Both Agbeko and Mares are aggressive but versatile boxer-punchers. When Agbeko is focused he’s one of the best stick-and-move boxers in the bantamweight division. The 31-year-old Ghanaian has an excellent jab when he remembers to lead with it, a strong and well-timed right hand, and good head- and upper-body movement. Mares is a more consistent boxer than Agbeko, who appears to neglect his skills more often. The 2004 Olympian, who has a good jab, decent head movement and a beautiful hook to the body, possesses slightly tighter technique and punches in combination better than the veteran. However, despite good balance and footwork, the younger man often forgoes boxing on his toes in favor of pressure fighting tactics, which make him an easier target.
Mares, who has 13 stoppages among his 21 victories, is heavy handed but he usually has to put his shots together or wear his foes down with a body attack to score a KO. Agbeko, who has 22 stoppages among his 28 victories, hasn’t scored a KO since his title-winning effort against Luis Perez in 2007, but he was known for his power as he climbed the rankings and it’s evident that the Ghanaian can crack with his right hand. The pro seasoning of his last three opponents (William Gonzalez, Darchinyan and Yonnhy Perez) accounts a little bit for what it appears to be a recent power outage. However, it should be noted that he earned respect with his hard single shots, especially his right hand — which badly rocked Mares in the fourth round of their first bout — in each of those fights.
SPEED AND ATHLETIC ABILITY
Mares is a superb all-around boxer with above average athletic ability. The 25-year-old contender is strong, durable with fast hands and fluid footwork, but he does not have possess the hand speed, quick reflexes or explosiveness that Agbeko has exhibited in his fights. Their hand-eye coordination appears equal but the older man has a little more pop in his punches.
Both fighters avoid punches with head- and upper-body movement. Mares keeps his hands up and blocks more than Agbeko, but Agbeko is better at leaning away from or ducking under incoming shots.
The older man has only a slight edge in experience. Agbeko has fought 17 more rounds than Mares (174 to 157) and he’s faced five titleholders while the younger man has only faced three (although the best beltholders the veteran has faced — Darchinyan and Yonnhy Perez — are the some two the challenger has fought).
Both men have taken their share of hard shots, including the best of Darchinyan and Perez. Mares suffered a flash knockdown in second round of his fight with Darchinyan. Agbeko suffered a flash knockdown in the 10th round of his first fight with Perez and a questionable fall to the canvas in the first round of his first bout with Mares. Mares was momentarily rocked (but remained upright) in the fourth round of the Agbeko fight. Neither fighter has ever appeared seriously hurt during a fight.
Both fighters are known for their dedication and their strong work ethics in the gym. Their faced-paced 12-round bouts against Perez, Darchinyan and each other, proves their world-class conditioning.
WEAR AND TEAR
Both fighters’ toughest bouts came against Perez. Mares also had a tough time with Darchinyan. Apart form those bouts both men have avoided taking too much punishment in their fights. However, Agbeko’s age and inactivity make him more susceptible the kind of physical breakdown that fighters who have been in one too many wars experience. And who knows how much those low blows from Mares took out of Agbeko’s 31-year-old body during their first fight?
Mares has the more accomplished trainer in his corner. Clemente Medina has either trained or co-trained former titleholders Yory Boy Campas, Carlos Hernandez, Edwin Valero, Daniel Ponce de Leon, and Mike Anchondo over the past 15 years and the Southern California-based coach currently trains junior middleweight contender Alfredo Angulo and lightweight prospect Carlos Molina. However, Medina, who trained Mares for the Olympian’s first seven pro bouts has only recently been reunited with the fighter (before the Darchinyan bout). Mares has had too many head trainers to mention between his stints with Medina, who is known as an offensive-minded coach. Adama Addy has not trained as many world-class fighters and top prospects as Medina but he appears to be a well rounder coach and he’s been with Agbeko since the fighter’s amateur days. The rapport the two have built over the past 18 years should not be overlooked.
A confident Agbeko will take the early rounds of the hotly contested bout with his long-rage jab and straight rights. Mares will land counter right and left hooks but not enough to take control of the match. The young challenger will switch his style to pressure-fighting mode in the middle rounds at the behest of his corner and, being careful not to allow his body shots to stray below Agbeko’s beltline, will enjoy more success. Mares will stalk forward with an effective head-and-body attack, but he’ll find Agbeko ready and willing to match his stepped-up aggression. The veteran challenger will go toe-to-toe with Mares and even manage to hurt the new titleholder with choice body shots. Mares will suck it up and stay on top of Agbeko until he stuns the veteran with a three-punch combination in the late rounds of the bout. Agbeko’s corner will urge him to use his speed and boxing skills down the stretch and the older man will stick and move as best he can. However, fatigue from the face pace of the fight and Mares’ sporadic body attack will rob Agbeko of his technique. His jab will not be as sharp as it was in the early rounds and he will telegraph and loop his right hand, enabling Mares to slip in range and back Agbeko up with accurate counter punches to the head. Agbeko will fight as well as he can off the ropes and the two will battle it out until the final bell to the delight of the Southern California crowd.
Prediction: Mares by close unanimous decision.
All photos by Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions