As far as Oscar De La Hoya is concerned, the winner of Showtime’s bantamweight tournament should be considered the best 118-pound fighter in the sport.
That’s what the former champ and promoter of Abner Mares, Joseph Agbeko's opponent in the tournament final on April 23, told the assembled media at the press conference for Agbeko-Mares and the tournament’s consolation bout in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
De La Hoya’s exact words: “Whoever wins this tournament will be the man at bantamweight.”
It was a bold statement considering THE RING’s No. 1-rated bantamweight, Fernando Montiel, faces Nonito Donaire, who‘s rated No. 5 in the magazine‘s pound-for-pound rankings, next Saturday.
Although Donaire, a former flyweight beltholder, has only recently stepped up to bantamweight, the formidable Filipino looked spectacular in dispatching tough Wladimir Sidorenko in four rounds in December. Because of Donaire’s sensational bantamweight debut and Montiel’s recent win streak at 118 pounds, many fans will view the winner of their Feb. 19 showdown as “the man” in what is arguably the deepest division in the sport.
However, some agree with De La Hoya, and it should come as no surprise that Mares is among them. However, the 2004 Mexican Olympian, who defeated Vic Darchinyan via split decision last December to earn his spot in the finals, provides sound reasoning for his opinion.
“I definitely feel that the winner of the tournament final is the best bantamweight in the world,” Mares told RingTV.com after Tuesday’s press conference at the Conga Room at L.A. LIVE. “The fighters in this tournament have had the harder fights. Agbeko will be my third tough fight in a row. It started with Yonnhy Perez last year, and after that fight I faced Vic Darchinyan.”
Mares and then-IBF titleholder Perez fought to a rousing 12-round draw last May. The bout preceded Showtime’s bantamweight tournament, which began on Dec. 11 in Tacoma, Wash. Mares faced former unified 115-pound titleholder Darchinyan in one semifinal bout, Agbeko faced Perez in the other, a rematch of a 12-round barnburner won by Perez in 2009.
Agbeko, THE RING’s No. 3-rated bantamweight, outboxed and outpointed Perez in impressive fashion to regain the title the Colombian pressure fighter took from him in their first fight.
“We haven’t ducked anyone,” said Mares (21-0-1, 13 knockouts), THE RING’s No. 4-rated bantamweight.
However, the 25-year-old contender says he understands why fans are so excited about the Montiel-Donaire matchup.
“I see where they are coming from,” he said. “It’s a great fight. Montiel is an accomplished veteran and Donaire is so talented. I get why some fans think the winner of their fight will be the best, but who have they fought? How many top bantamweight contenders have they beat?”
It’s a fair question. If one goes by THE RING’s rankings, they’ve each defeated one Top-10 contender each. Montiel KO'd excellent titleholder Hozumi Hasegawa, the magazine’s No. 1-rated bantamweight at the time, last April. Donaire crushed Sidorenko, THE RING’s No. 10-rated bantamweight at the time.
Perez was the No. 4-rated bantamweight when Mares fought him. Darchinyan is currently ranked at No. 10.
Mares definitely wins the argument that he and the other tournament participants have had tougher schedules, but the only way to settle the debate of who’s the best 118 pounder would be for the finals winner to face the Montiel-Donaire winner.
“That’s what fans want,” Mares said. “Fans want the winners to fight. I don’t know if it will happen right away since (his promoter) Golden Boy Promotions and Top Rank (Montiel and Donaire’s promoter) aren’t working together right now, but I’m willing to fight whoever wins that fight.
“I want that fight because the fans want it. I’m a fighter who fights for the fans.”