SHOWTIME Sports officially announced today a series of high-profile fights amongst four of the world’s elite fighters in the exciting and deep bantamweight division. The two-round, single-elimination tournament to determine the best fighter at 118 pounds will begin with two semifinal bouts on Saturday, Dec. 11, live on SHOWTIME at 9 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the west coast) from Leon, Mexico. The talented and willing field comprises unbeaten IBF 118-pound champion Yonnhy “El Colombiano” Perez, undefeated, world-ranked rising star Abner Mares, former IBF bantamweight champion Joseph “King Kong’’ Agbeko, and two-division world champion Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan. Each bout will be scheduled for 12 rounds. The winners of each semifinal will clash in the final in 2011 with the losing fighters competing in a consolation fight.
“Meaningful match-ups with high stakes in boxing’s most competitive divisions—that’s our promise to boxing fans,” said SHOWTIME Sports Executive Vice President and General Manager Ken Hershman. “I hold these four world championship competitors in the highest regard for taking the fights that the fans want to see; for risking their status as one of the world’s best, to prove they are the sole champion in the division. When you consistently fight and defeat the best, you deserve to be recognized as such.”
The bantamweight tournament is promoted by Gary Shaw Productions for Darchinyan and, in association with Thompson Boxing Promotions, for Perez, Golden Boy Promotions for Mares, and Don King Productions for Agbeko. The venue in Leon, Mexico for the Dec. 11 telecast is to be announced. The semifinal matchups are as follows:
IBF Bantamweight World Championship
Yonnhy Perez (20-0-1, 14 KOs) vs. Joseph Agbeko (27-2, 22 KOs)
Abner Mares (20-0-1, 13 KOs) vs Vic Darchinyan (35-2-1, 27 KOs)
Each of the participants in the bantamweight tournament has previously fought at least one of the other fighters in competitive bouts, all on SHOWTIME.
Perez unanimously outpointed then-defending champion Agbeko to capture the IBF belt on Oct. 31, 2009, and retained it with a disputed majority draw over Mares last May 22. Agbeko, in his outing before getting dethroned by Perez, retained the same title with a close, unanimous decision over Darchinyan on July 7, 2009.
The beauty of a tournament is that rankings and past performances can be dismissed once it begins. Each boxer starts with the same chance to make, and win, the final.
The humble, hard-working, 5-foot-11, 31-year-old Perez is looking at the tournament as a chance to continue to stamp himself as perhaps the premier bantamweight boxer on the planet.
“I’m excited to be included in the 118-pound tournament that SHOWTIME has put together,” said Perez, who held onto his belt by the narrowest of margins (114-114 twice and 113-115) against Mares.
“SHOWTIME has helped me reveal my ability to the world and I’m honored they will televise my next two fights. I knew the instant I earned my IBF bantamweight championship title that it would open a lot of doors for me. This is the first of many opportunities. I am going to get through this tournament as the reigning champion.”
The gifted, handsome Mares, who showed his class with a highly proficient performance against Perez, doesn’t anticipate any dull moments in the ring once the first tournament bell rings.
“Boxing fans know that the little guys always make for the best fights and this tournament is guaranteed to prove that again,” said the personable 5-foot-5, 25-year-old Mares. “This is a great opportunity for all of us to prove ourselves in the spotlight and I am excited that this fight will take place in Mexico with all of the support of my people for the first time in my career.
“Of course, I am also grateful and looking forward to having a rematch with Yonnhy in the final. I felt I did enough in our first fight to win a unanimous decision. I know if I do my best again, I’ll come away with the IBF belt.”
The 5-foot-5 ½-inch, 30-year-old Agbeko hasn’t fought since falling short against Perez in Oct. 2009, but feels he is ready to step in and re-establish himself as the man to beat at 118 pounds.
“I’ve always said, and believed in my heart, that I am the best bantamweight in the world,” Agbeko said. “Now it is time to prove it once and for all.
“I’m beyond happy and excited that SHOWTIME is doing a tournament in this weight class. This truly is an opportunity that I never expected, and I am going to take full advantage of it. It is my destiny to win it all.”
Darchinyan is by far the most experienced boxer in the foursome and has participated in more than twice as many world title fights (14) as the others have combined. He is as confident as always.
“I think that this is a beautiful thing that SHOWTIME is doing, but it isn’t a bantamweight tournament, it’s The Darchinyan Tournament,” said the 5-foot-5½-inch, 34-year-old Darchinyan, a former world champion at 112 and 115 pounds who’ll be making his 12th appearance on SHOWTIME. “Everyone who faces me will feel my power and be a loser.
“I owe Agbeko because he got away with one last time. But it doesn’t matter who I fight. Even the winner in the other bracket will be a loser because he will eventually have to face me and lose.”
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