By Cliff Rold
Mexican-born 26-year old Abner Mares (23-0-1, 13 KO) of Montebello, California, provided some answer to critics who questioned the number of low blows he was allowed to get away with in winning the IBF Bantamweight title in August, keeping them mostly up and earning another hard fought unanimous decision against 31-year old former titlist Joseph Agbeko (28-4, 22 KO) of Accra, Ghana on Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.
Both men weighed in below the division limit of 118 lbs., Mares at 117 and Agbeko at 117 ¼. The referee was Lou Moret.
Agbeko began sharp, his left jab and lead left hook snaking towards a Mares who calmly stuck to his base and worked in some lefts to the body. The issue of fouls was on the table before the round was half over, Mares warned for some flagrant kidney shots in the clinch. Matters were tense but neither took any serious advantage as they worked into the action.
A pair of Mares rights landed to the head of a stalking Agbeko just over a minute into the second. Agbeko would answer with a looping left but in the final minute a double left hook to the head landed for Mares. A Mares flurry of blows late in the round was met with a stern, hooking Agbeko. The round ended with blood over the right eye of Mares, referee Lou Moret ruling the cut caused by a punch.
Round three saw an intense exchange between Agbeko and the referee after some rough work on the inside. Agbeko complained of a low blow but it was he being warned for pulling down on the head of Mares. Mares used the right hand to great affect and Agbeko, who was ignoring his jab, struggled to land lead left hooks.
Punching between Agbeko’s shots, Mares connected with a left and right early in the fourth. The action slowed as both men seemed waiting for the other, but it was Mares landing just clean enough to keep an edge. The fifth round was closer, both men landing some stiff shots, Mares landing the last of them, freezing Agbeko for just a second with the right.
Mares was in a groove in rounds six and seven, alert to the dangers presented by his foe, moving, boxing, and landing enough hard stuff to make clear who held serve. Agbeko came out aggressive in the eighth, remembering his jab and landing a big left and right in the first minute. Having his best round since the first, working the jab to bust open the cut on Mares, Agbeko complained of a low blow late and allowed room for a Mares rally. Driving Agbeko to the ropes, Mares let loose and both men pounded away in close into the bell.
The Agbeko rally continued in the first half of the ninth before a Mares left hook stemmed his momentum. Agbeko’s jab had a crimson stream running again from the eye of Mares but the former Mexican Olympian kept his challenger honest with some well timed rights and a hard left to the body.
It was Agbeko with the hard body shots in the tenth, the subtle shifting of the fight towards his favor continuing with Mares making him work for every inch of it. A big right hand late for Agbeko and drew a wild flurry of shots to the back when Mares caught him leaning over.
Blood dripping from under an abundance of Vaseline, Mares came out defensive to start the eleventh. A counter right landed against a pursuing, but not jabbing, Agbeko. Agebko responded moments later with some counter hooks when Mares came forward. The round would not be decided until the final thirty seconds, fans treated to the best action of the night to then. A Mares right to the temple rocked Agbeko and Mares followed with more. Agbeko kept his feet and fired back but it was Mares landing more, landing cleaner with his belt on the line.
The twelfth and final round began with Mares coming forward, testing the legs of Agbeko to see if his man was still wounded. He wasn’t but Mares stayed a step ahead, scoring and celebrating late, rocking Agbeko with a final left hook just before the bell to seal what appeared certain victory.
The appearance was not deceiving, Mares winning by three matching, if wide, scores of 118-110. BoxingScene scored the contest 116-112 for Mares.
Mares was pleased not just with the victory but with the way he won. “I’m just happy people can see my real boxing, without controversy. Now they saw the real Abner. They did last time too but it was a lot of bad stuff that happened. This is the real Abner. I beat him once. I beat him again. I’m just happy.”
Asked about his future, Mares was open to facing any other titlists around his class as well as the possibility of moving to 122 lbs.
Agbeko expressed he felt he’d done enough to win and was clearly disappointed with how wide the scores were. After a series of high profile, exciting outings, he can remain a player in the division despite this second defeat at the hands of Mares.
