Vic Darchinyan: The littlest boxers are supposed to be finished by their mid-30s, particularly ones who have been in many hard fights. Darchinyan demonstrated again on Saturday that he’s an exception. The 35-year-old Armenian confirmed his place among elite fighters by dominating former bantamweight titleholder Yonnhy Perez, winning every round of a fight that ended prematurely because of a cut between Perez’s eyes. Darchinyan was a dominating flyweight. He probably was at his best at 115 pounds, at which he beat a string of big-name opponents. And he proved after two disappointments at 118 pounds (against Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares) that he is among the best at bantamweight. His was the little monster of old against, fighting with the fire of a prospect and skill of a gifted veteran. No one knows what the future holds but Darchinyan still has one.
Yonnhy Perez: The Colombian climbed to the top of the bantamweight world when he outpointed Agbeko only 18 months ago. And a draw with Mares last May didn’t substantially hurt his standing. He remained unbeaten and an elite and marketable fighter. Then things changed radically. Agbeko changed tactics, boxing more and slugging less, and beat Perez in a rematch. Then, on Saturday, he was overwhelmed by Darchinyan. The cut that ended the fight, the result of an accidental head butt, probably saved Perez from a prolonged beating. What has happened to Perez? Maybe the victory over Agbeko was a fluke. Maybe a number of wars have taken a toll. The only certain thing is that the fighter who showed up Saturday lacked the energy and intensity of a champion. He’ll have a lot to prove in his next fight regardless of who the opponent is.
BIGGEST LOSER II?
Joseph Agbeko: The talented Ghanian was in an excellent position going into his fight with Mares in the bantamweight tournament final scheduled for Saturday. He appeared to be at his best in his rematch victory over Perez, in which he regained his IBF belt, and had another lucrative opportunity to beat a top bantamweight on a big stage. Then he ran into bad luck, a sudden bout with sciatica that forced him to pull out of the fight. Now it’s unclear when he’ll be back. One month? Two months? More? Gary Shaw, Darchinyan’s promoter, said he will petition the IBF to sanction an interim title fight between Darchinyan and Mares. Agbeko could then face the winner when he’s able to fight again. Just like that, Agbeko, a very good fighter, went from a fairly hot commodity to an afterthought.
Abner Mares: The likeable Angeleno was primed for the biggest fight of his life, an opportunity to fight for a major title in his hometown on Showtime. Then, three days before the fight, he was informed that Agbeko couldn’t fight and wouldn’t be replaced. Mares was devastated. He tried to take the news in stride, saying more than once “that’s boxing.” However, to whip yourself into shape both physically and mentally for naught must be profoundly deflating. Alas, he’s young (25) and has options, although he wants to get into the ring as soon as possible. Agbeko remains a possible opponent if he can recover quickly enough. The promoters are exploring the possibility of a rematch with Darchinyan, who Mares narrowly outpointed in December. And Mares mentioned Fernando Montiel, who was stopped by Nonito Donaire in his last fight. So, yes, the future is promising even if the present is depressing.
Agbeko pulling out: The sport had been on an incredible roll, with back-to-back unforgettable weekends. The highlights were stunning performances by Erik Morales, Robert Guerrero and Victor Ortiz, as well as several upsets. Agbeko-Mares was next in line, an even matchup between two young fighters in their primes with the potential to be another entertaining fight. Then it was gone, putting the brakes on the sport’s momentum to some degree. All was not lost, though. Darchinyan was in the wings. His fight with Yonnhy Perez was elevated to the main event and the brash Armenian came through with a memorable performance, one in which he looked like the knockout artist of old. It wasn’t exactly Morales turning back the clock or Ortiz stunning the world but it was a good night.
Leal-Marroquin: Featherweight prospect Robert Marroquin became the latest in a string of recent upset victims on Saturday, losing a split decision to Francisco Leal in a spirited fight in Thackerville, Okla. Marroquin — 19-0 (14 KOs) going into the fight — had looked like a can’t-miss prospect, although he had to work hard to outpoint Gilberto Leon in his previous fight. Leal (15-5-3, 9 KOs) deserves credit. The native of Mexicali is a crafty southpaw who throws a lot of punches. He also proved he is tough by lasting eight rounds against Celestino Caballero in 2009, although it’s not clear how he got that opportunity. Still, Leal is the type of opponent a good prospect should beat. Marroquin will either learn from the setback and become a better fighter as a result or was never as good as many thought. I still believe he has what it takes to win a title one day.
Breidis Prescott: The conqueror of Amir Khan reminded us in a near-shutout 10-round decision over a capable opponent in Bayan Jargal on Friday that he has considerable ability to go with solid punching power, perhaps enough ability to challenge for a major title yet. The lanky Colombian lost back-to-back lightweight fights in 2009 to Miguel Vazquez (split decision) and Kevin Mitchell (unanimous decision), which dashed his immediate championship hopes. He then moved up to 140 pounds, where he appears to be more comfortable. He has a third-round knockout and two one-sided decisions at that weight, although the competition wasn’t as stiff as his last two lightweight bouts. It will be interesting to see how Prescott does when he faces a real challenge at junior welterweight.
Rios-Antillon: Cameron Dunkin, Brandon Rios’ manager, hoped to give his fighter a relatively easy fight after his taxing victory over Miguel Acosta in February. So who does Rios end up with as an opponent on July 9? Urbano Antillon, the type of fighter who will take an opponent to hell and back regardless of who ends up the winner. This is a Fight of the Year waiting to happen, a matchup of two strong, fearless warriors who don’t know how to back up. I think Rios, a big lightweight, will be too strong for Antillon in the end but it will be great fun as long as it lasts. This might not be the fight Dunkin prefers but we’ll take it. Antillon was scheduled to face Humberto Soto in a rematch of their brutal war in December but, saying he never signed a contract, he pulled out of the fight.
Ortiz celebration: Oscar De La Hoya sat with his arm around Victor Ortiz, the new 147-pound titleholder, at a party to celebrate Ortiz’s recent victory over Andre Berto. The fighter-turned-promoter noticed me walking by and bellowed: “Mike.” He paused and smiled broadly. “Victor Ortiz … welterweight champion … welt-er-weight champion.” Ortiz and I couldn’t help but smile along with the future Hall of Famer. Of course, promoters want their fighters to succeed for business purposes. Ortiz’s victory was a shot in the arm for Golden Boy Promotions. This was about more than money, though. This was about what these titles mean to fighters and their handlers — the culmination of childhood dreams and back-breaking work. I don’t think much of WBC czar Jose Sulaiman but I understand why his belt – Ortiz’s belt — was handled like the holy grail when it was passed around at the party. It is a symbol of success, which is fleeting in the most-demanding of sports. The celebration that night was an expression of pure joy.
Manny Pacquiao, when asked whether he might yet fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.: “For me, there’s still a chance. It’s up to him if he wants to fight. I’ll just do my job and make the fans happy.”