Only one of the fighters participating in Showtime’s promising bantamweight tournament, which kicks off on Saturday in Tacoma, Wash., could be legitimately described as intimidating. Really, it feels wrong to describe any bantamweight that way since most of us outgrew the 118-pound division in junior high school.
Most of us of average size feel rightly or wrongly that a guy who weighs 118 pounds is no physical threat unless he is armed or happens to carry a step stool with him wherever he goes in the event he needs to engage someone in a stare-down. And even then, you just kick it over. Problem solved.
But be honest: If you never saw Vic Darchinyan in your life, and cut him off in traffic and then flipped him off, and at the next red light he got behind you, got out of his car and started walking briskly toward your car, what would you do?
You can play hero all you want. I see that nut coming at me, first I’m locking the doors. Then I’m calling Dexter Morgan. Or the Navy. Someone. Anyone.
This is not to disparage the fighterly presence of Abner Mares, Joseph Agbeko or Yonnhy Perez, each of whom looks like the tough, supremely-conditioned athlete he is. Indeed, I’m not even picking Darchinyan to win the tournament. That’s not the point.
Darchinyan just has that look that the others do not. You know the look we’re talking about. It says: “I believe splitting a guy’s frontal lobe with an axe and stuffing him in a wood chipper is a perfectly reasonable response to getting cut off in traffic.”
It’s not so much Darchinyan’s obvious self-confidence that is so unsettling. Lots of guys are self-confident. It’s the sense you get that he’s a little unhinged. And not in the goofy way your Aunt Marie, the cat-hoarder, is unhinged, or like the guy on your block who refuses to mow his lawn. Not like that. Unhinged like when Darchinyan goes to family reunions back in Armenia, the relatives know to hide the family pets. And the carving knives. That kind of unhinged.
During a recent conference call with the media, Darchinyan said about his upcoming fight with Mares, “I am training well, I am in L.A. now, been here for the last 20 days. I am very focused on the fight. This is the first time I have been training for this long. He will fight me, and I will be very good, fast and strong. He is going to remember me.”
“He is going to remember me?” Who talks like that other than a guy who knows full well what brain tastes like — and likes it?
Maybe the most remarkable thing about Darchinyan’s scary self-belief is the fact he has lost has not dented it. Nonito Donaire pancaked him with one hook and to this day Darchinyan bristles when someone suggests Donaire is better than he. Agbeko outpointed him handily a year ago, and it’s as though it never happened.
“I am very excited about this tournament. I am prepared, and all the guys are good,” Darchinyan said. “I have fought great champions and great guys, this is a great division. I am proving that I have come back better. I am going to show everyone that I am much stronger. I am going to be much stronger and win this tournament easily.”
Mares is a charming 25-year-old of Mexican descent with serious amateur credentials that include a win over featherweight juggernaut Juan Manuel Lopez. When asked how he plans to beat a guy with so much experience, he replied, “Vic is a great champion with great experience, but fighting fighters with great experience just makes me strong and a good fighter.”
Sure, but what if the guy comes into the ring with a severed head in his spit bucket?
Of course, appearances are deceiving and there is no evidence whatever that Darchinyan isn’t the nicest, most-upstanding little guy in all of sport. He might be. But if we heard tomorrow that one of the tournament‘s participants was pulled over and found to have body parts in the trunk of his car, we’d know who it was.
Some random observations from last week:
Fernando Montiel has been one of my favorite tiny fighters for a while now, but I think if I were him, I’d come down with some disease or injury to get out of fighting Nonito Donaire in February. Let’s see, eye injuries and neurological problems have been taken already. Liking beer too much, too. And the flu. Back pain is hard to disprove. Yes, that’s it. That’s the one I’d choose, and quick. Artie Abraham is looking over the list, too, and we can’t have two upper-tier guys dropping out with a bad back. It’ll look suspicious. …
Humberto Soto has never received the recognition or paydays he deserves and now, after scraping by a very good Urbano Antillon, his reward is another guaranteed war against Brando Rios. Lucky him. …
A lot of smart people are saying Manny Pacquiao would have to kill himself to get down to 140 pounds or less for a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez. But last February, Alex Ariza told The Telegraph that in order to stay up near 150 while training, Pacquiao consumes 7,000 calories a day, including “… up to six meals a day and six protein shakes a day.” I’m no doctor, but does that sound like a guy who would have a hard time dropping 10 or 15 pounds? …
For my money, the most interesting fight next weekend is Lamont Peterson-Victor Ortiz. Don’t underestimate Peterson because of his loss to Tim Bradley. The kid can box. …
In case you missed it, Bob Arum’s back-up opponent for Pacquiao in case Shane Mosley falls and breaks a hip or something is Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus. Arum was quoted as saying, “What? This guy’s got great name recognition, he’s fought on network TV, and don’t forget, he beat Randy Shields!” One possible hitch: Bumphus is already scheduled to meet Andre Berto in May. …
Sure Lateef Kayode is an interesting prospect, but I’d also like to see more of Ed Perry, the guy Kayode stopped on ShoBox Friday night. He’s not terrible for an American cruiserweight. …
Whether or not you think Erik Morales can fight anymore, you have to admire his confidence. He told boxingscene.com he wants to fight Marquez so he can get another shot at Pacquiao, who steamrolled him last time they met. That’s a fighter.
Bill Dettloff, THE RING magazine’s Senior Writer, is working on a biography of Ezzard Charles. Bill can be contacted at email@example.com