“Toss up” is a phrase often used when speaking about an upcoming prize fight which can leave many in the boxing community without a solid prediction due to neither fighter having a clear advantage. Showtime’s upcoming Bantamweight Tournament Finale could easily be described as a world class toss up, and with good reason. In order to gauge what each Pugilist will have to accomplish to walk away the winner of the Bantamweight Tournament next Saturday, I shall dissect each man’s style, strengths, and flaws.
We have former Mexican Olympian, and current IBO and WBC Silver Bantamweight World Champion, Abner Mares, still undefeated at age twenty-five. Mares was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, and now resides in Montebello, California. He comes into this bout with a record of 21-0-1 (13 KOs). Three years ago, doctors told Mares that due to suffering a detached retina, his fighting career may have been over. After facing the possibility of forced retirement, Mares earned the biggest victory of his career against former two division World Champion: knockout artist, Vic Darchinyan 36-3-1 (27 KOs). In some of Mares’ previous fights, such as last year’s disputed draw in Los Angeles against former IBF Bantamweight World Champion, Yonnhy Perez 20-2-1 (14 KOs), Mares fought, almost unsuccessfully, on his back foot. When he returned against an even harder hitting Darchinyan, he fought going forward for most of the fight. Mares seemed much more effective going forward as the aggressor in his fight with Darchinyan, than the previous debacle, backpedaling against Perez. Since the the most recent showcase of his skills was the fight against Darchinyan, a breakdown of that fight would give the most accurate glimpse of what to expect. The right handed Mares showcased decent punching power and good hand speed. His offensive arsenal varies, for example, he loves going to the body. He likes to use his jab measure his opponents and to set up the rest of his combinations. Mares likes to get into vicious exchanges and beat people in them. He seems to enjoy banging away with either hand to the body, and appears equally at home in the center of the ring or on the ropes in bunches. Mares fights for himself and almost never looks to the referee in clinches. He can fight rough and tough during those clinches or on the inside, shoving being of no consequence to him. Mares ability to explode is his bread and butter. Although his strengths lie in exchanges, he does have a few flaws which Agbeko can exploit. Mares can be caught unaware coming in, and seriously needs to work on his sub-par defensive, particularly when he’s looking to do his body work and throw his combinations. He was caught by Darchinyan time and time again with the left hand, usually straight down the pipe. The silver lining to this weakness shows that Mares has a good chin, because Darchinyan has a reputation as a K.O. artist. Mares got Sunday punch drunk, and yet, continued fighting and outpunching his hard-hitting foe, leading him to take home the decision. Mares’ conditioning also proves to be a definite strength, as he can fight at an extremely high work rate every round and not fade. His foot speed is decent, although, as stated previously, he seems to be more effective going forwards than backwards. His ring I.Q. seems to be good as well. Throughout the night with Darchinyan, Mares got nailed with the left hand repeatedly. However, in Round 7, when Darchinyan lined up Mares for another left-hand shot, Mares displayed adaptability by foreseeing the move, giving it the slip and connecting with his own jab to score a knockdown. Although this kid is no defensive genius,he is far from terrible. He can slug pretty damn good and can even counterpunch a bit as he marches forward. He’ll let his opponent swing and miss, then fire back immediately in combination to the head or body. Exchanges, body work and inside fighting are his game, but in order to win the fight, Mares will have to up his defense.
On the other side of the squared circle we have Accra, Ghana’s own two time and current IBF Bantamweight World Champion Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko, age 31.
“Joseph King Kong Agbeko is not my nickname. It’s an original name. It’s my birth name. I think my dad had a vision of something. My dad gave me the name “King Kong” as I was born. It’s my real name. It’s on my passport and everything,” (ghanatoghana.com).
