(Joseph Agbeko, left; Abner Mares, right. Credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Two performances on Showtime Saturday in the bantamweight division reminded us of the oft-ignored second part of Egan’s nickname for boxing: It’s “the sweet science,” certainly, but more accurately, it’s “the sweet science of bruising.”
On the undercard, Anselmo Moreno made a splendid debut on the American scene, dishing out a beating to Vic Darchinyan to win a unanimous decision. The mechanism of the beating was “purty boxin’.” In the main event, Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko revived the action of their first meeting, this time without controversial low blows and ending with Mares sharpshooting his way to his own unanimous decision.
Mares comes out of this with the definitive victory that eluded him the first time, redeemed. Moreno showed what many of us who have seen him realized: The Panamanian is a real talent.
ANSELMO MORENO-VIC DARCHINYAN
Moreno has been something of a hidden treasure, and it’s been difficult to drag him into meaningful fights of late. He’s also been criticized for being too defensive-minded and not providing enough excitement. Against Darchinyan, his talent came out of hiding; he was in a meaningful fight against a top 10 bantam; and he was both defensive-minded and provided excitement.
Darchinyan started strong, landing a couple big wild shots. Slowly, as the fight wore on, those shots disappeared. Moreno stepped out of range beautifully, countered accurately and frustrated Darchinyan endlessly. He was too fast, his reflexes were too sharp, and his composure too much for Darchinyan to penetrate. Darchinyan was so flustered by the end of the 4th round that he threw Moreno to the ground, resulting in the referee docking him a point. The 5th round was the last I gave to Darchinyan, and it was perhaps generous. Some of the remaining rounds were at least modestly close, but not enough for me to send any more in Vic’s direction.
Bless his heart, Darchinyan never stopped trying. But he looked as though he was on the verge of being stopped going into the 12th round, bruised up so badly in his corner and breathing hard. Instead, he ended the fight on his feet, on the wrong end of a 116-111, 117-110 and 120-107 decision. The 120-107 card was a bit much — Darchinyan might have been thoroughly outboxed, but a shut out?
Darchinyan leaves this fight in need of another career recovery. He reinvented himself once after the Nonito Donaire knockout; bounced back some after the Agbeko loss; and found new life once more after the Mares loss. He very well might have one in him, against the right kind of opponent. And he’ll always bring the fun, so I want him to stay in boxing as long as he can. (He’s talked about moving to mixed martial arts, but that’s unwise.)
It’s just that he ran into the wrong kind of guy Saturday. Moreno has speed, lands clean and hard and is bewildering defensively. If Moreno gets some big names into the ring with him — maybe, say, a Mares — and wins, he could start being talked about as one of the best fighters in the world.
ABNER MARES-JOSEPH AGBEKO II
There we have it. We no longer have to wonder whether Mares can beat Agbeko fair and square. It’s not that Mares didn’t play fast and loose with the rules against Agbeko in this rematch — it’s just that he didn’t trample all over them, so much so that his first victory was tainted by it and the poor refereeing that allowed it to happen.
In this fight, Mares was unflappable and Agbeko lost his cool a few times. Agbeko started in fine form, working his jab, improving his punch volume compared to the first fight and beating Mares to the punch. The contest seesawed through the first four rounds, with Agbeko occasionally landing the more authoritative shots and Mares returning the favor. But a couple key things happened in those rounds, outside of who won them.
In the 2nd, Mares endured a lengthy cut on his right eye. Although it clearly bothered him in the 8th in particular, never once did he let it get the best of him. In that round, he chose to abandon the clever boxing and combination counterpunching he’d done, and instead bulled Agbeko to the ropes, where he could feel a target he was having trouble seeing and smothering Agbeko’s jab. He didn’t win the round so much as he overcame it.
In the 3rd, meanwhile, Agbeko became visibly unnerved by Mares’ roughhousing. Mares was pulling a lot of subtle dirty tricks in there: He was pounding Mares in his kidneys, holding and hitting, shouldering him, pushing his head down and occasionally straying low. But none of it ever amounted to much, and Agbeko’s protests to the referee in the 3rd round falling on deaf ears led Agbeko to get wild.
For most of the rest of the fight, Mares controlled the action, and showed much improved defense. The other central question in this fight was whether Mares would grow and learn from the end of the first fight where Agbeko showed signs of figuring him out. He did. It’s why he won.
Agbeko said afterward that he didn’t feel like a loser, and the 118-110 scorecards across the board were a little wide. He may have lost the fight, but he retains esteem by making it to the tournement finale and being competitive in both the original and the sanctioning-ordered rematch spurred by the controversial outcome. I wouldn’t mind seeing Agbeko rematch Darchinyan, really, in something of a loser’s bracket from Saturday’s card.
Mares erased a stain on his career, and should be considred the top bantamweight in the world after a series of fights that has seen him face Yonnhy Perez, Darchinyan and now Agbeko twice, emerging with three victories and a draw that should have been a victory. It’s too bad Mares is thinking of departing the division; his ideal nemesis, Donaire, is already planning to do the same, but Moreno would be an ideal final foil if he reconsidered. For now, though, there are no more questions about what kind of fighter Mares is: He’s a good one.