By Jake Donovan
Last weekend’s title fight between Abner Mares and Joseph Agbeko was supposed to provide the network with the closure it has long sought dating back to its failed attempt at a prospect-based super middleweight tournament some five years ago.
However, not even a definitive outcome can leave anyone involved with the satisfaction of believing there still isn’t unfinished business left in the bantamweight division.
An argument can be made that an uncertain future awaited the winner of the Showtime bantamweight tournament no matter the outcome. The last man standing was never going to be hailed the best in the division, nor was there ever the promise of an even bigger prize waiting in the wings.
All that there was to be had was the satisfaction of winning the four-man box-off, yet last weekend couldn’t even provide that much.
What can help that along is something that doesn’t normally come with such events – a rematch.
The fight itself was well worth the three-month wait from the original advertised date of April 23. If you are able to somehow look past the inexcusable performance of now-shamed referee Russell Mora, what you are left with is a fight well worthy of a return go.
Of the four contestants involved in the series, Mares boasts the greatest upside and thus was viewed as the unofficial favorite, although the distance between the top spot and the fourth seed wasn’t very far at all. In fact, the greatest amount of appeal that came with the tournament was that there wasn’t a bad match to be made, or one that came with a predictable outcome.
Few if any could claim that they saw a scenario where Mares would have to overcome a knockdown and a huge early deficit to squeeze past seasoned veteran Vic Darchinyan. Even more surprising was the fact that Agbeko – more than a year after conceding his title to Yonnhy Perez in a fantastic bantamweight scrap – all but had his way with the then-undefeated Colombian in their rematch.
Then there was Darchinyan providing his own brand of self-resuscitation, dominating Perez in their consolation bout this past April, one that served as a makeshift headliner after Agbeko’s shocking bout with sciatica put the tournament finals on pause for another three months.
Simply put, the combatants did their job to lend credence to the belief that there would be something worth talking about no matter how you mixed and matched the bouts.
The finale provided such results, for all of the right and wrong reasons. The only thing it didn’t provide was the sense that this tournament was truly over.
Given what else awaits both winner and loser, there’s no reason to believe that it should be over.
Mares’ promoter – Golden Boy Promotions – made a few moves in the past year to lend a few options to its first true home-grown champion. None, however, are likely to materialize before years end.
The most significant move made was the signing of fellow bantamweight titlist Anselmo “Chemito” Moreno earlier this year. Such a move would lend the suggestion of a unification bout being in store, one that can be controlled in house, and leaving Golden Boy with a champion in its corner no matter the outcome.
Even if that fight were to materialize, it’s not happening until 2012 at the earliest. Moreno is already looking at a mandatory title defense against another relatively recent Golden Boy signee – former flyweight titlist Eric Morel, who joined the company last October. The move will appear to pay off for Morel, who left on the table a shot at then unified bantamweight titlist Fernando Montiel.
While the timing of both signings suggests that a long term plan is in place, it still leaves Mares without a viable option between now and the end of the year.
The one name always mentioned anytime bantamweight is the topic at hand is Nonito Donaire, widely believed to be the best in the division and pound-for-pound one of the very best in the world. The reality of a Donaire-Mares showdown would’ve been that much greater had Donaire’s own signing with Golden Boy earlier this year been upheld in arbitration.
Instead, it was decided that the rising star was still under contract with Top Rank, having since extended the deal for another four years.
The good news is that while Donaire is back with the Las Vegas-based company, there still exists the possibility of doing business with Golden Boy as their latest Cold War has reached a significant thawing point.
But it doesn’t mean that they can begin discussing terms for Donaire and Mares to stand across the ring from another, at least not next.
Part of the terms of enlisting in the bantamweight tournament was that the winner would owe one more fight to hosting network Showtime. That part alone nixes Donaire from the running, as he is contractually obligated to appear on HBO in his next fight, tentatively scheduled for late October.
From a relevance perspective alone, a Mares-Agbeko return go is really the next step that makes the most sense as nothing but stay busy fights await either fighter, which isn’t the most financially sound idea considering that neither on their own are much in the way of a box office draw at the moment.
Factor in the level of controversy generated from Mora’s horrific officiating performance and the close nature of the fight itself – even without all of the blown calls – and you’re provided with built-in story lines while the memory of what took place on August 13 is still fresh.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected] .