Showtime officially unveils bantamweight tourney

Showtime is giving an organized boxing tournament another try.

After experiencing mixed success with its ongoing super middleweight tournament, the premium cable network has put together a single-elimination bantamweight tournament beginning Dec. 11.

Undefeated IBF champion Yonnhy Perez will face former champion Joseph Agbeko in the first semifinal from Leon, Mexico. The second semifinal that night will feature unbeaten Abner Mares and two-division champion Vic Darchinyan.

The championship and consolation matches will be held next year.

''I hold these four world championship competitors in the highest regard for taking the fights that the fans want to see, for risking their status as one of the world's best, to prove they are the sole champion in the division,'' Showtime vice president Ken Hershman said Friday. ''When you consistently fight and defeat the best, you deserve to be recognized as such.''

The 118-pound tournament has been in the works for weeks, and should be more streamlined than the super middleweight tournament, a six-man, modified round-robin contest.

The four fighters are considered among the best in the 118-pound division, along with Fernando Montiel and Nonito Donaire. Both of them are promoted by Top Rank, though, and the company would like to put them against each other instead of joining a tournament.

For the rest of them, the single-elimination format represents an opportunity for a big payday in a lighter weight division that rarely gets much mainstream attention.

''I knew the instant I earned my IBF bantamweight championship title that it would open a lot of doors for me,'' Perez said in a statement. ''This is the first of many opportunities. I am going to get through this tournament as the reigning champion.''

The fighters are already familiar with each other.

Agbeko previously held the IBF title and retained it with a close, unanimous decision over Darchinyan in July 2009. Three months later, he lost the belt on points to Perez, who then retained it with a disputed majority draw against Mares on May 22.

The four fighters have a combined record of 102-4-3 with 76 knockouts.

''I've always said, and believed in my heart, that I am the best bantamweight in the world. Now it is time to prove it,'' Agbeko said. ''This truly is an opportunity that I never expected, and I am going to take full of advantage of it.''

Showtime's super middleweight tournament was praised by fans as an attempt to clear through the clutter and crown one 168-pound champion. Instead, it has struggled with numerous injuries, the withdrawals of Jermain Taylor and Mikkel Kessler, and bickering among fighters and promoters on everything from where to when fights should be scheduled.

The tournament scrapped the final stage of round-robin fights when Kessler dropped out, but now the semifinals are in jeopardy after another injury to one of the fighters. They're still scheduled to take place later this year with the championship match in 2011.

Unless there is a significant injury during the bantamweight semifinal doubleheader, the new tournament put together by Showtime should have fewer problems.

''Boxing fans know that the little guys always make for the best fights and this tournament is guaranteed to prove that again,'' Mares said. ''This is a great opportunity for all of us to prove ourselves in the spotlight and I am excited that this fight will take place in Mexico with all of the support of my people for the first time in my career.''