The right handed Ghanian star now residing in the Bronx, New York, comes into the Bantamweight finale with a record of 28-2 (22 KOs). Agbeko is fresh off his revenge in regaining his IBF Bantamweight World Championship by defeating and turning the tables on former IBF Bantamweight World Champion, Yonnhy Perez 20-2-1 (14 KOs). The crafty, slick, Ghanian came from a breeding ground of former world champions and top notch prize fighters such as former Welterweight World Champion Ike”Bazooka” Quartey and “The Professor,” former two division World Champion, Azumah Nelson. Agbeko’s style is a frustrating one; he has great feet that can backpedal or zoom in and out of range quickly at will. Defensively he’s incredibly good, always swaying side to side with his waist and head movement, and keeping his hands in very good defensive positions at all times. If he ever swings and misses, he immediately recovers his balance. Through much of his rematch with Perez and his victory over former two division World Champion, Vic Darchinyan 36-3-1 (27 KOs), Agbeko left both men lost at sea, as they kept swinging and missing at the constantly moving, agile head of Agbeko. Agbeko can pack a punch too, as shown by his high knockout percentage. In comparison to Mares’ fight against Darchinyan, Agbeko landed significantly less leather than Mares did on Darchinyan, but was tagged himself much, much less as well. However, with fewer punches, Agbeko busted up Darchinyan’s face much worse than Mares was able to. Darchinyan suffered much more swelling and cuts due to the punching power of Agbeko. Offensively, he likes to stay on the outside and make his opponents miss and pay or lead with his straight right hand. On the inside, Agbeko will sometimes unleash a few body blows and combinations. Every now and then, get he’ll get into exchanges, where he’s pretty good at not getting caught clean, but is not as effective at exchanging punches as on the outside. His hand speed is tops, just like his feet. Punch for punch, he’s got to be one of the quickest fighters in the Bantamweight division. Only a competitor who was incredibly good at fighting from a distance and who had great foot and hand speed could defeat Agbeko on the outside in a tactical fight. Agbeko makes his money by keeping out of range, using his great head movement, and excellent foot speed and hand speed to bewilder and frustrate his adversaries. His conditioning seems fine, but one has to wonder whether it would be just as good if he wasn’t fighting at his own pace. However, in his Championship fights, he’s consistently been the same Joseph Agbeko from rounds 1 to 12, so he’s yet to give a reason why one would think he couldn’t be capable of keeping that pace. His chin has held up thus far very well too, as he’s only been down once in his entire professional career. That knockdown occurred in the 10th round of his first bout with Yonnhy Perez, who he later defeated in their next meeting. Agbeko’s faults lie in exchanges where, although he doesn’t get hit too often, but he sometimes throws wild punches which hit nothing but air. He’ll only fight on the inside once in a while, and other times he’ll wait for the referee to separate him and his adversary. When Agbeko makes the rare choice to get into exchanges, he’s more vulnerable than he is on the outside, out-boxing the man in front of him.
As the old adage goes: “Styles make fights.” Each man has a vastly different style, and each of their styles will make the fight. No prediction can or is being made here, except one: the fighter who dictates the pace, and directs the fight in the style he is comfortable with is going to win. Mares is younger, stronger, better on the inside, better in exchanges, and goes to the body much better. Agbeko is faster, more experienced, better on the outside, better defensively, and punch for punch hits harder than Mares. For Mares to win, he’s going to need some Julio Cesar Chavez or Antonio Margarito in him, in that he’s willing to walk through hell to give hell. If he can repeatedly force Agbeko into exchanges, not head hunt, pound his body as often as possible, particularly on the ropes, and walk through some stiff, hard punches, he should win. Because Mares is the better fighter at close distances and exchanges, Agbeko will fare better with less exchanges and slugging matches. Agbeko’s advantage lies in his foot and hand speed. If he wants to win, he will have to repeatedly catch Mares coming in with his straight right hand lead or any assortment of punches. By doing that, he’ll either slow down Mares and give him more than he takes, or he’ll make Mares less and less assertive in coming forward, which is Mares’s best bet.
If it’s a tactical, somewhat slow fight on the outside, it goes to Agbeko. If it’s a war with a lot of slugging, exchanges and plenty of close distance fighting, than it goes to Mares.