The shadow of Nonito Donaire will loom over the finals of the Showtime bantamweight mini-tournament when Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares square off tomorrow night at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The winner of this bout might face Donaire, now back with Top Rank, in short order. If Mares wins, however, there is a chance that Golden Boy Promotions, still in the early stages of its frenemy relationship with Bob Arum, will steer clear of the “Filipino Flash,” at least for a while. If Agbeko wins, on the other hand, a Donaire-Agbeko bout becomes a real possibility. For “King Kong,” being rewarded with a fight against Donaire is not exactly as appealing as having a scantily clad Fay Wray or Jessica Lange in front of him, but Don King is lucky to get Woolworth Building money these days–much less Empire State Building ducats–and the octogenarian promoter (80 one week from today) has no choice but to throw Agbeko into the ring with Donaire.
Over the last year or so, Mares, 21-0-1 (13), has earned his share of goodwill from fans impressed by an easygoing personality and scrappy performances against Yonnhy Perez and Vic Darchinyan. When Mares fell behind early against Darchinyan last December, he revved up his engine and forced a pace calculated to leave the mad Armenian in the dust. Taken out of his natural rhythm, Darchinyan faded badly down the stretch and dropped a split decision. Against Agbeko, Mares will need to be at his industrious best to solve a modus operandi as unpredictable as an O. Henry story.
With a junkball style not even a course at the Learning Annex could improve, Agbeko, 28-2 (22), can flummox just about anyone with some of his unorthodox moves. He was flat against Yonnhy Perez in 2009, but came back to dominate the rematch a year later, showing the hidden cutie side of himself. Agbeko dips, dekes, and dodges, throws shots from all sorts of peculiar angles, lunges, and even tosses in absurdities like double lead right hands. Is Mares, with only 22 pro bouts, ready to face that kind of razzle dazzle? Although Vic Darchinyan is a southpaw, his idiosyncratic moves might have been the best possible prep course for Mares coming into this bout.
Based in the Bronx but originally out of Accra, Ghana, Agbeko is a tough fighter to get a bead on, but he is also erratic and, at times, sloppy in the ring. In addition, Agbeko has a tendency to overwork his left to little effect, making it easy to counter over the top with right hands. He can also be a bit lead-footed when on the attack. At 31—and on the Once-In-A-Blue-Moon Don King schedule—Agbeko may answer the opening bell tomorrow night with a layer of rust to work off. If so, he may find himself trying to catch up to Mares after the first quarter of the fight.
For his part, Mares, Norwalk, California, often appears to be caught between styles in the ring. He either comes forward aggressively behind his jab or lays back on the perimeter and concentrates on defense. When Mares presses the fight, he is a fair stand-up boxer with little head movement. When he plays defense he can be an elusive target, but fails to counterpunch regularly. Fusing these two elements may be the key to winning the fight, and, perhaps, to taking Mares to the next level.
Mares, 25, has the edge in mobility and footwork, but his biggest advantage may be the fact that he punches in combination more often than Agbeko does. This might make it harder for Agbeko to time Mares for one of his lunging counterpunches. Neither man appears to pack a wallop, although Agbeko seems to be the harder puncher from the outside, while Mares has a solid left hook in close.
On the inside, Mares whipsaws to the body but has the tendency to lean over, negating some of his power and leaving himself susceptible to uppercuts. But most likely Mares will keep busy on the outside, working his combinations and crossing with his right when Agbeko waits for openings. If Agbeko can withstand a few thumping hooks to the ribcage and keep up with a high workrate, then he ought to be able to find openings for some of his creative potshots.
At this point, Agbeko might be a little too tricky for Mares. He is also more experienced, having fought Perez twice, Darchinyan, William Gonzalez, Wladimir Sidorenko, and Luis Perez. In fact, Agbeko went 12 rounds in only his 12th start. In a close fight, one either man can win, Agbeko might be able to eke out a decision based on cleaner punching, but Mares may well get the benefit of the doubt on the scorecards with his hustling style. The winner–no matter who it is–will have Nonito Donaire darkening his future days one way or another.
1940s California matinee idol Pat Valentino, product of an abusive childhood, never thought he would amount to anything, and the tough breaks he got in life were mirrored in his hard luck boxing career. When he finally got a shot at the heavyweight championship of the world, it cost him more than anyone would have imagined possible. Read A Second Life: The Career of Pat Valentino.