Showtime's bantamweight tournament returns tomorrow night, with the third place match-up between Vic Darchinyan and Yohnny Perez. While Perez was clearly second best to Joseph Agbeko and had no complaints over his spot in the consolation clash, Darchinyan was adament that he had done enough against Abner Mares to earn a spot in the final.
Was the Raging Bull hard done by? Or was Mares a worthy winner?
Jason Karp takes a look back to December 11 of last year, with a round by round scorecard treatment of the entertaining twelve round battle...
The opening round proves a tentative one, with both men largely content to circle the other, each looking a picture of coiled energy. When the stand off ceases, it is Mares who is the busier fighter, but Darchinyan's phrenetic footwork keeps the Mexican out of range, and a series of straight lefts find the mark. Midway through the round a gash appears over the left eye of Mares, the product of a clash of heads, but for now the young fighter marches on unaffected. The final minute sees both men settling into their respective strategies: Darchinyan leaning on the left and aiming for the head, Mares working off a stiff jab and following up to the body. It's the former that dictates the round, though.
Mares begins the round by upping the pursuit, forcing Darchinyan to eschew a conventional jab in favour of a more defensive pawing range-finder. The strategy works to some extent, as Mares's best work is limited to that done in the clinch, but the pressure is most definitely on, and a crisp right uppercut marks the high point of the round for the Mexican. The momentum is for naught, though. A heavy lead left hand lands flush, sending Mares to the canvas and changing the dynamic of the round. Compounding Mares's troubles, the punch has reopened the cut above his eye, now steadily painting the left side of his face in claret.
Mares comes out for the third eager to re-establish himself in the fight but in so doing neglects his jab, opting instead for the kamikaze offence more commonly employed by his opponent. Bouncing away from and around Mares's lead rights, Darchinyan responds with cuffing right hands, the first sign of diversity in what has until now been a strictly homogenous offence. The youthful exuberance of Mares eventually materializes in an aggressive inside attack, but much of what doesn't stray low is picked off by the arms of Darchinyan.
The fourth round sees Mares recommit himself to the jab to good effect, doubling and even tripling it up in order to keep the retreating Darchinyan off balance. More significantly, Mares introduces lateral movement into his pursuit. The adjustment pays dividends as Mares repeatedly squares Darchinyan up along the ropes, catching him with long, looping hooks - a new look that keeps Darchinyan from timing his pursuer. The effort is nullified, however, when a Mares body attack, helped by a guiding Darchinyan forearm, strays low.
10-9, Mares. 9-9 after the deduction.
Score through 4 - 39-35, Darchinyan.
The increasing desperation of Mares comes to a head with the caginess of Darchinyan, resulting in some of the best, and dirtiest, action seen to this point. Mares adopts a high guard, aiming to pick off the solitary blows coming at him and counter to the body. The strategy pays off, but at the potential cost of Darchinyan's virility – Mares is lucky to avoid another deduction. Not to be outdone, Darchinyan is warned for employing an illegal stiff right arm used to keep Mares at bay. Mares compliments his body work with two crisp left hands, but the the majority of the clean shots are had by The Raging Bull, who more and more is assuming the role of the matador.
Mares dominates the round with a high volume of combinations to both the body and head of Darchinyan. At one point Mares corners his opponent and unleashes some dozen unanswered blows on Darchinyan, marking the single most dominant spurt for either fighter up to this point. The kinetic energy seems to have been sapped from the Armenian, a possible by-product of Mares's commitment to the body attack. Darchinyan continues to land cleanly one shot at a time, but it is not enough. Mares's combination punching has displaced Darchynian's single-shot power as the primary dictating force of the fight.
The round is contested on even terms until a lunging Darchinyan left hand sails over the shoulder of Mares, leaving the Armenian open for a short counter left that deposits him on the seat of his pants. The knockdown is marginal, and less the result of Mares's punch than Darchinyan's balance, but credit must be given to the Mexican and his timely head movement for placing his opponent in such a precarious state of equilibrium to begin with.
The blood from Mares's cut continues to flow, but apparently to no effect. The young Mexican has no trouble seeing the shots coming and is increasingly punishing Darchinyan's missteps with hooks to the body. Whether by way of those accumulated hooks, or simply out of the knowledge that any whiffed left hand will likely be met with severe consequences, Darchinyan's punch output seems to have dropped.
Score through 8 - 75-74, Darchinyan.
