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The Showtime TV Cheat Sheet- Dec. 3, 2011

(Photo © Esther Lin / SHOWTIME)
(Photo © Esther Lin / SHOWTIME)

In yesterday’s TV Cheat Sheet, I advised boxing fans to order lots of pizza and stock beer by the case. I hope my advice was heeded since this weekend sports six televised events (including Spanish language channels) featuring 11 boxers rated in The Ring magazine’s top ten. Somewhat forgotten, in the shadow of the 24/7 (not the HBO show, mind you) press dominance of Miguel Cotto–Antonio Margarito II, is a fantastic “Showtime Championship Boxing” card. It pits four top ten-rated (numbers two, three, four and five) bantamweights against each other, whose styles are as diverse as the countries (Mexico, Ghana, Panama, and Armenia) they represent. The bantamweight division is one of the deepest in all boxing, providing a potent mix of great and controversial fights in 2011. None more controversial than the first Abner Mares – Joseph Agbeko bout, a low blow-fest seen by everyone except the referee overseeing the fight, Russell Mora. In the co-main event, America gets its first look at Anselmo Moreno, eager to impress against well-known destroyer Vic Darchinyan. A big thank you to Showtime, this is a great early Christmas present for boxing fans.

At the Honda Center, Anaheim, CA
(Showtime) Abner Mares (22-0-1) vs. Joseph Agbeko (28-3)
(The Ring magazine #3 bantamweight vs. #4)
(IBF bantamweight belt)
(Showtime) Anselmo Moreno (31-1-1) vs. Vic Darchinyan (37-3-1)
(The Ring magazine #2 bantamweight vs. #5)
(WBA bantamweight belt)

Anselmo Moreno – I appreciate road warriors who won their titles in their opponents’ home countries. Moreno falls into that category and just as importantly, continues to defend his title on the road against top opposition. The 5’8” Panamanian is a lanky stylist with long spidery arms, in the mold of an Ivan Calderon or Pernell Whitaker. One distinction between Moreno and a Calderon type is that Moreno is not afraid to engage inside, using his natural strength and shoulders to push or maul if opponents get close. Described himself recently and thusly, “My style fascinates me. When they are right in front of me and I can make them miss. They miss and I counter them. That’s the art of boxing. Hit and not be hit.” Though not a hard puncher (33% kayo ratio), his punches’ speed and southpaw trajectories lend them a sting. Uses a searching jab to gauge range, left hand stays by chin in classic stance, and varies blows from arrow-straight lefts to looping rights which follow-up advantages to the head and body. Straight left is most potent weapon, which Moreno follows in with a forward stride, setting up other opportunities. In general, despite counterpunching ability, Moreno presses the action. Has not lost since a disputed four-round split decision (twice avenged) at age 17, in his first year as a pro, and made eight title defenses over three years. Won’t have a problem with pro-Darchinyan crowd, having defended title in France, Germany, and Venezuela. Handed Russian Volodymyr Sydorenko his first loss on the road and did the same to Nehomar Cermeno traveling to Cermeno’s hometown. Has a knack for doing just enough to win, registering four title defenses by split decision (three on the road). Seems to tire late in recent bouts, maybe the result of Moreno’s legs betraying him after difficulties making weight. Only fought once this year, in June scoring an eighth round TKO over once formidable Lorenzo Parra, with managerial problems the reported cause of inactivity. Boxing is the family business; Moreno’s publicist is his wife, the daughter of Hall of Famer Ismael Laguna. Moreno’s strategy is no secret, knowing he has to navigate the Armenian’s power. “We are going to do everything to counter him and make him feel uncomfortable. I’m going to punch him and attack him and make him miss. I’m here to make a name for myself and to make a huge statement.”