If the main event was a fight, what preceded it was a show. The chief support bout on the telecast left fans with a simple question: what’s Spanish for Sweet Pea?
Having built up a cult following in the U.S. via websites like YouTube, 26-year old WBA Bantamweight titlist Anselmo Moreno (32-1-1, 11 KO), 118, of San Miguelito, Panama, looked like he might be the goods. After Saturday’s unanimous decision victory, the whole world knows he’s that and more. Rare is the defensive fighter who can beat a man to the body and stay as comfortably in the pocket as Moreno does, evoking memories of the great Pernell Whitaker.
35-year old Armenian former Flyweight and Jr. Bantamweight champion Vic Darchinyan (37-4-1, 27 KO), 117 ¾, of Sydney, Australia, got a first hand chance to appreciate the rarity, soundly outboxed for most of twelve rounds by the man boxing may want to rename Guisantito Dulce.
Darchinyan rushed Moreno at the opening bell but it was the right jab of Moreno landing first. The first round would be a battle of jabs for a while, Darchinyan landing some glancing shots in close and Moreno digging to the body. A Darchinyan body shot pushed Moreno back but he struggled to land consistently.
Warmed to his task, Moreno was better offensively in round two. While Darchinyan had some eye-catching flurries, they mostly struck air while Moreno landed sharp, clean single lefts. A left from Moreno in the final minute seemed to rock Darchinyan and he had the power puncher flailing at shadows down the stretch.
A big Darchinyan left in the first minute of round three was taken well by Moreno and Darchinyan was given a chance to land it again. Moreno tattooed Darchinyan with a left uppercut just past the midway mark. A right to the head, and then the body, punctuated another frame for Moreno.
Lost for answers on how to make a head hunting approach work, Darchinyan ended the fourth round frustrated in a clinch and wound up losing a point for shoving Moreno to the floor. Darchinyan improved in the fifth, still taking some clean lefts but also taking advantage of a Moreno whose hands didn’t move much, forcing the action.
Moreno landed two hard rights to the body, took a stiff left to the chin, and nailed Darchinyan with some buckling lefts in a terse first minute. An errant low blow took the wind out of Darchinyan halfway through the round, Moreno drawing a warning from referee Raul Caiz Jr. Planting his feet as Darchinyan pressed, Moreno absorbed a Darchinyan left and hammered him back with his own and another right to the body.
Round seven was the most one-sided of the night to then, Moreno breaking into Darchinyan with body shot after body shot. He did it again in the eighth and Darchinyan was shaken early in the frame. Darchinyan showed no quit, working hard in the ninth but still missing more than landing, taking more than giving.
The danger Darchinyan always poses was evident in the tenth when a hard left momentarily froze Moreno. The Panamanian quickly composed himself and stepped right back into the fray. A left hand at the minute mark echoed off the head of Darchinyan and he’d add yet another sticking right to the body before the round was up. Darchinyan’s left eye was colored red with his difficulties on the night.
Moreno maintained control in the final two rounds, boxing like a man who knew he was on foreign turf, something Moreno has been many times before. Darchinyan shoved Moreno hard to the floor in the twelfth, a bullying tactic in place of the ability to do anything against the better man. Scores came in at a decisive 116-111, 117-110, and a shutout 120-107. BoxingScene scored the bout 117-111 for Moreno.
Moreno claimed after the fight to have felt the nerves of his first fight in the U.S. but stated, through an interpreter, he felt Darchinyan was a stupid fighter and one he could dominate. Moreno dedicated the victory to his native Panama and stated he’d like to face the winner of the night’s main event. Boxing fans grown spoiled with a rich series of bantamweight clashes in recent years would have another if Moreno-Mares occurred.
Darchinyan was gracious in defeat, stating he simply “couldn’t find him.” Darchinyan has faced almost everyone who could matter from 112 to 118 lbs. and can hold his head high knowing that history states only the very best get past him.
Moreno can hold his head in knowing the same.
The card was televised in the U.S. on Showtime, promoted by Golden Boy Promotions, Gary Shaw Productions, and Dob King Promotions.
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]