Saturday, December 10, 2022  |



Bantamweights relishing opportunity presented by Showtime’s latest tournament


LOS ANGELES — Showtime’s second tournament, this one at bantamweight, was meant to be another six-man, quasi-round-robin competition like the Super Six World Boxing Classic. It ended up being a four-man, single-elimination competition, though, when Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel refused to take part.

Don’t be too disappointed. This one, just like the 168-pound competition, is compelling but will provide quicker gratification.

Vic Darchinyan will face Abner Mares, and Yonnhy Perez will take Joseph Agbeko on the same card Saturday in Tacoma, Wash. in the semifinals with the winners (and losers) to meet early next year.

That’s four important 118-pound fights in a span of a few months.

“I’m really excited,” Mares said at a recent news conference to promote the event. “We’re making history. This is a great tournament for the smaller guys — two guaranteed fights that won’t be easy in a row. I think that’s exciting.”

One fascinating element to the tournament is that the fighters already are intertwined.

Perez (20-0-1, 14 knockouts) already has beaten Agbeko (27-2, 22 KOs), the Colombian outpointing the Ghanaian last October to win a bantamweight belt, and drew with Mares (20-0-1, 13 KOs) in May.

Meanwhile, Agbeko outpointed Darchinyan (35-2-1, 27 KOs) in July of last year in Darchinyan’s only fight at 118 pounds.

Thus, the tournament could provide second opportunities for all four fighters.

That fact isn’t lost on Perez, who is taking nothing for granted even though he beat Agbeko fairly soundly in their first meeting.

“I still need to prepare myself 100 percent,” he said through a translator. “I know every fight is different, even against the same fighter. I know I beat him convincingly but every fight is different.

“Agbeko is a strong guy, a good fighter.”

Of course, the winner of the tournament will emerge as one of the leading figures among the lighter-weight fighters even without Donaire and Montiel in the field.

However, none of the four has as much to gain as Mares. The 2004 Mexican Olympian, who lives in Montebello, Calif., has hit the jackpot in terms of the opportunity presented to him.

He opens the competition against the biggest name in the field in his native country with the prospect of getting a rematch against Perez, who Mares is convinced he beat. Also, as the youngest fighter in the competition, the soon-to-be 25-year-old has a tremendous platform on which to establish himself.

Now all he has to do it win.

“It couldn’t be scripted better,” said Richard Schaefer, Mares’ promoter. “Abner faces Vic Darchinyan, which is fantastic for him. He’s the younger, bigger guy. … This will really give him a chance to make a name for himself there. It’s the perfect situation.

“Like I’ve said, though, we work hard to get these guys opportunities. Now it’s up to Abner to deliver.”

Mares was the perfect diplomat, saying the four all have an equal chance of winning the tournament.

And he gave Darchinyan due respect, acknowledging that the four-time titleholder at flyweight and junior bantamweight has considerable power and more experience than he has.

Mares also is very confident, though. He watched Agbeko break down Darchinyan and sees himself in a similar position.

“I’m not going to say what’s going to happen,” he said. “I have a plan, though. I’m a boxer. And Darchinyan doesn’t like opponents who are constantly moving away from his punches. That’s an advantage I have.

“He has tremendous power and more experience but I have the youth and more than anything the hunger to win this tournament.”

Darchinyan too has an important opportunity.

The Armenia-born Aussie utterly flopped in his only fight at bantamweight, raising questions about whether he has the physical strength to campaign against top 118-pounders.

He insists he does. He said he felt very strong against Agbeko and actually outweighed the African by five pounds on fight night. He was weak mentally, he said.

“I haven’t really told this to the media but he disrespected me and I couldn’t handle it,” said Darchinyan, referring to his meeting with Agbeko at a news conference before their fight. “I was burning inside. He upset me by putting his (fist) on my jaw. I told him to take away his hand but he didn’t. I was ready to punch him there. I didn’t sleep for two, three days after that I was so upset. So in the fight I tried to knock him out in the first round. You can’t do that in boxing. You have to be patient.

“So what happened was I missed all my punches. I was jumping in from three meters away trying to hit him. I was just out of control.”

And against Mares?

“I proved I can stay calm against Rodrigo Guerrero [in March],” he said. “I wasn’t happy that he was holding me but I stayed calm. I used my experience. I’m still going to go for the knockout against Mares] but I’m not going to be stupid.”

Perez is ahead of the curve because he beat the man [Agbeko] who beat the man [Darchinyan].

His motivation against Agbeko is to repeat his performance so he can get to the second round, where things could get interesting. He would receive either a rematch with Mares, who also happens to be a close friend, or fights Darchinyan.

He said he prefers the latter for the same reason Mares is excited to fight Darchinyan — the name recognition. Also, Perez said, “It would something new.”

So does that mean he wants Darchinyan to win? Not necessarily.

“This is a weird situation,” Perez said with a smile. “In my heart, as a friend, I want Abner to win. In reality, I also want Darchinyan to win ÔǪ but I don’t want Abner to lose. I’ll just wait and see.”

Agbeko has an opportunity to gain instant gratification.

The former titleholder cited a head butt in the 10th round as one reason he lost against Perez, although in reality he was too far behind on points to rally if he couldn’t score a knockout.

Agbeko also said he didn’t train as hard or as long as he should have, implying that he was feeling good about himself after beating Darchinyan and might’ve taken Perez for granted.

Not this time.

“I’m very, very excited,” Agbeko said. “I wasn’t prepared the first time. He’s physically very strong in all his fights. I’ve seen many of them. I will be very strong, too. And I’ll be smarter this time too.

“It’s always good to get another chance.”

The biggest winner so far is Ken Hershman, executive vice president and general manager of Showtime Sports, who has held the Super Six tournament together in spite of numerous problems.

The fact he intended for this to be another six-man tournament is a testament to his faith in the product. And, just as he was before the start of the Super Six, he is brimming with excitement over this competition.

“The lesson I learned from [Super Six] is that it’s a great concept,” he said. “It’s going to come to an end on schedule, or close to it. I think it’s a powerful way to structure boxing. We couldn’t get six fighters for this one or we would’ve done it again in that format. We had problems but, like a marriage, you work through them and everyone benefits in the end.

“ÔǪI think it’s good to be able to showcase a different format this time. It’ll conclude much more quickly, with the end result coming in just two fights. And these are can’t-miss fights. All four of these guys are fearless. This going to be good.”