Vic Darchinyan - I respect Darchinyan’s aggressiveness seeking out world-class opposition to challenge, making him one of my favorite boxers of the last decade. If there is a more self-possessed boxer than Vic Darchinyan, he has been drowned out by a never-ending stream of boasts hurled by this Armenian motor-mouth. Darchinyan exudes the charm and mannerisms of a serial killer. His look is uniquely disturbing, sporting a stubbly five-o-clock shadow and crazed set of eyes that would make Charles Manson envious. When I think of a European amateur star (a 158-18 record and Olympic appearance qualifies him), Darchinyan is the opposite of what I envision. Darchinyan’s ring style is feral, employing manic attacks that swing wildly, from straight-ahead, full-frontal charges to sweeping hooks that are loopier than Darchinyan’s wordplay. Possesses natural strength and the often-acute angles from which the dynamic Armenian throws punches enhance that power. It is fascinating to watch for the daring and success, both commercial and in the win-loss column, it has brought the brash little kayo artist. Just as unsettling for opponents is that this all-out attack comes from a southpaw stance. Darchinyan has knocked out 27 of 37 victims, an impressive number, given the quality of opposition. Seems truly pissed off when an opponent does not go down from his first punch and works hard to ensure an inevitable (in his mind) kayo as opponent’s resistance falters. Darchinyan’s defense is good, considering how off-balance some punches leave him, and he reflexively avoids counters. Plus, aggressive offense leaves opponents hesitant. A better boxer than given credit for, winning three titles in two weight classes over a four-fight span, he earned a place in pound-for-pound lists for a while. That achievement was below 118 pounds and only three boxers have won world titles at flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight in 111 years. As always, Darchinyan does not lack confidence. “I’m just going to be too strong for [Moreno]. Anyone who comes, I’m just going to destroy him.” Darchinyan is already mapping out future conquests. “As soon as I’m done fighting Moreno, I want to fight Abner Mares- and I will destroy him.” A pertinent question, given his long-range plan, I have is: How far removed from his prime is the 35-year-old? This fight is sure to reveal all we need to know about Darchinyan’s future.

Verdict – The bottom line is that no matter how much I like Darchinyan, he has struggled to beat elite bantamweights. Moreno is, at worst, the second-best bantamweight in the world, endowed with the movement and reflexes to deal with Darchinyan’s power. Moreno is a precision puncher and his multiple connects are easily seen by judges. Darchinyan’s one-hard-punch-at-a-time looks good to fans but can be seen by judges as sporadic. The punches fans remember most will be landed by Darchinyan but Moreno’s ring generalship and countering ability at range wins the day on the judges’ scorecards. Darchinyan might lack the foot speed, unable to corner Moreno and growing frustrated as the rounds progress. Look for Moreno to lead Darchinyan into straight left hands with pivots as well. The crowd will boo the decision but the punch-stats and TV analysts will point to Moreno as the more effective boxer. Moreno wins seven rounds to five, needing to hold on and survive the final two rounds.

Joseph Agbeko – Respected former champion enters the fight an underdog again despite slightly better career accomplishments and fights against elite opponents. Nothing has come to Agbeko easily, even after it appeared he had achieved a breakthrough with a thrilling victory over Luis Perez in 2007. That compelling brawl was televised by Showtime and the punch-a-second action stole the show despite Agbeko winning every round. Veteran British boxing journalist Graham Houston heralded the new champion by stating “a star was born” and if not for prolonged layoffs (thanks to Don King’s lack of TV dates), Agbeko might have delivered on that prediction. The Ghanaian is a craftier boxer than credited, unfairly viewed as imposing himself physically with an incessant advancing style relying on volume over precision. Despite falling into punches, at times remains balanced and compact in his own punching. Agbeko does rely on physicality and constant pressure to subdue opponents, wearing them down mentally and physically in equal parts. With a record of 28-3 (22), and a 71 percent kayo ratio, Agbeko has rock-solid credentials to match an equally impressive physique. The knockout percentage speaks to Agbeko’s heavy hands, as well as impressive killer instincts that earned victories in South Africa, England, Togo, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Nigeria, Benin and America. Strikingly avenged his only real loss (Agbeko had a majority decision setback to Volodymyr Sydorenko in Germany) to Yonnhy Perez, showing unexpected adaptability, countering skills and composure. Mental sturdiness extends to not retaliating against Abner Mares’ multiple low blows, when few would have denied Agbeko a swift knee to Mares’ groin. If Agbeko had a consistent jab, comparisons to Ike Quartey would be apt since both men advance incessantly behind a tight defensive guard and hard punches. Agbeko’s upper body movement is underrated but also sometimes leaves him out of position. Because Agbeko lacks elite hand speed and sometimes telegraphs punches, his offense is predictable. World-class accuracy makes up for lack of finesse. Agbeko’s evaluation of Mares is measured and no longer respectful. “I believe I won that fight because of the low blows that the referee didn’t take away. “[Mares] is a dirty fighter. I’m really going to take care of him, beat him very well.” The last fight showed Agbeko has the tools to defeat Mares; landing the right hands consistently is key and on what the rematch will turn.

