Doug Fischer

Perez-Agbeko II: The rematch fans should be talking about but aren’t

TACOMA, Wash. — Yonnhy Perez and Joseph Agbeko fought a Fight of the Year candidate last October, and the bantamweight standouts will likely repeat their scintillating performance when they meet again in a rematch on Saturday on Showtime.

Perez-Agbeko II, one of the semifinal bouts of Showtime’s four-man bantamweight tournament, is a fight hardcore fans should be talking about but the buzz on the rematch is disappointingly low.

How can this be? The first fight, a title bout that Perez won by unanimous decision, was as good as boxing gets. Agbeko attacked with abandon in every round but Perez withstood the defending beltholder’s relentless volleys and fired back with controlled, accurate combinations. The unheralded Colombian eventually drew Agbeko into a furious inside battle, where he outworked the proud Ghanaian down the stretch of a thoroughly satisfying fight.

Following the final press conference at the Emerald Queen Casino, the site of Saturday’s rematch, both Perez and Agbeko told RingTV.com that fans can expect a similar, if not more intense showdown the second time around.

“It’s going to be another war,” Agbeko (27-2, 22 KOs) said. “He’s strong, well conditioned and hungry, just like I am. I’m prepared for him. He’s prepared for me. How can it not be another war?”

Good question. Perez answers.

“It‘s always going to be a rigorous fight between us,” Perez (20-0-1, 14 knockouts) said through co-promoter Alex Camponovo. “Agbeko knows that what he did the first time wasn’t enough to beat me, so I’m sure he’s going to try even harder this time.”

Agbeko admits that much.

“I don’t want to say that I underestimated Perez but I was too confident,” said Agbeko, who was coming off an upset victory over Vic Darchinyan going into the first fight. “I didn’t prepare for his style as much as I should have. It sounds strange but I had trouble with Perez being a right-handed fighter. I fought three southpaws in a row before fighting Perez — Luis Perez, William Gonzalez and Darchinyan — and I got used to fighting left-handed fighters. It became easy for me.

“Fighting an orthodox fighter as busy as Yonnhy Perez was difficult. In the middle of our fight I realized that I hadn’t prepared the way I should have for him. This time, there are no excuses. I am 100-percent prepared for his style.”

Perez, who successfully defended his title by holding Abner Mares to a draw in May, says he isn’t concerned about the supposedly more-prepared version of Agbeko he‘ll face on Saturday.

“My only concern is his tendency to headbutt,” Perez said. “But even if he comes in with his head as much as he did last time, it won’t matter. I’ll still fight my fight, which means I’m going to impose my boxing ability and my power punches on him.”

If one goes by their words Perez-Agbeko II is guaranteed to be a barnburner, but fans don’t have to go by their words. They can go by their past fights. Agbeko-Darchinyan was a good fight. Perez-Agbeko I was a hell of a fight. Perez-Marez is a Fight of the Year candidate for 2010.

How much evidence do fans need to get excited about a matchup between two of the top fighters in a particular division?

Maybe it’s not the fighters who are being ignored. Perhaps it’s their division that fans are overlooking. The lighter-weight classes are often passed over not just by fans but by cable networks and the media.

Most of the stories on boxing Web sites this week have focused on heavyweight champ Wladimir Klitschko’s withdraw from his scheduled title defense or HBO’s doubleheader featuring Amir Khan vs. Marcos Maidana and Victor Ortiz vs. Lamont Peterson this Saturday.

It’s safe to say that around 80 percent of the U.S. boxing media (as well as large contingents from the UK and Argentina) will be in Las Vegas to cover the Khan-Maidana card. And there’s nothing wrong with that. The co-featured bouts are two excellent junior welterweight matchups.

However, so are the co-featured bouts on Showtime’s card. And nobody can say with a straight face that the four junior welterweights in action on Saturday are any better than the four bantamweights fighting at the Emerald Queen Casino.

But it is what it is. The bottom line is that it doesn’t help Perez and Agbeko’s cause that they campaign in the fifth-lightest weight class in a sport that currently carries 17 divisions.

“We deserve more attention,” Agbeko said on behalf of all world-class 118-pound fighters. “Look at our fights. We are always exciting. We always throw a lot of punches but we show skills when we let our hands go. The best bantamweights have always been very aggressive but also very skilled. That’s what made past champions like Rafael Marquez special.”

Kudos to Showtime for televising some of Marquez’s bantamweight title defenses before he stepped up to junior featherweight to make history with the Israel Vazquez trilogy, and for showcasing the other previously mentioned bantamweight bouts involving the tournament’s four participants.

Perhaps the network’s single-elimination tournament will shed some much-deserved light on the division. Perez and Agbeko believe it will.

“The best thing Showtime could have done for the division is organize this tournament,” Perez said. “It will prove that bantamweight is the hottest division in boxing. I think this concept will help all of us involved in the tournament. Fans will pay more attention to what we do next year.”

Agbeko agrees with his ring rival.

“This tournament will expose us more to the fans,” he said. “I think the winner will be a much more popular fighter and one of the most important boxers in the world.”

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