By Jake Donovan
It’s already been a crazy month for upsets, which of course makes for great storylines in a sport whose survival is dependent upon finding new ways to reinvent the wheel.
Shocking results have been posted on every conceivable level in the past couple of weeks – HBO, Showtime, ESPN2, Telefutura and the most recently on the other side of the world when 39-year old Muhammad Rachman because a two-time strawweight titlist after upsetting Kwanthai Sithmorseng.
The bad news is that the likelihood of an upset occurring in the final leg of the bantamweight tournament this weekend is not that great. The good news is the reason behind it – every matchup within the tournament is competitive enough on paper to where no outcome is truly surprising.
This much has already been proven in the opening round of the bantamweight foursome late last year.
Joseph King Kong Agbeko hadn’t fought since suffering a loss to Yonnhy Perez on Halloween ’09, but enjoyed a much better go of things in reversing the outcome when they met nearly 14 months later.
Abner Mares’ night against Vic Darchinyan was far more problematic. The 2004 Mexican Olympian survived a near disastrous first four rounds – including a knockdown and point deduction – to rally back and take hard-fought split decision over the former two division champ.
Even if neither fight turned out as expected, the results still weren’t shocking.
There was reason to believe that Perez – the only titlist in the tournament at the time – would be able to duplicate what he did against Agbeko more than a year prior, even though that very result was considered a bit of a shocker at the time.
It was also plausible that Mares – who came dangerously close to dethroning his close friend Perez earlier last year – would succumb to Darchinyan’s punching power at some point, even if youth and skill level were on the Mexican’s side.
The only thing that was definitely proven in the first set of matchups in this four-man tournament was to expect anything to happen.
Such is the mindset carried into this weekend’s show, which airs live from Club Nokia in Los Angeles (Saturday, SHOWTIME, 10:30PM ET/PT).
The finals and third place bracket fight are viewed as virtual pick-‘em matchups as fight night draws nearer. Despite coming in as the lone titlist in the tournament, Agbeko is viewed by the oddsmakers as a slight underdog to defend his title against Mares, whose name was the most commonly mentioned – though not by very much – when initially asked for a prediction on who would prevail when all was said and done.
Even in the wake of a career-worst performance, Perez (20-1-1, 14KO) is still believed to have enough left in the tank to bounce back, The Colombian workhorse is favored by the slightest of margins over veteran puncher Darchinyan (35-3-1, 27KO), the only fighter among the group to have not won a fight against any of the other contestants.
On the scorecards, Darchinyan was within striking distances in each of his losses to Mares (December ’10) and Agbeko (July ’09. One more round scored differently in each bout would mean the difference between having lost two of his last five contests and carrying an unbeaten streak that extends more than three years.
But that’s not to say that he deserved the nod in either contest, although some can see the case for his deserving to come out ahead against Mares last December. That he made it that interesting throughout (especially early on) his bout against a rising, undefeated star nearly ten years his junior restored fans’ faith that he had something to offer at the bantamweight level.
That, coupled with Perez’ emotionally draining loss to Agbeko last year, leaves fans and experts alike hesitant when prompted to pick a winner.
More of the same comes in the main event. Agbeko (28-2, 22KO) enters the fight on the heels of his best performance in years, if not of his 12-year career, and defends the title he regained in the ring last December.
Conversely, Mares (21-0-1, 13KO) endured the toughest nights of his professional life in back-to-back fights in 2010, edging out Darchinyan by split decision seven months after fighting to a stalemate with Perez. After a resume that suggested potential but lacked credentials, Mares now enters his third straight tough fight against a fellow top-rated fighter, all coming in the span of 11 months.
When this tournament was first designed, there was disappointment expressed over the news that Top Rank’s pair of bantamweight thoroughbreds – Nonito Donaire and Fernando Montiel – declined an invitation to join. They were instead matched against one another in a fight that was arguably more significant than any matchup to be made among the current foursome.
A bout that would’ve created even more distance between this weekend’s winner and the division’s true champion was the efforts to bring back Donaire on HBO, this time against fellow titlist Anselmo Moreno. Donaire’s handlers made a strong push for the fight to happen, though complicating matters is who owns what contract on both sides of the coin.
The aforementioned unification bout being scratched means that both fighters are essentially looking at a considerable period if inactivity if neither moment is resolved in a timely fashion.
The news was a bit of a buzzkill to a community of fans that just began to warm up to Donaire on the heels of his sensational knockout of Fernando Montiel earlier this year.
But while Donaire waits to see if his next fight is in the ring or in a courtroom, the rest of the division marches on – namely four top bantamweights who reacquaint themselves with one another this weekend.
Had any of them been facing Donaire or Moreno, it can be strongly argued that a win against either would’ve contributed nicely to the current stretch of major upsets within the sport.
Because they are instead facing each other, the threat of an upset is replaced with the type of anticipation that should go into every televised bout – that anything can happen, and none of it would be the least bit surprising.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com .