Change To Win: Abner Mares Vs. Joseph Agbeko II Preview And Prediction

Saturday is just jam-packed with rematches of serious, serious action fights, a couple of them still fogging up your television screen with controversy from the first time around. Over on HBO pay-per-view, in one of the controversial ones, we get a do-over of Antonio Margarito-Miguel Cotto, a bout tainted and/or enhanced by the suspicion that Margarito had loaded gloves the first time around and by the potential that Margarito’s gruesomely reconstructed eyeball might explode. For now, is this space, we’ll save that for later and concern ourselves with the sequel to the controversial Abner Mares-Joseph Agbeko bout over on Showtime, the first fight an echo of Norm MacDonald’s famous joke after the O.J. Simpson verdict: “Well, it’s finally official: Low blows are legal in the state of California.”

The galling thing about Russell Mora’s refereeing job back in August — actually, there were a lot of galling things about it, all of them reaching a crescendo when Mora stared directly at Mares’ cockpunch in the 11th and ruled it a fair knockdown — is that it distracted from what was a very good fight that could have given us a satisfactory conclusion to Showtime’s excellent bantamweight tournament. Instead, all anyone could talk about was the cockpunching and wonder, “What if Mora had done his job?”

We are on the verge of having to wonder no longer.

So, can Mares win a well-officiated fight with Agbeko? Remember, there was also a bunk knockdown call in the 1st round. Mares also never was penalized for low blows, as he should’ve been at some point in the fight, and maybe an Agbeko who isn’t pissing blood fights with a bit more vigor and wins some close rounds. Even a marginally better-officiated bout might have ended in a draw or Agbeko win, in other words.

Mares certainly has the talent and grit to win. He won a good number of rounds against Agbeko fair and square; he beat Vic Darchinyan even with a point deduction for low blows; and he deserved the win over Yonnhy Perez that was ruled a draw. It’s an impressive resume for a 26-year-old. He’s done it with a good boxer-puncher/body attack/pressure-fighting style, toughness and a bit of smarts. Against Darchinyan and Perez, he had to dig himself out of a bit of a hole both times, and he figured it out successfully.

Those smarts will be key in the rematch. Mares is the fresher fighter of the pair what with Agbeko being 31, and that’s important, too. But what people forget about from the first fight is that Agbeko late in that fight had Mares’ style pretty well figured out. Agbeko was timing Mares throughout with his signature overhand right and jab, but as the fight wore on he began working in uppercuts and anticipating Mares’ charges much, much better. Mares has said we’ll see a different fighter in the rematch, and it’s not as if he doesn’t have room to grow and improve. It’s more a matter of how quickly he can make those adjustments, from months ago to this weekend.

For Agbeko, it’s about whether he can start faster than he did last time. Also forgotten: Agbeko exhibited signs of suffering either from two training camps due to a rescheduling or the sciatica that led to the first postponement or both, something Showtime’s team pointed out early in the broadcast. Another possibility is that at age 31, he’s having trouble making the bantamweight limit — both he and Mares have talked about moving up to 122 pounds. Agbeko’s other problem is that he isn’t as fundamentally sound as Mares, whose technique is sharp. But Agbeko is in Mares’ speed dimension, and he has a kind of awkward skill, capable as he is of countering and defending himself with his feet and landing those looping hooks that have no business landing. He also appears to be the one, of the pair, capable of wobbling the other — observe the 4th round knee buckle Mares suffered from Agbeko.

Furthermore, Agbeko has a track record in rematches: After his defeat at the hands of Perez, the second fight was nearly a whitewash in favor of the experienced Agbeko, who also beat Darchinyan with a bit more ease than did Mares. Between making adjustments against Mares and those wins, he’s shown amply that he can grow and adapt, even at his late age.

When I look at this rematch closely — especially after watching the original again — I’m inclined to change my sense from back in August that Mares would still win a properly-officiated bout. He might not even have deserved to win that one; with a proper call on the non-knockdown in the 1st, a low-blow deduction at some point and a non-knockdown call in the 11th, and Agbeko probably gets it on the scorecards. It’s not that I don’t think highly of Mares, or think he can’t adapt. My worry for the lad is that I see a full adaptation from one fight to the next to be less likely than Agbeko — even at his age — starting faster this time and doing all the things he was doing late in the first fight. I still expect a taut thriller. I just expect a slightly different result than the first time, with Abeko being the one to pull off a close decision victory.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.