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Mares Outworks Agbeko to Win Showtime Bantamweight Tournament

(Photo © German Villasenor)
(Photo © German Villasenor)


After a couple delays that included a postponement of their original fight date due to an injury as well as a long delay after the co-feature, Showtime’s Bantamweight Championship Final was underway at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, NV. To say it didn’t have further hitches…well, would be an understatement. Everything was on the line in this fight, a possible match-up with WBC/WBO titlist Nonito Donaire among others. For Abner Mares and his promoter, Golden Boy, what was on the line was Joseph Agbeko’s IBF bantamweight title and the possibility that Mares would become the first fighter promoted by Golden Boy to be taken from prospect to champion. In the end, Mares fulfilled that promise with a majority decision win.
 
Wearing grey trunks, Mares entered wearing his traditional skull mask handkerchief and grey trunks emblazoned with a snake (or something). Agbeko entered wearing gold with red and green trim, the colors of his homeland, Ghana. Both men looked ready for war. Finally, Showtime’s Bantamweight Championship Final was ready to get underway. The crowd at was plentiful and was excited as fight fans around the world were to see these two excellent fighters finally get it on.
 
Mares started with the jab, pressuring and looking to land it in doubles. Mares mapped out his territory, getting in a right off the jab and a left to the body. A pattern began when referee Russell Mora warned Abner Mares for low blows but he also warned Agbeko for pulling Mares’ head down. Mares stayed to the body early on and pressed Agbeko to the ropes often. Late in the first, Mares went downstairs and came back up top with a left hook that floored Agbeko. He rose and didn’t seem hurt but was backing off from the onrushing Mares, who looked sharper than ever.

A replay showed that the knockdown was from a grazing shot and that perhaps their feet had tangled.  
 
In the second, Agbeko began to get into a groove, digging to Mares’ body as the young fighter pressed forward. Mares was again warned for low blows while Agbeko was warned for pushing his opponent’s head down.
 
The speed of Mares seemed to make the difference but Agbeko did get in a right hand late in the round and found a place for the looping left hook. Mares seemed to settle down a little down the stretch while Agbeko got off another right hand.
 
After two rounds, it was still anyone’s fight with Mares’ speed seemingly giving him the edge.
 
Agbeko started the third round with his jab, finding the range early. Mares began to look for his but missed and Agbeko came back with a left hook that landed. Mares showed a bad flaw early on, drifting his fight hand from his chin as he jabbed. Agbeko took advantage with a crisp left hook.
 
The action stayed tight and tense with both men searching for an opening. Mares got off a nice flurry to the body and kept Agbeko’s back to the ropes. Mares began to get in his right hand and then started to work the jab late in a round he seemed to take.
 
Starting the fourth, Mares went right back to doubling the jab. Both men traded jabs but Mares seemed to win that battle early on. Agbeko was working in with single right and left hand shots before a nice right hand by Mares got in. Agbeko took it well and dropped his left hand to welcome in Mares. Mares went to land his right to no avail but a crisp right hand by Agbeko rocked Mares with a minute left. Mares hid whatever damage it did well enough but another right found its home for Agbeko soon after. Mares battled back with hooks to the body and one upstairs.
 
The action was taut as both men blocked well, snuck in a shot here and there and looked to break this thing open. Mares’ speed worked magic on Agbeko’s ribs and danced upstairs with a left hook. Soon after, a Mares right broke through the guard of Agbeko and shook him a bit. Agbeko began to get to the ribs of Mares, however, and the ebb and flow continued, with momentum shifts happening every 20 seconds or so. Mares was again warned for low blows but no points were taken (a Showtime executive told me afterward that they counted 49 low blows in this fight). However, this was a tough round to score as both men seemed to score well in the flurries but Mares seemed to dictate with his jab a bit.
 
Agbeko went back to the jab in the sixth and Mares answered with a right hand, perhaps hurting Agbeko. Agbeko hid it well and pressed forward with a left hook. Mares answered back with a left hook of his own and an uppercut to the body. Agbeko let his hands go a bit in the middle of the round but found no purchase. A nice jab by Agbeko got through and moments later, an accidental headbutt opened a cut over Mares’ right eye. Mares felt the urgency and dug to the body of Agbeko in combination. Mares landed yet another low blow and the Mora did not call it. A flurry by Mares at the end seemed to rattle Agbeko, who backed to the ropes.
 
This fight was all about adjustments and in the seventh, Mares began working in a straight right to the body that set up some left hooks upstairs. Agbeko stayed with his offense, working the jab and looking for a right hand or left hook but the right hand of Agbeko looked like it was being pushed a bit while Mares still had solid snap on his shots. Mares went back to the jab in twos while Agbeko chopped in with a right hand. With ten seconds left, they exchanged inside and Mares displayed a wonderful ability to fight inside.
 
The eighth was as tight a round as you could experience with Mares starting strong while Agbeko finished stronger, working in his right hand. Mares seemed to hit a wall in the late going and let Agbeko dictate a close round that was a tale of two halves.
 
