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RING Pass: Mares vs. Agbeko II

MEET THE FIGHTERS

JOSEPH AGBEKO

The essentials

Age: 31

Height / Reach: 5-5½ (166 cm) / 65½ (166cm)

Stance: Orthodox

Hometown: Bronx, New York (from Accra, Ghana)

Nickname: King Kong

Turned pro: 1998

Record: 28-3 (22 knockouts)

Trainer: Adama Addy

Fight-by-fight: Click here.

The Ring rating: No. 4 bantamweight

Titles: IBF bantamweight (2007-2009; list it to Yonnhy Perez); IBF bantamweight (2010-current)

Biggest victories: Luis Alberto Perez, Sept. 29, 2007, TKO 7 (wins IBF title); William Gonzalez, Dec. 11, 2008, MD 12 (retains title); Vic Darchinyan, July 11, 2009, UD 12 (retains title); Yonnhy Perez, Dec. 11, 2010, UD 12 (Showtime tournament semifinal; regains IBF title)

Losses: Yonnhy Perez, Oct. 31, 2009, UD 12 (loses IBF title); Abner Mares, Aug. 13, 2010 (Showtime tournament final; loses IBF title)

Biography: Joseph Agbeko is regarded as the most-talented fighter from Ghana since former welterweight standout Ike Quartey, but the two-time bantamweight titleholder didn’t live up to his considerable potential until his second fight with Yonnhy Perez.

Agbeko outclassed the rugged Colombian punching machine over 12 rounds with a beautiful mix boxing and fighting during their anticipated rematch in December.

Agbeko didn’t just avenge the thrilling loss he suffered to Perez in October of 2009 with the win, he instantly evolved from a decided underdog to the favorite to win Showtime’s “Winner Take All” four-man bantamweight tournament.

Agbeko, who lives and trains in Bronx, N.Y., exhibited the fierce fighting spirit expected of the best Ghanaian fighters when he won the IBF title with seventh-round stoppage of Luis Perez in 2007 and when he boldly turned back the challenge of odds favorite Vic Darchinyan via unanimous decision in 2009.

Perez was a hardnosed two-division beltholder from Nicaragua who hadn’t lost in nearly seven years. Darchinyan, a feared puncher and unified 115-pound titleholder, was rated in many pound-for-pound lists at the time Agbeko out-fought and out-pointed him.

The Accra native believed the Darchinyan victory should have earned him pound-for-pound status, but he dashed his own argument by underestimating Perez, an undefeated but unknown mandatory challenger from Colombia, when they fought in Las Vegas just three months later.

Agbeko thought he would contain and bully Perez with sheer aggression as he did Darchinyan and foolishly elected to stand and trade with the tireless volume puncher whose forte is infighting. The battle of wills made for a fight of the year candidate but at the cost of Agbeko’s reputation.

Fight fans labeled him as “exposed.” Boxing writers gave him little chance to defeat Perez in a rematch that was one of the semifinal bouts to Showtime’s single-elimination bantamweight tournament.

However, the loss may have been a blessing in disguise. Agbeko tempered his aggression with underrated (and often under-utilized) skills in the rematch, showing flashes of brilliance en route to a clear-cut unanimous decision.

The 31-year-old veteran looked so good that the same critics who called him “one-dimensional” after the first Perez fight liked his chances against odds favorite Abner Mares in the tournament final that took place on Aug. 13 in Las Vegas.

As many hardcore fans and members of the media expected, Agbeko gave the unbeaten young Mexican contender hell following a shaky start. Agbeko, who suffered a questionable knockdown in the first round, took over the bout after badly rocking Mares with a huge right hand midway through the fourth.

He may have been on his way to overwhelming Mares in the late rounds of a classic but fans will never know how strong Agbeko could have finished on that night because his momentum — and legs — was taken by the many low blows that the challenger landed throughout the fight.

Adding insult to injury, referee Russell Mora failed to penalize Mares a single point for the infractions — including a blatant foul shot in the 11th round, which he egregiously counted as a knockdown when Agbeko fell to the canvas in agony.

With the help of Mora’s incompetence, Mares won the fight by majority decision, sparking an unprecedented uproar from the media and fans. The IBF did the right thing and mandated a Dec. 3 rematch, which not only gives Agbeko the opportunity to set the record straight but to add to his already impressive career accomplishments.  

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