-1 tear over respectable foes since getting blitzed by Donaire, but Agbeko wasn't impressed, and he clearly outdid Darchinyan over 12. 

His only two fights in the last two years have been against Yonnhy Perez. 

Their excellent first fight was a non-stop punchfest with a few momentum shifts, many great exchanges, and even a little controversy as a headbutt hurt Agbeko and caused him to turn his back and then hit the canvas after a hard-charging Perez clocked him a few more times, in what was ruled a knockdown. But Agbeko lost his title by decision. 

The rematch surprised many, as Agbeko used handspeed and an in-and-out style to outmaneuver and befuddle Perez for most of the fight. Admittedly Perez appeared possibly spent, but it was unexpected nonetheless as Agbeko was considered more likely to overwhelm a guy than outbox him. 

Coming into the bout this weekend, the extent of Agbeko's nerve damage is unclear and the inactivity of both men adds yet another intangible to the match. 

Whoever wins, 118 may not appear as deep as it did not long ago, but three decent opponents could be waiting for the winner or runner-up: Vic Darchinyan, Anselmo "Chemito" Moreno, and popular Japanese fighter Koki Kameda. Not much has been heard from Venezuelan Alex Muñoz, who could also add another notch to the belt of either guy. 

The primary news from Donaire appears to be an intended move to 122, which itself isn't a terribly shallow division. 

PREDICTION: I mentioned inactivity, but while endurance could prove to be an issue, it likely won't be for lack of training or conditioning. More than likely it's because both men are the type of warriors who lash out when backed into a corner, and both look and sound ready to give everything they have on Saturday night. 

While Agbeko's performance against Perez in the rematch was impressive, it may be getting slightly overrated when considering Yonnhy looked lethargic for much his TD loss against Darchinyan. On top of that, Mares isn't as slow of foot as Perez, and has clearly quicker hands. It's questionable whether or not Agbeko will be able to surprise Mares in the same way, and doubtful he'll be able to hurt Abner, judging by the big shots Darchinyan was able to land but not affect Mares with. 

On the other hand, Agbeko can indeed be pushed backwards and outworked, as seen in the first Perez fight, and Abner's downstairs work is vicious. 

I like Abner Mares to gradually wear down Agbeko and win an 8-4 type of unanimous decision. 

Mares UD


To read my recap of the first round of the Showtime Bantamweight Tournamed from the now-defunct The Boxing Bulletin, click the following link:

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