LAS VEGAS — Abner Mares brimmed with confidence on Wednesday at the final press conference for his showdown with Joseph Agbeko in the championship fight in Showtime's bantamweight tournament Saturday at the at the Hard Rock Hotel.
“There’s no way I can lose,” said Mares (21-0-1, 13 knockouts). “I’ve worked too hard. I’m a Mexican ready for war.”
Nobody doubts that Mares is prepared to give his all. Beating Agbeko for the 31-year-old veteran’s bantamweight title would be the realization of his childhood dream.
However, Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) has dreams of his own, bigger dreams than Mares', and the IBF beltholder is just as confident as his 25-year-old challenger.
“Abner Mares has his dream of being a bantamweight champion,” said Agbeko, whose fighting alias “King Kong” is actually part of his legal name. “I’ve already done that. I want to be more than the IBF champion. King Kong has a dream to become No. 1 pound for pound one day.
“Losing to Mares will not allow that dream to happen. My only option is to beat Mares on Saturday. So, yes, he has a dream, but King Kong is here to kill that dream.”
Agbeko said beating Mares is the first step toward achieving his extremely lofty goal. The Bronx, N.Y.-based Ghanaian, who is THE RING’s No. 3-rated bantamweight, believes a victory on Saturday will give him universal recognition as the world’s best 118-pound fighter.
“I have to beat Mares and win the bantamweight tournament before I can realize my dream,” he said. “Becoming the No. 1 bantamweight comes first.”
Nonito Donaire, the WBC and WBO titleholder, and WBA beltholder Anselmo Moreno, THE RING’s Nos. 1- and 2-rated bantamweights, probably disagree with Agbeko‘s claim.
Agbeko says that’s their problem.
“Any bantamweight who wanted to prove that he was the best in the world was welcome to participate in Showtime’s tournament,” he said. “If they didn’t, it was because they were scared. Only the winner of the tournament can say he is the best, and that will be me after I beat Mares.
“I’m not going to call out Nonito Donaire or Moreno after I beat Mares. They should come looking for me if they want to be No. 1.”
And if they don’t, Agbeko says he will move on to bigger — and what he hopes are better — prospects in pursuit of his dream.
“I will have maybe two or three more fights at bantamweight before I move up to the heavier divisions,” he said. “I think I can compete with the best fighters at super bantamweight [122 pounds] and featherweight [126 pounds].
“Eventually, I’m going to go all the way to super featherweight [130 pounds].”
Mares is keeping his thoughts firmly on the 118-pound division.
“I’m just focused on getting that title,” said Mares, who would be the first fighter Golden Boy Promotions signed out of the amateurs to win a major belt if he beats Agbeko.
And if he realizes his dream, will he consider himself the top bantamweight? Would he set a new goal of earning pound-for-pound recognition?
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “I think Donaire and I would have to fight [to determine the best bantamweight], and I think later on, eventually, it’s going to happen because people want to see it.
“I really don’t look at pound-for-pound rankings. I just want to fight the best. I’ll let the fans decide if they want to include me on any pound-for-pound list.”
Luis Ramos Jr.’s unfortunate mugging on Tuesday scratched one of the only competitive matchups on the Agbeko-Mares undercard.
Ramos, who was to face David Rodela in a scheduled 10-round bout, was not seriously hurt when he was reportedly jumped by three thugs while doing road work in his hometown of Santa Ana, Calif., according to his manager Frank Espinoza.
However, the undefeated lightweight prospect was roughed up enough to concern the physician who examined him on Tuesday night. Ramos, who was cut and bruised on his forehead, was advised not go through with the fight.
Espinoza said he would work with Ramos‘ promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, in rescheduling the Rodela fight once his fighter is medically cleared.
So what does that leave (on the undercard) for local fans who buy a ticket to Saturday’s show, which takes place in The Joint, the Hard Rock Hotel’s intimate 4,000-seat club venue? Not much.
Although, the folks from Don King Productions, Agbeko’s promoter, claim their heavyweight bout between 29-year-old Eric Molina (17-1, 13 KOs) and 36-year-old Warren Browning (14-1-1, 9 KOs), which is scheduled for 12 rounds for some odd reason, will provide plenty of action.
Molina, a 6-foot-5 college grad from Raymondville, Texas, vowed to spill some blood.
“I’m ready for war,” said Molina, who has been training with veteran coach Al Bonani in Miami. “I’ve been working on my boxing skills with Al, but like he said, I’m a Mexican-American and I have the heart of a Mexican warrior. I’m coming to fight, and I’m willing to die when I’m in the ring.”
Browning, who looked more like a bouncer than a prize fighter, was not as dramatic but he promised to make for a good scrap.
“I had to lose 30 pounds for the only fight I’ve lost (a ninth-round KO to cruiserweight prospect Ryan Coyne last August),” said the bald and muscular native of London, Ky. “For this fight I’m back up to heavyweight where I belong and I am going to bring it.”
Former flyweight titleholder Eric Morel will be in a stay busy 10 rounder against Mexican journeyman Daniel Quevedo. The 35-year-old bantamweight contender is hoping to get a crack at either the Agbeko-Mares winner or Moreno sometime in the fall.
Morel (44-2, 22 KOs), a 1992 U.S. Olympian from Puerto Rico, is a pure boxer; Quevedo (13-11-2, 8 KOs) has never been stopped. This bout figures to go the distance in uneventful fashion.
The undercard is rounded out by a scheduled eight rounder between lightweight prospect Carlos Molina (14-0, 7 KOs) and late-substitute Juan Montiel (5-4-2, 2 KOs), a serviceable journeyman from Mexico City, and a bout featuring junior welterweight prospect Angelo Santana (10-0, 7 KOs), a former Cuban amateur standout who is still without an opponent.
Doug Fischer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Agbeko by Naoki Fukuda / group photo by Chris Cozzone-Fightwireimages.com