Photos by Tom Casino/SHOWTIME
After an action-packed doubleheader, Joseph King Kong Agbeko and Abner Mares emerge as the finalists in The Bantamweight Tournament: Winner Takes All on SHOWTIME®. In a rematch of their Halloween 2009 meeting, Agbeko reclaimed the IBF bantamweight world championship he lost from Yonnhy “El Colombiano” Perez via unanimous decision with an equal parts aggressive and calculated performance. Mares won a gritty split decision over the veteran Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan in a fight that thrilled fans in attendance at Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash.
After overworking the punch stat machine in their first bout last year, Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs) surprised Perez (20-1-1, 14 KOs) and impressed the SHOWTIME boxing analysts with an excitingly effective strategy throughout the fight. Displaying excellent defense and choosing his shots wisely, Agbeko dictated the fight’s direction through the early rounds with hard right hands and quick combinations. By the fifth round, the defending champion Perez had a cut over his left eye and began to fight with a sense of urgency.
In a potential Round of the Year sixth round, Perez, of Santa Fe Springs, Calif., turned the match into a brawl as the punches began to fly at a pace much closer to Perez’ normal work rate. The men ditched defense for offense for the full three minutes and were rewarded by a standing ovation at round’s end. By the seventh, Agbeko, of Bronx, N.Y., by way of Ghana, regained his composure and continued with his game plan through most of the bout’s final six rounds. Judges scored the fight a unanimous decision for Agbeko with scores of 115-113, 116-112 and 117-111 to hand Perez his first career loss.
Referencing the IBF belt now in his hands, Agbeko exclaimed. “This is my meal ticket and I’m glad I got it back. I am presenting it to Ghana as a Christmas bonus.” When asked about the upcoming tournament final with Mares, he said, “I’ve watched Abner Mares. He is a very smart kid. King Kong is always King Kong. I’m going to get the crown from him.”
Respectful in defeat, Perez offered, “Agbeko had an intelligent fight today and he won fair and square. I did not expect this game plan from Agbeko.”
SHOWTIME boxing analyst Al Bernstein noted, “Round seven was an important round. Agbeko stemmed the tide of the Perez onslaught.” Showing not a speck of ring rust after a 13-month break from boxing, Agbeko’s victory not only put the IBF title back in his position but earned him a spot in the tournament’s finals in 2011 against tonight’s other winner Mares. Mares said of the fight, “It was a hard fight, my hardest fight ever.”
In the thrilling opening bout, Darchinyan (35-3-1, 27 KOs) and Mares (21-0-1, 13 KOs) produced a bloody, back-and-forth battle for 12 rounds in front of a spirited crowd in the Pacific Northwest. Despite being cut along his hairline in the first round, Mares displayed his mettle and chin by withstanding the mighty two-division champion’s destructive left hand.
Darchinyan dropped Mares for the first time in his career with a flash knockdown in the second round. Capping off Mares’ adversity-filled start, referee Bobby Howard deducted a point from him in the fourth round for low blows.
Showing the qualities of a champion that Mares may soon become, he shrugged off the incident-filled start and forged on with blood pouring down his face and behind on points. To start the sixth round, Mares came out punching in combinations and landing big right hand shots. By the seventh round, Mares knocked down an off-balance Darchinyan with a glancing blow and felt the tide was beginning to turn.
“Our plan was to push him back because we know he likes to bully people. He has a tremendous punch. I proved that I could take punches,” said the emerging Mexican star who hails from Guadalajara and lives in Montebello, Calif. “I kept pushing him back. I heard him moan every time I landed a body shot.”
Although known for his power, Darchinyan surprised many with a display of untapped boxing skills by using the ring and counterpunching for most of the fight before reverting back to hunting for a big left punch as his energy faded. By the fight’s final rounds, Darchinyan looked tired and attempted to hold on to Mares – and his points lead – to no avail. The well-conditioned Mares continued to stalk Darchinyan as the fight’s aggressor and eventually did enough to win an exciting split decision with scores of 115-111 and 113-112 for Mares and 115-111 for Darchinyan.
The close fight and split decision loss did not leave Darchinyan pleased. “It’s very disgusting, very bad ref. I think, of course, I won. He didn’t let me do what I wanted to do,” said Darchinyan before conceding about Mares, “He is a tough kid.”
The night’s action delivered just what it intended: exciting, competitive and compelling fights for SHOWTIME viewers. The night also delivered the makings of another incredible night of 118-pound action in 2011 as Agbeko and Mares will compete for weight class supremacy and the IBF title. In the consolation bout, Perez and Darchinyan will look to bounce back from tough, hard fought losses.
Absent from the fight was Agbeko’s promoter Don King, mourning the loss of his wife Henrietta. The telecast honored King and his late wife with a 10-count moment of silence.
The replay of tonight’s telecast will air on Tuesday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on SHO2 and be available On Demand from Dec. 14 through Dec. 27.
The bantamweight tournament is promoted by Gary Shaw Productions, Golden Boy Promotions, Thompson Boxing Promotions and Don King Productions in association with Brian Halquist Productions.
For information on SHOWTIME Sports, including exclusive behind-the-scenes video and photo galleries, complete telecast information and more, please visit the website www.Sports.SHO.com.