ANAHEIM, Calif. — Don’t let the scorecards fool you, Abner Mares did not have an easy time out-pointing Joseph Agbeko in their anticipated rematch at the Honda Center on Saturday.
The unbeaten bantamweight titleholder won by unanimous scores of 118-110 but he had to exhibit the best boxing form of his career and dig deep during the final rounds in order to decisively defeat Agbeko.
In doing so, Mares (23-0-1, 13 knockouts) retained the IBF title he won from Agbeko under controversial circumstances in their first bout last August. That bout, which he won by close majority decision, was marred by numerous low blows he landed without penalty throughout.
Mares landed his share of beltline shots and low blows in the rematch, but not enough to merit a point deduction from referee Lou Moret or diminish his fine performance. His best punches were the crisp left hooks and straight rights landed during the many heated exchanges throughout the fast-paced, high-volume fight.
Agbeko (28-4, 22 KOs) was as game as ever and effective in spots, but Mares exhibited the tighter technique as he let go with his compact combinations. Most of the rounds were close and competitive but Mares, who fought with a cut that bled from the corner of his right eye from the second round on, generally landed the more telling shots — his left hook, which punctuated most of the exchanges, in particular.
“I’m happy my fans saw my true boxing skills,” said Mares, a 25-year-old Mexico native who grew up in Southern California. “They saw the real Abner Mares tonight.
“(The cut) bothered me sometimes and (Agbeko) played it smart by going for it, but I had a great cutman in Miguel Diaz, and I knew I was winning the entire fight.
“I had too much muscle on me for our first fight, and I got tired in the late rounds, but this time we finished strong.”
Mares closed well enough to sweep rounds seven through 12 on the official cards of Glen Hamada, Steve Morrow and Jonathan Davis.
Agbeko believes those scores are just a sign of the judges’ bias for the hometown fighter, who is promoted by Los Angeles-based Golden Boy Promotions.
“This decision is unfair,” Agbeko said. “I fought better this fight than I did for our first fight. Boxing writers told me I would have to knock Mares out to beat him before the fight and I told them “no,” but they were right.
“I don’t feel like I’m a loser. I feel like a true champ.”
He should. The 31-year-old Ghanaian is a consummate professional and bona fide warrior.
However, most of the ringside press agreed with the official scorecards, though the fight could have easily been closer. Showtime commentator Al Bernstein scored the bout 116-112 for Mares. Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times, who was one of Showtime’s pressrow judges, had a close 115-113 tally for the young titleholder.
Scorecards aside, the bottom line is that Mares had to work hard for his victory, and he’s probably going to have to do so every time he steps into the ring with a fellow world-class bantamweight.
Mares is a very good young fighter, but he’s in a very good and very deep division. The only fighters who are going to clearly separate themselves from the pack are ultra-talented boxers, such as WBC titleholder Nonito Donaire, THE RING’s No. 1-rated 118 pounder.
Mares, who is not very big bantamweight, is not an elite talent. He doesn’t possess one-punch KO power, he isn’t the fastest or slickest boxer and he’s prone to cuts.
So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he’s barely held on to his unbeaten record since he first stepped up to the world-class level against Yonnhy Perez last May. Mares did enough to hold Perez to a draw in that bout. He barely edged Vic Darchinyan to a split-decision victory in his next fight.
And many fans and members of the media believed he needed referee Russell Mora’s help to get by Agbeko in their first fight.
Although fewer fans feel that way about the rematch, most would consider Mares to be a huge underdog against Donaire.
He would have his hands full against slick-boxing Anselmo Moreno, THE RING’s No. 2-rated bantamweight, who retained his WBA title by schooling Darchinyan over 12 rounds in the co-featured bout to the Mares-Agbeko rematch.
And as battle worn as newly crowned WBO beltholder Jorge Arce is, the popular Mexican veteran would likely take Mares to hell and back in a brutal war if they fought — which is a good thing.
The fact that Mares has to bite down on his mouthpiece and improve with every fight just to compete with his fellow bantamweight standouts is part of his appeal.
However, Golden Boy Promotions doesn’t want all of his fights to be wars. Mares will probably not be in with a world-beater the next time fans see him on Showtime.
“He deserves a break,” said Eric Gomez, head matchmaker for Golden Boy Promotions. “I think we need a soft one for Abner’s next fight.
“His last four fights have been against monsters — Perez, Darchinyan, and back-to-back fights with Agbeko. We don’t want to burn him out. Look at what happened to poor Yonnhy Perez. He had war after war with Abner and Agbeko and other fighters until he had nothing left.”
Gomez told RingTV.com that Golden Boy Promotions would look for a Showtime date for Mares to headline sometime in the first quarter or spring of 2012. Moreno will likely be the in the co-featured bout against Top-10 contender Eric Morel, according to Gomez. Both crafty veterans are promoted by Golden Boy.
Mares would then face the winner of that fight later in the year if showdowns against Donaire and Arce, both of whom are promoted by Top Rank, cannot be made.
Whoever Mares winds up fighting in a title unification bout, he won’t have it easy.
Top photo by Tom Casino-Showtime. Other photos by Naoki Fukuda.
Doug Fischer can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org