Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares won’t enter their April 23 bantamweight title bout with unblemished records but both 118-pound standouts believe their setbacks made them better fighters, which should make their tournament final the ring war that most fans anticipate.
Both Agbeko and Mares hit career roadblocks prior to the formation of Showtime’s four-man single-elimination bantamweight tournament, which wraps up with their showdown at Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
Agbeko lost his IBF title to Yonnhy Perez in an intense 12-round battle in October of 2009 that many fans considered a fight of the year candidate. Perez’s first defense of that title was another spirited 12-round encounter, this time against Mares, who held the relentless Colombian to a majority draw last May.
Although most observers thought Mares (21-0-1, 13 knockouts) won the fight by the 116-112 tally on one of the official scorecards, the Southern California-based Mexican Olympian viewed the fight as a “loss” because he didn’t take Perez’s title.
Showtime’s bantamweight tournament, which kicked off in Tacoma, Wash., last December, gave both Agbeko and Mares an opportunity to redeem themselves in their very next fight. Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) boxed brilliantly in a rematch with Perez, scoring a clear unanimous decision in the tournament’s first semifinal. Mares outworked Vic Darchinyan in the late rounds of a tough 12-round fight to narrowly outpoint the former flyweight and junior bantamweight titleholder by majority decision in the other semifinal of the night.
Both Agbeko and Mares told boxing writers that the experience of their setbacks helped them win their semifinal victories during a recent media conference call.
“I learned a few lessons in my loss to Perez,” Agbeko said.
“Perez is a very strong fighter who throws a lot of punches. I fought his style, punch for punch, in the first fight. But because of the lesson I learned in the first fight, I worked harder every day in the gym, and in the second fight I boxed him more.”
Mares said his draw with Perez, which some observers said was the result of his moving too much in the middle rounds of the bout, motivated him to fight harder.
“I took (the draw) really serious,” he said. “I considered it a loss because I didn’t get the title, so I went back and worked extremely hard and I was ready for my opportunity against Darchinyan.
“You learn from every fight. The Darchinyan fight was really tough. The first few rounds didn’t go my way. I was cut and I was knocked down early in the fight, but thinking about the draw with Perez and my family and never thinking about losing got me through.”
Agbeko said he was grateful for the opportunity to win back his title. Mares echoed the New York-based Ghanaian’s sentiment.
“(The title) was within my grasp once (against Perez) and I let it slip away,” he said. “Not many people get second chances. I have a chance to fight for the same world title, a second chance and I gotta take advantage of it.”
Both fighters expect an exciting fight because of their versatile styles.
“Agbeko is a complete fighter,” Mares said. “We can both brawl, we can both box.”
Agbeko elaborated on Mares‘ assessment.
“We’re both skillful, we both have speed and we’re both very aggressive,” he said. “Abner is a very strong guy. He likes to come in with a lot of punches. I can do the same. This is going to be a very beautiful fight.”
Broadcast and show information:
Perez and Darchinyan will fight in the Showtime-televised co-feature to Agbeko-Mares. The Showtime broadcast begins at 10:30 p.m., live on the East Coast, tape-delayed on the West Coast.
Tickets to the card are on sale now through TicketMaster and Nokia Theatre box office. Doors open at 4 p.m., first undercard fight begins at 5 p.m.
Showtime announced during the conference call that the semifinal tournament matches — Perez-Agbeko II and Darchinyan-Mares — will re-air on Showtime Extreme on Monday at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT.