(Yonnhy Perez, left, and Joseph Agbeko, right; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
On weekend after another: Welcome to December and/or November of 2010, when something wildly interesting is happening on any given Saturday of boxing.
We had Amir Khan dancing on the edge of Marcos Maidana’s destruction for 12 rounds, emerging with a showing of guts we might have wondered if he possessed. We had Joseph Agbeko doing the unthinkable in completely outboxing the man who outboxed him one year ago, Yonnhy Perez. We had Abner Mares on the verge of a comprehensive loss, surging back for the win against Vic Darchinyan. And we had Victor Ortiz thriving early only for Lamont Peterson to make a real show of it late before Peterson pulled out the draw.
It’s too bad this all happened to close out the year. Why, I almost might be thinking 2010 was a nice one for boxing, if all I was judging it by was the last couple months.
AMIR KHAN-MARCOS MAIDANA
Saturday night on HBO was potentially to be the moment where Khan put aside all the questions about whether he can take a heavy shot from a heavy hitter like Maidana, if he could win. He did not bury them entirely, though. Those questions are one zombiefied hand reaching out of the grave, still.
For most of the fight, Khan played matador. In the 1st round, he nearly ended things with a body shot combination that had Maidana wincing in pain on the ground. That Maidana survived reminded us of something we should already have known: You can drop him, and you can outbox him, but you can’t keep him down. He’s a hard man, this South American.
As the fight went on, Maidana built steam. He landed a ton of nasty uppercuts. That Khan managed to take them showed at least that his chin ain’t china. Some of us maybe thought it was. We would have been righteous to believe so. But Khan held up, using his speed of foot and hand, and reach, to do damage to Maidana throughout. It was a trapeze act in the extreme, and on the high wire, Khan flipped and fluttered gracefully, albeit dangerously.
The 10th round? Not so much. It must be said that the right hand that Maidana landed on Khan very well could have had any junior welterweight on queer street, not only dudes who not so long ago got KO’d in the 1st round by some other South American power puncher, Briedis Prescott. And truth be told, that Khan survived the late-rounds Maidana assault speaks well of him. It just doesn’t close the coffin definitively on those doubts about his beard, is all.
Khan got the deserved decision by lasting until the end. And with the shaky ending, he preserved enough vulnerability to leave open the possibility that someone could knock him out, even with all of his extraordinary speed. It must be said here that I think he did a lot of things very, very wrong. There were moments where Maidana was begging to get jabbed right in the nose, but Khan didn’t pull the trigger. There were moments where Maidana was begging Urbana Antillon-style to get uppercutted all the way from Las Vegas to Toledo, but Khan didn’t pull the trigger. Despite those deficiencies, Khan came out ahead.
Both men acquitted themselves well, even if Khan emerged with the unanimous decision. The decision was more narrow than I had it; Khan also benefited from a 5th round point deduction for a deliberate elbow meant for Khan but that landed on referee Joe Cortez, although it was not decisive. Regardless, neither man said, “I’m the king-in-waiting at 140.” Maybe that’ll be answered Jan. 29 when Timothy Bradley and Devon Alexander face off.
VICTOR ORTIZ-LAMONT PETERSON
This always figured as a tough matchup for Ortiz on his road back toward superstardom. Earlier today, I attended a lecture by Patti Smith in Washington, D.C. She brought out her guitar and sang one song. There was a line: “One road is paved with gold/the other road is just a road.” Ortiz looked to be more on the second road.
Peterson was in the paving business, a little, Saturday on the HBO undercard. He’s a very skilled fighter, and determined. Out-punched — two knockdowns in the 3rd built him a deficit — and maybe even out-quicked, he found a way to land plenty of counter shots against the cautious Ortiz. Ortiz might also have hurt himself by refusing to open up late, a reaction, perhaps, to the beating he took from Maidana last year to derail him from the golden path.
Ortiz deserved the decision, in my book. I gave Peterson four rounds, not nearly enough to make up for the two points he lost in the 3rd and not enough to get a draw in a 10-round fight. Many of those rounds were close and difficult to score, but I didn’t see Peterson winning quite near enough of them to get a draw on two scorecards, good for a draw overall. I dunno. Did anybody else see Peterson winning six of the 10 rounds?
In the end, Peterson did better than expected and Ortiz fell a bit short. I’ve been high on Ortiz despite the Maidana loss. I fear he might have swung too far in the “cautious” direction after a spat of recklessness against Maidana, and Peterson took advantage. I can’t say both men acquitted themselves well, even with the expectations game such as it is. Both hover now along the outskirts of the 140-pound elite.
JOSEPH AGBEKO-YONNHY PEREZ II
Statistically, most of the time, the winner of the first boxing match wins the rematch. Occasionally, in a close fight, the loser figures out how to make it closer, and occasionally win. Extremely rarely, the loser scores a Knockout of the Year candidate in the rematch, a la middleweight champ Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams. Nearly as rarely if not more rarely, the guy who looked technically to be a step or two behind the man who beat him the first time turns back around to be the better fighter overall by a step forward or two in the sequel. That’s Agbeko-Perez II for you.
Agbeko has gotten better in every fight I’ve seen him in, up to and including the loss to Perez last year. I hardly recognized the dude who beat Perez Saturday on HBO as part of the networks’ bantamweight tournament. The wild-swinging brawler who made a big impression in 2008 on the undercard of Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham was an archeology dig away. Agbeko boxed, moved and was damn near a defensive wizard against Perez this time.
Only the 6th round, when Abeko opted to stand and trade — at the time, it appeared he might have tired of all that sticking and moving — resembled the first meeting between these two. Otherwise, Agbeko put on a terrific performance. Perez might have landed the most eye-catching punches of the fight, but Agbeko handled them well, and in most every round, soundly outboxed the man who appeared to be the better technician in a volume-punching feast last year.
‘Twas a stunning upset. By earning unanimous decision revenge, Agbeko moves on to the winner’s bracket of Showtime’s bantamweight tournament, also ensuring that we see neither Agbeko-Darchinyan II nor Perez-Mares II. And he made a statement: Joseph King King Agbeko is nobody’s 118-pound afterthought.
ABNER MARES-VIC DARCHINYAN
It could hardly have been more disastrous a start for Mares. The 1st round featured a head butt that opened a cut on the youngster’s scalp that bled all the hell over his face the whole fight. The 2nd round featured a flash knockdown courtesy Darchinyan. The 4th round featured a well-deserved point deduction for low blows. We’re talking a big deficit here. But Mares largely took control of the fight thereafter to win a split decision over the awkward veteran Darchinyan.
Mares showed he could take a serious shot, and maybe Darchinyan’s power, as I suspected all along, isn’t as frightening at 118 as it was at 115 and 112. Meanwhile, Mares began to time Darchinyan’s funky charges better and he put the pressure on with some severe body shots and uppercuts. Mares landed combinations. Darchinyan, the older of the two men by a wide margin, landed the more telling single shots, but did very little over the course of the rest of the fight other than those eye-catching solitary lefts.
The legitimate but disputed flash knockdown Mares scored in the 7th with a glancing jab against an off-balance Darchinyan wasn’t decisive. One judge had it 115-111 for Darchinyan; another had it 115-111 for Mares, and the decisive judge had it 114-112 for Mares. I had it 114-111 for Mares.
For all his talent, Mares is still learning on the job a bit, and Darchinyan was a lesson in unpredictability and adversity that he overcame. But he could have his ever-maturing hands full with an ever-maturing veteran in Agbeko. Perez-Darchinyan in the consolation bout could be just as good a fight, if not better.