By Rocco Morales
Tom Hogan – Hoganphotos/Golden Boy
The kickoff press conference announcing “The Bantamweight Tournament Final: Winner Takes All”, took place Tuesday morning at The Conga Room at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles. In the main event, Joseph King Kong Agbeko will put his IBF bantamweight title against undefeated rising star Abner Mares. In the bantamweight tournament consolation bout, Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan” meets the once defeated Yonnhy “El Colombiano” Perez.
This tournament not only features four of the top bantamweights in the world, but it also features four of the top American boxing promoters in Don King Productions, Gary Shaw Productions, Golden Boy Promotions and Thompson Boxing Promotions. In keeping the tournament to only two fights, the tournament appears as if it will go off without a hitch as opposed to the current “Super Six” beleaguered super middleweight tournament which has faced the challenge of the withdrawal of three of its original six fighters, squabbles over venues and postponements due to injuries.
The bantamweight tournament, even more so than the super middleweight tournament, truly has an international flavor and showcases fighters representing five different continents with Agbeko from Ghana, Mares from Mexico, Darchinyan originally from Armenia but now living in Australia and Perez from Colombia.
Agbeko follows in the footsteps of previous world champions from Ghana including Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey and appears to be the favorite to win the tournament. At 30 years old, Agbeko is in his prime yet has a wealth of experience as a 12 year pro, turning pro in 1998 and fighting for the first three years of his career in Africa until fighting for the first time in Europe. In 2007, Agbeko fought for the first time in the USA and later that year would go on to win his first world championship, the IBF bantamweight title, with a knockout victory over former titlist, Luis Perez.
Agbeko would go on to successfully defend his belt two times against William Gonzales and Darchinyan. In the second successful defense, Agbeko convincingly beat Darchinyan, who was moving up in weight to challenge Agbeko, by unanimous decision victory. However, just three months following the Darchinyan victory, Agbeko went on to lose his title by unanimous decision to Yonnhy Perez.
The chance for redemption against Perez would have to wait nearly 14 months but once Agbeko was able to exercise his rematch clause, he handily defeated Yonnhy Perez last December to regain his IBF bantamweight title and set up the showdown in the tournament final against Mares.
The undefeated Mares, meanwhile, has been on a comparatively express route to the limelight. A former amateur standout, Mares captured gold in each the 2001 U.S. National Junior Olympic Championships, the 2002 Central American and Caribbean Games, the 2003 Pan American Games and was a 2004 Olympian representing Mexico in Athens, losing a highly controversial decision. Immediately out of the Olympics, Mares would sign a promotional deal with Golden Boy Promotions.
Mares first title opportunity would come last May against Yonnhy Perez for the IBF bantamweight title Perez took from Agbeko. In a see-saw tactical battle, Mares and Perez would
fight evenly to a draw. In a stroke of fortune, however, Mares would be invited to participate in the four man bantamweight tournament and would go onto win a close decision over Vic Darchinyan in the opening round of the tournament to setup the showdown against Agbeko.
Speaking at Tuesday’s press conference, Agbeko was in good spirits and appeared confident when addressing the media.
“Boxing is the most beautiful sport in the world and this night of two great fights gives us the opportunity to show just how beautiful it is, once again”, said Agbeko.
“Abner Mares is a great fighter and someone I respect outside of the ring but he better be ready to answer for what I’ve got for him come April 23rd. I will come to fight on April 23rd against Abner Mares. I know it’s going to be a great fight and the best fight of the night but, afterward, Mares is going to be 21-1.”
Mares’ turn at the podium took on a different appearance as he seemed to have a happy go lucky, just glad to be here, kind of attitude, despite the win over Darchinyan in opening tournament action and the draw against Perez.
“I’m really excited to be here and I thank SHOWTIME for continuing to make these great fights”, said Mares.
“Joseph King Kong Agbeko has never seen a more complete fighter like me. I know we’re both coming. I saw his last fight against Yonnhy and he came in with a good game plan and he beat Yonnhy.
“I expect a great fight against Agbeko, who is just a great guy outside the ring. He’s always happy and smiling. I know inside the ring he calls himself King Kong and he believes he actually becomes King Kong inside the ring.
“I’m excited to fight in front of my friends and family because it gives me extra motivation to win”, concluded Mares.
In a tremendous semi-main event and “consolation” fight, the proud Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan meets determined Yonnhy Perez. A win will catapult either fighter right back into a title fight and Darchinyan at 35 years old and Perez at 32 years old have no time to spare in this do or die affair.
Darchinyan has had a long and storied career and despite his highly unorthodox style was an amateur standout and Olympic representative for Armenia in the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney. His professional accolades inlcude the IBF flyweight championship with six successful defenses, WBC/WBA super flyweight championship with three successful defenses, and the IBF bantamweight championship with two successful defenses.
Despite Darchinyan’s age, many of his best performances have come in recent years, including championship victories over Cristian Mijares and Jorge Arce. Prior to the Mares bout, Darchinyan boasted that he had never lost to a Mexican, but that streak would come to an end at the hands of each Mares and the ringside judges who favored Mares punch output to Darchinyan’s more powerful punches.
Perez, meanwhile, enters the fight with an undoubtable loss to Agbeko in opening round tournament action, giving back the IBF bantamweight title he had earlier dethroned him. In the fight prior to Agbeko, Perez fought Mares to a draw. Prior to then, however, Perez was on top of the world with a comfortable decision victory to dethrone Agbeko in October 2009 and, in the prior fight, a convincing TKO win in South Africa over Silence Mabuza to earn his shot at the title.
Perez, although a decorated amateur with 230 amateur victories in 247 fights, lacks the championship experience of his opponent, Darchinyan. However, Perez can find hope in the fact that Darchinyan is coming off a loss to his friend and fellow tournament participant, Abner Mares, who entered the fight with Darchinyan with even less championship experience than Perez.
In taking the podium, Perez had the following to say about his loss to Agbeko and his showdown with Darchinyan.
“Agbeko was the better fighter that night and there’s nothing more to it. The only thing that really worries me about Vic Darchinyan is that he’s a southpaw. His power does not bother me. You can say that he hits hard but we are fighters and we all hit hard. He dropped Mares down within the first few rounds, but why didn’t he finish him? If I have a guy down I’m going to try and finish. I just have to be weary of what he does in the first few rounds”, said Perez.
“What happened in my last fight will never happen again and we are making the necessary adjustments to make sure of that over the next few weeks.
“Whoever can make the most adjustments will win the fight on April 23″, concluded Perez.
Darchinyan, in addressing the media, appeared somewhat on edge, a combination of embarrassed and angry that he had lost his opening round bout to the far less experienced Mares.
“I took a lot of low blows in my last fight. I was upset and very disturbed about what happened but sometimes that’s boxing. I want a clean fight this time”, said Darchinyan.
“This time I’m going to show that once I knock a fighter down, I am coming to finish him. So, there’s no more playing around. This time, it’s just go for the knockout”, emphatically concluded Darchinyan and seeming to mean it.
The Bantamweight Tournament Final: Winner Takes All is promoted by Don King Productions, Gary Shaw Productions, Golden Boy Promotions and Thompson Boxing Promotions and will be televised on Showtime on Saturday April 23rd at 10:30PM ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast). Tickets are priced at $200, $100, $75, $50 and $25, are available online at Ticketmaster.com, and via Ticketmaster charge-by-phone lines at (800) 745-3000. Tickets are also available at STAPLES Center Box Office.