Agbeko seemed to take charge in the ninth, dictating with his jab, mixing in the right while Mares backed away most of the round and looked to counter. At the ten-second mark, as he did in many of the rounds, Mares came alive and flurried but it was clearly an Agbeko round.
 
In the tenth, a low blow hurt Agbeko. Not only did Mora not take a point but he didn’t give him a rest either…terrible. The round was excellent, however, with both men giving and taking with equal aplomb.
 
The 11th was a “Round of the Year” candidate. It was filled with furious exchanges for both men and felt more like a final round than anything. However, it was marred by controversy.
 
Mares landed a body uppercut that hurt Agbeko and followed with a low blow that dropped the former titleholder. Rather than take a point from Mares, Mora instead ruled it a knockdown. The crowd went insane, screaming at the ref even louder than before. Replays showed once again it was not a knockdown but in fact, a low blow. After six warnings, Mares never lost a point and was indeed awarded one.
 
The 12th lost some luster as Mares, clearly ahead on the cards, played a bit of keep-away while Agbeko looked to close the show. It was for naught as the judges scored it 113-113 and 115-111 twice for Mares, who wins the tournament and the IBF bantamweight title in the effort.
 
“He headbutted me; he hit me low and he stepped on my foot and the referee called it a knockdown,” said Agbeko, now 28-3 (22). “I felt as though I had two opponents in the ring tonight, Abner Mares and the referee. The referee took my title from me tonight, not Abner Mares. I demand an immediate rematch and the referee should be suspended the same way the judges on the East Coast were suspended [for Paul Williams-Erislandy Lara]. The Nevada State Athletic Commission needs to stand up and do the right thing.”
 
“The first knockdown was clear,” said Mares, 22-0-1 (13). “The second one, I hit him on the belt and the referee chose to count him out, which I agree with his decision. That was his choice. He was pulling me down and I was going for the body shots. I let go and landed. All he did was counterpunch. I was making the fight.”
 
“I am open for anything [next],” said Mares about his future. “I loved this tournament. I would love to fight in another one just like this. I will talk to my team and go from there.”
 
In the card opener, lightweight (usually) Carlos Molina, 14-0-1 (7), moved to welterweight for a split draw with Juan Manuel Montiel, 5-4-3 (2), over the course of eight action-filled rounds. Molina looked a little rusty as he hadn’t fought since last November. Both men gave a good account of themselves but it was Molina who seemed to warm into things as he moved along, landing his hook solidly in the later rounds. What was missing was solid timing and a jab, which his corner implored him to single and double throughout.
 
In the end, scores were 78-74 Molina, 77-74 Montiel and 76-76 for the draw. Molina is expected to return to 135 pounds.
 
Cuban national Angelo “La Cobra” Santana improved to 11-0 with 8 KOs by stopping Ramzan Adaev, 8-1-1 with 7 KOs at 2:02 of the second round.
 
Santana took control early on, working from the outside and closing the gap quickly. He trapped Adaev on the ropes and cut him under his right cheek with a barrage of punches that included a short left hook that was absolutely murder. Santana, 139, came in nine pounds less than Adaev, who took the fight on a day’s notice, looked like the stronger man on fight night. Very confident, Santana looked at home in the ring, boxing and moving with ease as he got off nice combinations to win round one.
 
In the second, Santana wasted no time trapping Adaev in the corner and forcing a standing eight-count technical knockdown with a brutal series of shots that landed flush and buckled Adaev. Santana sensed the end and went at Adaev with abandon. Adaev got a couple good shots in between Santana’s flurries but then a short left hook dropped Adaev to the canvas and that was that. Referee Kenny Bayless waved it off at 2:02.
 
“Yes I was trying to make a statement to my promoter Don King, the sport of boxing and boxing fans everywhere that I am ready to face the top of the 140-pound division. I want Brandon Rios or Vernon Paris,” said Santana.
 
Bantamweight Eric Morel, 45-2 (22), blew through tune-up-at-best Daniel Quevedo, 13-11-2 (8), beating him pillar-to-post until Quevedo’s corner stopped the fight after four rounds.
 
In a fight for the vacant United States heavyweight title, Eric Molina, 18-1 (14), took out London, KY’s Warren Browning, 14-2-1 (9), within three fun rounds. The first was ugly, complete with a lot of holding, hitting yet not a lot of action. Then in the second, Molina found the range and dropped Browning cold with a right hand that seemed to have him out. However, Browning rose bravely and fought on. A grazing shot dropped Browning again but referee Robert Byrd ruled it a slip and Browning was able to get out of the round. It didn’t matter.
 
Molina came out loaded for bear now that he knew Browning could not take his punch. An overhand right from hell landed clean and that was that as Browning hit the canvas. Byrd called the fight at :24 of round three.
 
“He came out wild and I stayed calm, got a feel and took him out,” said Molina afterward. “My Mexican blood runs through my veins and I ain’t going to the canvas ever again. They know now there is a true Mexican heavyweight out there and it’s Eric Molina.”

 



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