Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito weren’t the only prize fighters this past Saturday holding a Championship grudge match. Joseph Agbeko from Ghana, 31, (28-4, 22 kOs), and Abner Mares from Montebello, California, 26, (23-0-1, 13 KOs) had identical plans as they came into their second meeting, each with different goals: Agbeko, to reclaim his IBF Bantamweight Championship, and reverse the previous outcome he received this past August when he lost the title to Mares via a Majority Decision, and for Mares, a chance to stamp himself as one of boxing’s very best young fighters, to take the opportunity to make the first title defense of his newly minted IBF Bantamweight World Championship, and to leave the audience on hand in Anaheim, California, and those watching on Showtime, with no doubt as to who the better prize fighter is between himself and Joseph Agbeko. Not every bout clamors for a rematch, but the bout fought four months ago between these two was too exciting and too controversial for Agbeko and Mares not to clash again. So the stage was set for Bantamweight supremacy, Joseph Agbeko’s chance at redemption, and Abner Mares to try and upend the former veteran Champion once more.
In the first round of their first bout, Abner Mares came out on fire and floored Joseph Agbeko with his left hook. In stark contrast to the first fight, this time Agbeko came out aggressively and won the first stanza, while Mares decided to use the round to feel Agbeko out in order to plan his attack. This would eventually pan out better for Mares than the strategy he used before, as it leaded to Mares having a much easier night despite him having a much superior first round in their first meeting.
From the second round on, Abner Mares was very much in control of the fight. Joseph Agbeko, to his credit, never showed an ounce of quit, and fought like a proud Champion until the end, although he appeared thrown off by Mares’ adjustments. With Agbeko coming out aggressively, it seemed as though he calculated that he may have to win a slugfest to recapture his title, taking into account how Mares forced the usually slower-paced Agbeko into an exciting, high-pitched battle in August. While logical, Agbeko made a miscalculation, as Mares’ game plan was not the same. Mares sacrificed some of his usual work rate, but his defense, ring generalship, and overall boxing I.Q. appeared significantly improved. It was Abner Mares, not Joseph Agbeko, who was putting on a display of boxing: circling left and right, counterpunching, and jumping in with his shots accurately when he did so, usually finishing up with his best punch, the left hook. Surprisingly, Abner Mares’ hand speed was also slightly better than Agbeko’s. Agbeko was again drawn into exchanges, except this time more his own doing, as Mares continuously circled and selected his punches in the exchanges and a lot of the time, waited on Agbeko to initiate them.
Round after round, Joseph Agbeko failed to make adjustments as Mares progressively dominated the fight. In the second half, Agbeko began tiring, in large part due to the large quantity of body shots, particularly the left hook to the liver, that he had to withstand. Despite Agbeko never traditionally being an aggressive fighter, he continued to follow the game plan of hunting Abner Mares down. Mares gladly obliged time and again, and in the eleventh round he forced Agbeko to buckle badly, making him clinch to survive the round. In the twelfth, Mares slightly took his foot off the pedal, but closed the show in the final minute with good combinations.
When the final bell rang, it was obvious: Mares won the fight. Agbeko and his fans celebrated after the final bell rang despite the inevitable verdict, as Agbeko’s fans showed undying support and affection to him all night by chanting sing-a-longs in their native language for him throughout all twelve rounds. Once announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. had the final scorecards in hand, the winner was announced Abner Mares by Unanimous Decision, and the pro Mares crowd roared with enthusiasm as Abner Mares remained undefeated and held onto his World Championships.
With this victory, Abner Mares has now assuredly marked himself as one of boxing’s best young fighters. Mares was impressive last time in just slightly edging such a crafty veteran like Agbeko, but this night, he took his skills to another level. Mares has always displayed a very effective offensive arsenal and talent, but the development in his defense over the course of his career, actually, even the development he’s had in just the past four months, is impressive. You would think Mares being a terrific body puncher, and a fighter that loves to throw punches in bunches, would never be much of a defensive wizard. Pernell Whitaker he may not be; but make no mistake about it: his defense was harder to crack than Agbeko’s was, and Agbeko is considered a good defensive fighter. The ring generalship of Mares has also vastly improved. As stated in the fight breakdown, Mares circled Agbeko all night and left him flustered at times, actually forcing Agbeko to chase him around the ring. Mares implemented his jab very well to set up his best punch, the left hook. Although the left jab itself may never be a weapon, Mares uses it extremely well to set up his range and to get into proper distance to let his combinations go.
Joesph Agbeko’s loss wasn’t so much about what he did wrong (although he didn’t appear to have a lot of variety in his approach), but more about the evolution of Mares as an improved fighter with the ability to make adjustments. In comparison, Agbeko’s lack of improvement is not all that surprising considering Mares is twenty-five and Agbeko is thirty-one. It didn’t seem as though Agbeko has lost a step as he’s still a very good fighter and a viable opponent for any top Bantamweight.