Some fans may disagree with the split-decision Abner Mares won against Vic Darchinyan on Saturday in Tacoma, Wash., but nobody can dispute the heart the young contender displayed during the hard-fought semifinal bout of Showtime's bantamweight tournament. Photo / Tom Casino/SHOWTIME
TACOMA, Wash. — Joseph Agbeko learned enough from the mistakes he made in his first fight with Yonnhy Perez, which he lost by unanimous decision, to reverse the outcome in dramatic fashion in the main event of Showtime’s bantamweight tournament semifinals Saturday at the Emerald Queen Casino.
Agbeko (28-2, 22 knockouts) soundly out-boxed Perez over 12 rounds to regain the 118-pound title he lost to the unbeaten Colombian pressure fighter last October and advance to face Abner Mares, who beat Vic Darchinyan in other semifinal, in the tournament final next year.
Agbeko, who won the rematch by scores of 117-111, 116-112 and 115-113, slugged it out with Perez in the first fight, which played into the strengths of the tireless volume puncher, who outworked him. This time, Agbeko boxed a disciplined fight by employing a stick-and-move strategy to outmaneuver his forward-marching but plodding adversary and consistently beat him to the punch.
Though Perez (20-1-1, 14 KOs) was game throughout the bout, Agbeko pulled the trigger quicker, landing flashy hooks and crosses while on the move and accurate body-head combinations when he planted his feet. Perez stepped up his pressure and intensity in the middle rounds after suffering a nasty cut around his left eye, and during the very exciting fifth, sixth and seventh rounds, he pulled Agbeko into his style of inside fire fighting.
For nine minutes the two bantamweight rivals rekindled the energy they produced in their first bout by exchanging furious combinations in close quarters. However, Agbeko returned to his punch-and-move strategy at the behest of his corner, headed up by chief second Adama Addy, and controlled rounds eight through 12 to the degree that a discouraged Perez abandoned his trademark stalking and tried to box with the talented Ghanaian from a distance in the final three rounds of the bout.
The result was disappointingly one-sided in favor of Agbeko.
Perez, gracious in defeat, gave Agbeko his due respect after the fight.
“Agbeko had an intelligent fight today and he won fair and square,” he said. “I did not expect this game plan from Agbeko.”
Fans will find out, perhaps as early as March, whether Mares can handle the boxing version of Agbeko.
“It’s going to be a beautiful fight,” the two-time titleholder said of his showdown with Mares.
Mares’ hard-fought split decision over Darchinyan was not a beautiful fight. The young boxer-puncher and the awkward southpaw bomber clashed heads, slipped punches below the belt line and did their share of grappling, but the fascinating matchup still delivered excitement and drama, in part because, like Agbeko, Darchinyan learned from his last setback.
The 34-year-old veteran dropped a unanimous decision to Agbeko last July because he relied too much on his vaunted power, the root of much success in the flyweight and 115-pound divisions but not enough to dominate world-class bantamweights.
Against Mares, Darchinyan (35-3-1, 27 KOs) boxed his most controlled fight since his impressive ninth-round KO if Cristian Mijares in November of 2008, deftly out-maneuvering Mares while timing his 25-year-old foe with accurate and powerful left uppercuts and overhand lefts.
Mares (21-0-1, 13 KOs) suffered a nasty cut along his hairline in the first round that bled directly into his left eye during much of the fight. He was dropped in the second round, and docked a point from referee Bobby Howard for low blows in the fourth. The Southern California-based Mexican contender couldn’t have had a more difficult start to the most significant fight of his 5½-year career.
However, his rock-solid chin, dogged determination and concentrated body attack kept him in the fight long enough for his constant pressure and punches to Darchinyan’s midsection to pay dividends.
Although Mares continued to walk directly into the flush power shots of Darchinyan over the second half of the fight, he scored with sweeping left hooks — one of which produced an off-balance knockdown in the seventh round — until the older fighter was forced to retreat to the ropes and hold for dear life in the late rounds.
Two judges, Alan Krebs and Tom McDonough, rewarded Mares’ non-stop aggression and body work with winning scores of 115-112 and 113-112, respectively. Veteran judge Glenn Hamada scored the bout for Darchinyan by a comfortable tally of 115-111.
Predictably, Darchinyan and his promoter Gary Shaw were unhappy with the scorecards for Mares.
“It’s very disgusting,” Darchinyan said of the verdict. “I think I won by three-to-four rounds. I was in front.”
“He should have his license revoked,” Shaw said of McDonough, who scored rounds eight through 12 for Mares.
Darchinyan was also upset about the seventh-round 10-8 tally for Mares on Krebs’ razor-thin scorecard. Had Krebs scored that round 10-9 as the other two judges did, the fight would have ended in a split draw.
“It was not a knockdown,” Darchinyan said at the post-fight press conference. “It was a slip, a bad call by the referee. I’ve fought in 16 world title fights, I know when I’ve been knocked down. That wasn’t a knockdown.
“Ask Mares if he thinks it was a knockdown or a mistake.”
Mares acknowledged that it was an “iffy” call.
“Whether it was a knockdown or not, it was the referee’s call, not mine,” Mares said. “I did touch his head with a punch and he went down.”
“You touched my shoulder,” Darchinyan replied.
Some fans might disagree with the referee’s call in seventh round or with Krebs’ and McDonough’s scorecards, but nobody can deny that Mares showed the heart of a lion throughout the fight.
The tough 12 rounds with Darchinyan were as much of a learning experience for Mares as the 12-round draw he fought with Perez in May, perhaps even more so.
Against Perez, Mares had to cope with relentless pressure and volume punching. Versus Darchinyan he had to deal with an unorthodox southpaw style, awkward movement and punching power while blood poured into his left eye.
The young man did well enough to earn even Darchinyan’s grudging respect.
“The kid was good, he kept coming and he kept taking punches,” Darchinyan said.
“He has a tremendous punch, but I proved that I could take punches,” Mares said. “I kept pushing him back. I heard him moan every time I landed a body shot.
“I knew it was going to be a tough fight because Vic’s a champion. He beat all the Mexicans he fought until he faced me. I’m not that little kid that everybody sees. I’m a fighter and I fought my heart out. I gave everything I had.
“In the end, the audience and the people who watched the fight (on TV) were the winners.”
Indeed. The fans will win again with the finals bout between Agbeko and Mares and with the co-featured consolation match between Darchinyan and Perez — both of which are first-time matchups for the participants of Showtime’s four-man single-elimination tournament.
“When the finals happen, I don’t think that’s going to be the last time fans see these fighters in the ring together,” said Shaw. “I’m going to talk to [Showtime Sports Executive Vice President] Ken Hershman about future matchups because these fighters give their all and deliver excitement every time they fight.”