Slapping his gloves together in the corner and assuming an on-your-marks pose, Vic Darchinyan looks a man anxiously awaiting permission to physically assault someone. But when the bell rings, it's Abner Mares who is the fighter dishing out the hurt. Everything Mares throws is either set up or complimented by an attack to the body; his commitment to this facet of his strategy, given the adversity of a points deficit and a cut that refuses to close, is impressive for a fighter his age. Darchinyan's straight left continues to land at a decent clip, but not nearly at the rate required to neutralize the current consistency of Mares's combination punching.
Darchinyan is increasingly showing signs of fatigue. He is quicker to initiate the clinch than at any time in the fight, and his punches, though still landing clean, have lost their snap. This is most apparent in the final twenty seconds of the round, in which two Darchinyan attacks – a short right and a straight left – are countered with the full torque of Mares's strength. Darchinyan is still competitive, but the deterring effect of his punches, compromised to begin with at this weight, is fading.
Darchinyan seems to be fighting on pure instinct, standing in with Mares and winging his trademark video-game hooks on muscle memory alone. But there is little behind the shots, and in almost every exchange Mares gets off the final punch. On multiple occasions Darchinyan steps straight back with his hands down and eats a hook as punishment. Mistakes such as this, rare even for the cartoonishly-unorthodox Armenian, are becoming increasingly apparent as the fight wears on.
Mares flies out of the gate and immediately goes to work on his opponent's midsection, picking up where he left off. There is less attention to detail in Mares's work at this point in the fight; his volume has stayed constant, but more than ever he is open for the counter. Whether he is also suffering the wear and tear of the previous eleven rounds, or whether the threat presented by what Darchinyan has to offer just is not worthy of defensive considerations, it's hard to tell. Darchyinan jumps on the opportunity and flashes a surprising variety of punches from his left side. Hooks, uppercuts, and the trademark straight all find their mark but fail to stop Mares in his tracks.
113 – 112 Abner Mares.
The Official Scores:
The judges were divided, with totals of 115-111 (Tom McDonough) and 115-112 (Alan Krebs) in favor of Mares, and a dissenting score of 115-111 (Glen Hamada) for Darchinyan.
Bad Left Hook's Score:
Scott Christ had the bout 114-112 for Mares.
From a judge's stand point, Mares vs. Darchynian is a lesson in subjectivity. Both fighters entered the ring with clear but contrasting ideas of what they wanted to accomplish. And to an extent, both were successful in making those ideas reality. The issue then becomes one of taste.
Do you favour Mares's in-close combination punching and aggressive pursuit, or do you prefer the clean, precision punching and slippery movement offered up by Darchinyan? Ring generalship, too, offers little respite for those desiring a more objective basis on which to judge the fight. After all, who is to say Darchinyan should be deemed the loser for being forced onto his back foot if fighting from said foot was his intention all along?
The last resort for those seeking a more substantive view of the fight is the question of punishment, or as Max Kellerman often phrases it, "who would you rather be?"
But as fans we're at a disadvantage, since we cannot personally judge the effect a punch has on a fighter. We can only infer such things. How does a fighter react to a punch? Does he respond in kind with his own offensive push? How does his strategy change? These are the hints the casual observer must rely on to properly gauge the proceedings in the ring.
Luckily in the case of Mares-Darchynian, such inferences can be made. While Darchinyan remained competitive throughout, his increasing tendency to opt for the clinch as opposed to movement spoke to his growing fatigue. His own punches, too, experienced a lull, as blows Mares had earlier been careful to catch in his guard were in the later rounds being absorbed and countered without hesitation. Where Darchinyan wilted, Mares seemed only to gain strength.
No factor, though, maybe more important in how one views the fight than round seven – specifically the value of the knockdown. Unlike in Olympic boxing, there are no points awarded for each punch. As fans, we can only conjure a rough estimation of a fighter's accumulated offence in any given round and then assign a nebulous value to that output. In this case, what value one places on knockdowns may be as integral a question to determining the winner of this fight as is one's preference between volume and precision punchers. I scored the round 10 – 8 for Mares: one point for winning the round, based largely on the strength of the knockdown, and another for the knockdown itself. I could have easily, however, scored it 10 – 9, rewarding Darchinyan for outboxing Mares over the entire three minutes, while docking him a point for being knocked down. I chose the former, attaching a value to the knockdown that was large enough to nullify all the work Darchynian did for the duration of the round. It was a tough decision, particularly given the flukey nature of the blow, and one that ultimately cost Darchynian the fight on my card.
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