Abner Mares - I imagine Mares learned how to fight at family dinners where he had to fend off ten brothers to get his share. Mares grew up in a boxing family; his father was a pugilist, so “Lil’ Abner” absorbed it via osmosis before stepping into the ring at age seven. A rarity among elite Mexican fighters, given he was an accomplished amateur, finishing with a 112-8 record. Brought home international medals as well and Mares ended his run in the amateurs with a disputed loss in the Olympics. Was on top of a then-fledgling Golden Boy Promotions’ draft board, inked after the Olympics and became their first fighter to win a world title after debuting with the company. A smooth boxer-first/puncher-second-type with solid pop in both hands, Mares sports sophisticated feet that put him in a position to unleash with either hand. Has the intellect to deliver well-timed flurries and in fights against elite level opponents, stayed in the pocket in offensive and defensive sequences. Impressed me by reversing momentum in marquee bouts, fighting through adversity despite sustaining an early knockdown, cuts and point deductions. It is born of Mares’ great attitude about the sport, “I want to be remembered not as a fighter that was unbeaten but as a fighter who fought the best.” Overcame a scare when a detached retina nearly ended his career. Has a pleasing style and personality, endorses products in Mexico and is a potential star on both sides of the border, though his image took a hit in the first Agbeko bout. Trained by Hall of Fame trainer Ignacio Beristain early in his career- who molded similarly stylish Juan Manuel Marquez- while respected Clemente Medina presided over recent wins. Distance fights against Vic Darchinyan, Yonnhy Perez and Joseph Agbeko, in which Mares got stronger as rounds progressed, alleviated concerns over Mares’ stamina. Ability to ride out big punches of elite punchers revealed solid chin but defensive flaws should be addressed since Mares has the reflexes and technique to avoid punches. Mares was unfazed and focused at the final press conference. “I am going to fight my fight, a smart fight. There’s obviously been a lot of controversy going into this fight but whatever pressure I felt is gone. I don’t really expect [Agbeko] to do anything differently but you never know once the bell rings. I just know I’ll be ready for anything and everything.”

Verdict - A year ago, Mares loses to Agbeko. However, navigating treacherous stretches against Yonnhy Perez and Vic Darchinyan prepared Mares for the first Agbeko fight. Having experienced Agbeko once, Mares will deal with that relentless pressure better this time around using movement instead of low blows to slow Agbeko. Mares will need to hold off a late rally again, perhaps touching the canvas in the last two rounds, and use space to guide him to the final bell. Mares has a more complete game, is six years younger as well, and the Mexican will have to use both advantages to avoid Agbeko. Alternately, Mares needs to pick his spots to lead instead of playing the counterpuncher throughout. If Agbeko starts fast- which is not always the case- he has a chance to get Mares on the back foot and go to the body. Mares’ half-inch reach advantage, to go along with straighter punches, is telling in a fight that looks to go the distance. Mares needs that reach to win the jab game and survive late. It should be just enough to squeak out a tight victory by two points.

Prediction record for 2011: 87% (134-19)
Prediction record for 2010: 85% (218-40)
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