April 23 will see the boxing world focused on the highly competitive bantamweight division, as Showtime presents the final two bouts of their four-man mini-tournament. The first two fights took place on December 11, with Joseph Agbeko defeating Yonnhy Perez, and Abner Mares establishing himself firmly in the elite ranks at 118 with a win over Vic Darchinyan. Both fights were exciting and competitive -- just as advertised, and just as we can expect on the 23rd.
Joseph Agbeko v. Abner Mares
Agbeko (28-2, 22 KO) came back from a year-plus break after losing to Perez on Halloween night, 2009. One could reasonably have expected the Ghanaian to be rusty, but he showed no signs of that, instead putting in maybe a career-best performance in the win.
After losing to Yonnhy Perez I learned a couple of lessons and I've been working very hard since then," Agbeko said on Wednesday during a conference call. "I had the chance to get back with the Showtime bantamweightt ournament and I was able to reclaim my belt from Yonnhy Perez.
"The lessons I learned from the first fight are making me work harder and harder every day for the fight with Abner Mares."
The 31-year-old Don King fighter also is appreciative of the chance to showcase himself in the tournament, and for the opportunity to get back to the top level of the bantamweight division.
"I love this tournament," Agbeko said. "This tournament gave me a chance to get my title back from Perez. It's a tournament where you're not going to fight any other contender - you're only fighting the best bantamweights in the world. You're not going to fight the 15th contender or the 10th contender; you're only going to fight the best bantamweights.
"If you come out of the tournament as the winner then you're going to be the best bantamweight in the world. I think this tournament gives us a chance to prove ourselves and show we're the best bantamweights. I really like the tournament so I with it could continue longer."
"[The tournament has] helped me tremendously to get myself known out there," said Mares (21-0-1, 13 KO).
"Back then, people would hear rumors about Abner Mares but I never had been showcased. Now, it really helps people recognize me and people recognize my fights. Showtime has done a tremendous job to showcase my style and showcase my life. For me, it worked out great. If they keep going with any other division it will definitely help not just the fighters but boxing as well."
Both expect their fight to be fan-friendly, which is in line with what fans are expecting.
"I think it's going to be an exciting fight," said Mares. "Obviously, you've seen our styles and have seen us fight. We can both brawl, we can both box. It really just depends what we bring into the ring and how adapt to the styles. I like to give exciting fights. There are times, even Agbeko said, where you go toe-to-toe; I sometimes like that because it makes the fight interesting and exciting."
Agbeko agreed. "I think we both are skillful and we both are very aggressive. Abner is a very strong guy and always like coming in and throwing a lot of punches. I can do the same. I believe it's going to be a very beautiful fight. There's going to be a lot of action in this fight. I think the smarter fighter is going to win this fight. We're going to fight with our body, our strength and our energy and I think the smartest fighter is going to win."
"I don't think about advantages in any fight," Agbeko said when asked what his advantages would be, "because I've been fighting very tough fighters for some time now. My advantage is going to be my heart. I've worked a lot on strength for this fight and I've worked a lot on speed."
But Mares feels he has something going for him. "My advantage is fighting here at home. I know that they say the people aren't fighting for you; you're the one going up in the ring. But the people and the crowd are the ones that feed you that energy. Once I get up in the ring and hear people cheer for me feeds me that energy to go the 12 rounds to fight an energetic fight."
Yonnhy Perez v. Vic Darchinyan
Photo by Carlos Baeza/Thompson Boxing
As for the consolation fight, well, don't tell Yonnhy Perez and Vic Darchinyan that their fight is any less important than the main event.
"I'm a professional and I'm concentrating on my next opponent. What's happened in the past stays in the past. I'm just looking forward to this fight," said Darchinyan (35-3-1, 27 KO).
"I have motivation in my family," Perez offered. "I fight for my kids so they're better off, my family back home, friends, everybody. I fight for my country and my family. I'm just taking this fight as another fight that I need to win to get to that title shot again."
Darchinyan's thought that the past is best left to the past is shared by Perez (20-1-1, 14 KO). "I have nothing to prove. Everyone knows me; I'm a former world champion. Right now I'm just concentrating on Vic Darchinyan. I feel 100 percent confident. On April 23 everyone will see a great fight."
Darchinyan has been dogged by talk that, as a former flyweight and super flyweight destroyer, his power has not translated to the bantamweight division, where he has gone 1-2 (0 KO), with the win coming over journeyman Eric Barcelona, hardly the most notable scalp.
"In my last fight I showed skills for all 12 rounds and didn't go bombing for a knockout. But no more, I'm changing my style again," said Darchinyan. "I'm going to knock out everyone in front of me. This time it's Yonnhy Perez, I'm just coming to knock him out. I'm just coming to destroy him. You will see. People talk about when I moved to bantamweight and say I'm not as powerful as I was at 115 pounds? You will see how powerful I am at bantamweight."
Never one to leave anything left to the imagination, Darchinyan expanded on the thought when asked how he sees the fight ending. "I’m coming to knock him out. He’s a good fighter, it’s nothing personal, I’m just coming to knock him out. I’m just going to punch the left and the right with damaging punches. I’m just coming to destroy him. I’m looking for a knockout in the fourth round. Is it going to happen? I don't know."
Perez isn't worried. "I'm prepared for however Darchinyan comes out. If he comes out to slug I'm going to slug with him. If he comes to box, I'm going box. I'm prepared for whatever Darchinyan brings to me. We're just ready."
The Fighters Talk About the Competition
Three of the four fighters were asked how they saw the other fight of the evening going.
Abner Mares on Darchinyan-Perez: "I have no comment on that fight. I just think it's going to be a great fight because of their styles. Yonnhy is a guy that is there to be hit - he's forward, he doesn't like to back up. And Darchinyan likes that. It can go both ways. If Darchinyan lands that left hand that he likes to land right on the chin I think Yonnhy might go down. But, again, if it goes down to Yonnhy being stronger and Darchinyan not being able to take his pressure, it goes both ways. I really don't have a winner there; I just think it's going to be a great fight."
Yonnhy Perez on Agbeko-Mares: "Both fighters are great fighters. But my friend Abner Mares is going to win this fight and he'll be a world champion. I know how hard he's worked for it and it's his time."
Vic Darchinyan on Agbeko-Mares: "I don't care about who's going to win. I just want to fight the winner. I'm looking forward to my next fight."