By Jake Donovan
August 13 remains a memorable day for Abner Mares and Golden Boy Promotions. It was on that night when Mares realized his lifelong dream of winning a major title as a pro when he topped Joseph Agbeko over 12 rounds to claim a bantamweight belt.
The achievement came during the Showtime bantamweight tournament finals, which was held in Las Vegas. For Golden Boy Promotion, it served as just the beginning as it claimed in Mares its first ever home-grown champion.
For the rest of the boxing world – or at least the detractors from that evening – the achievement comes with an asterisk, as the fight was marred by controversy and shoddy officiating from referee Russell Mora.
Mares was cited for numerous low blows but never docked a point. The opposite extreme occurred, as an apparent low blow in the 11th round was instead ruled a knockdown, proving to be a pivotal moment in a tightly contested affair. Mares claimed a majority decision in dethroning Agbeko, though with enough backlash to where an immediate rematch was ordered.
The two will do it again on December 3, this time at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Confident in his abilities, Mares has no question that history will repeat itself – this time without the sidebars as he plans to remove all doubt.
“I’m looking forward to December 3. I can’t wait to fight Agbeko again and beat him again,” Mares insists. “I have something to prove in every fight. I have to prove that I’m a complete fighter. I can’t wait to go into the ring and beat Agbeko again, this time beat him a different way.”
There have been a total of seven fights to take place between the four bantamweights involved in the tournament. Four of the bouts came within the confines of the tournament itself, with two more preceding it. Mares is the only fighter among the lot to escape without a loss, despite going through boxing’s equivalent of murderer’s row.
The series unofficially kicked off when Agbeko met Vic Darchinyan in a July ’09 grudge match. Darchinyan was coming off of a Fighter of the Year-worthy ’08 campaign and was the reigning lineal 115 lb. champ, but fell just short against the defending bantamweight titlist. Agbeko himself would lose three months later to then-unbeaten Yonnhy Perez, ending his two-year title reign.
Perez’ first defense came seven months later against Mares, with their May ’10 Showtime-televised co-feature bout ending in a controversial split decision draw. Most experts believed that the night should’ve served as Golden Boy’s coronation in raising its first fighter from pro debut to world champion.
Instead, Mares’ – and the company’s – dream was put on hold, but with the aforementioned fights giving Showtime the ideal of a four-man elimination series. Mares wound up taking the tournament, but not without its pitfalls.
The 2004 Mexican Olympic boxer – now based out of Southern California – survived the first knockdown of his career, as well as a cut and a deduction for a low blow to rally back and top Darchinynan by split decision in their December ’10 clash to officially jumpstart the tournament.
Eight months later came the bout with Agbeko. Originally scheduled for April, Mares’ longing to become a champion was once again stalled when his opponent came down with a sudden case of sciatica moments after landing in Los Angeles Airport.
Closure was believed to finally be within reach, but the disputed nature of their August showdown warranted a return go. Despite the unofficial extension of the tournament, which in effect gives Mares one more in a string of tough fights, the 25–year old wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m truly blessed and honored to have back-to-back-to-back all of these great fighters on my record. It began with Yonnhy Perez, then Darchinyan. I fought Agbeko to win the title and now fighting him again (in December).”
Despite his own admission that Agbeko is the most complete fighter he’s ever faced, Mares believes to be even better prepared for a rematch that he insists will go much smoother.
“Going into this rematch with Agbeko, I think it will be an easier fight. I know what it takes to beat him and know that I can beat him again. The people that know me, that have followed me since Day One, know that I continue to learn. Every time I fight, I show something different. I’ve trained hard to become a great champion.”
Training just as hard for the rematch – if not more so – is Agbeko, who has been underestimated before and has developed a flair for upsetting the odds.
Mares would be foolish to expect the same exact fighter show up for their December rematch, especially knowing that his opponent comes with even more to prove, and with visions of reclaiming a title he believes was stolen from him. Such ignorance isn’t to be found in Mares, a pro for six years who has long ago learned to expect the unexpected.
“A lot of people think because of his age that he won’t change, but I’m ready for anything. I can box, I can deal with being pushed back, I’m ready for anything over 12 rounds. Fans will see the Abner Mares they saw in the early rounds of the first fight, and will see that for the full 12 rounds.
“The first fight, it was my fault for giving up that opportunity to not put the fight away in the first fight and let him back in it. I was fortunate to get the victory.”
With the victory came the distinction of being the first ever fighter to win a Showtime-sanctioned tournament. A prospect-based super middleweight tournament never provided closure, as it’s poorly attended finale in January ’07 ended in a draw.
The Super Six World Boxing Classic has been as celebrated as it’s been frustrating. Fallout, injuries and postponements now have the tournament concluding on December 17, two weeks after Mares’ scheduled rematch with Agbeko.
Regardless of what happens on December 3, Mares firmly believes he has already surpassed expectations. That said, he’s not done yet and views the rematch as one more chance to prove his worth atop the bantamweight heap.
“I was the youngest one in the tournament, the one nobody expected to take this tournament. It gave me a lot of exposure. It turned me into a world champion and allowed me to beat the best out there.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]