Bantamweight tournament preview, picks
The bantamweights kick off their single-elimination tournament Saturday on Showtime. The action starts at 9 p.m. ET and will feature semifinal bouts of Abner Mares vs. Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko vs. Yonnhy Perez.
Abner Mares vs. Vic Darchinyan
Abner Mares (20-0-1, 13 KOs) is the youngest boxer of the pack at 25 years old. Youthful exuberance may be just what he needs to take on the elder statesmen he will be facing. Mares proved he belonged in this bunch in his last bout, a majority draw with Yonnhy Perez in May. While neither man left that night with a win, Mares showed he could hang with the best bantamweights in the world. Mares will have his hands full this weekend with the oldest, and most aggressive combatant in the tournament.
Vic Darchinyan (35-2-1, 27 KOs) is easily the most experienced man in the tournament. The 34-year-old Armenian is a two-division world champion. By winning this tournament, Darchinyan would add a third. While Darchinyan was very successful as a flyweight and super flyweight, his move to bantamweight has not been as successful. Joseph Agbeko proved to be too much for him in 2009 but Darchinyan has beaten the odds before. Darchinyan pulled a shocking upset of Cristian Mijares in 2008. While it would certainly be an upset if Darchinyan were to win this tournament, no one would be surprised.
Corey Willinger: Vic Darchinyan has made a habit out of getting exposed and then rebuilding his image with some head-turning knockouts. By now, most should know that he’s going to struggle with anyone far more technically sound and anyone significantly bigger than him. While Abner Mares doesn’t have the size advantage Agbeko enjoyed against Darchinyan, he is a more versatile fighter. Avoiding too many exchanges with the hard-hitting Darchinyan, Mares will pull out the decision victory, 116-112.
Paul Magno: Darchinyan has never been in a bad fight. He’s pure aggression and his awkward style tends to present real problems for classic, fundamentally-sound boxers like Mares. Seven months ago, I would’ve been tempted to pick Darchinyan, but against Yonnhy Perez, Mares proved that he could dig deep down inside and go to war. In this one, Mares will be too educated and too tough to crack and he should win a solid, but hard-fought decision. It WILL be fun, though.
Trent Pusey: I am excited for this fight. I really want to see the growth of Abner Mares but honestly, I’d watch Vic Darchinyan fight just about anyone. Darchinyan will push the action against Mares and the question will be how the younger Mexican responds. I see Darchinyan taking the early rounds and Mares surviving to a point where he takes over after a bad start. Mares will take the decision in what hopefully will be an exciting war. 115-113.
Yonnhy Perez vs. Joseph Agbeko
IBF bantamweight title
Yonnhy Perez (20-0-1, 14 KOs) started his professional boxing career in 2005 and four years later, captured a world title. His lone title defense was a hard-fought draw against Abner Mares, a fight Perez was one point away from losing. Perhaps the most natural bantamweight of the bunch, Perez is proving to be a tough cookie to crack. He disposed of sturdy veterans Silence Mabuza and his opponent this weekend, Joseph Agbeko, once before. The first bout with Agbeko was competitive until Perez put Agbeko down in the 10th. He maintained his focus throughout the championship rounds to become a world champion for the first time in his career.
Joseph Agbeko (27-2, 22 KOs) lost the IBF title to Perez last year and this will be his chance at redemption. Agbeko has been inactive since that fight on Halloween of 2009 so ring rust will be a natural concern. His mental state will also be a concern as it appeared that Agbeko came unraveled in the late stages of his bout with Perez. A 2009 win over Vic Darchinyan should help boost the confidence of the 30-year-old from Ghana but if King Kong wants to reclaim his throne, then Agbeko needs to put his last fight behind him and maintain focus throughout the fight.
Corey Willinger: Joseph Agbeko probably expected to run through Yonnhy Perez when they met on Halloween last year. But instead, he got a war, and the difference was that Perez was simply the more technically sound of the pair. Nothing has changed since, and picking the rematch comes down to whether or not Perez can repeat what he did in the first fight. Agbeko is going to try to turn it into another war, but Perez should be fine with that, having gone through another one this spring against Abner Mares. Barring a surprise knockout by Agbeko, Perez should win another decision and advance to the Bantamweight Tournament finals
Paul Magno: Perez is one of the most criminally underrated fighters in the sport and can do just about everything in the ring. Agbeko is a tough, well-conditioned, punching machine. Perez won their first encounter in a candidate for Fight of the Year and I don’t see Agbeko changing enough to overcome the Colombian this time, either. Expect another close Fight of the Year candidate with Perez being, once again, a little too versatile for Agbeko.
Trent Pusey: I’m not digging the fact that Agbeko hasn’t fought in over a year. Yonnhy Perez finished strong against Agbeko the first time around. I expect a good start from Perez this time around and Agbeko being more desperate this time around. Lots of jabbing in this one from Perez as he keeps the rusty Agbeko at a distance for most of the fight. 118-110 for Perez.