With A Little Help From My Friends: Abner Mares W12 Joseph Agbeko


Abner Mares needed a wheelman last night to make a clean getaway in Las Vegas, and he found one in referee Russell Mora, who sped Mares to the Showtime bantamweight tournament championship by burning rubber across poor Joseph Agbeko, thereby making Mares, at least for the moment, the boxing equivalent of Willie Sutton.

Mares notched a majority decision over Agbeko at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino by the scores 115-111, 115-111, and 113-113, but the real winner here appeared to be Mora, who seemed to meet a strange objective of his own devising. Incompetence is usually the answer for most—but not all—of the riddles in boxing, but Russell Mora was a quantum leap removed from mere ineptitude.

In fact, Mora was clearly biased in favor of Mares and, worse than that, seemed to enter the ring with a predetermined notion of what he was going to do. In the first two rounds alone, Mora warned Mares three times for shots below the belt. But he never bothered to deduct a point from Mares over the last 10 rounds of the fight even though Mares fouled repeatedly and with gusto.

Boxing history is full of unscrupulous referees. Perhaps most notoriously, Ad Wolgast was helped up to his feet by his own personal referee, Jack Welsh, in 1912 after a double-knockdown scenario against Mexican Joe Rivers precipitated, ironically, by a low blow from Wolgast. More recently, the disgraceful actions of Isidro Rodriguez on behalf of Juan Coggi–including a long count–in 1993 have to be seen to be believed. But Mora was less obvious than the rascals of the past and seemed to be at the ready to play insurance for Mares if the opportunity arose. And Mora made sure to descend to the occasion once he saw his chance.

It was a shame to see Agbeko lose in such an undignified way. Now 28-3 (22), Agbeko showed remarkable resiliency in going 12 hard rounds despite the number of debilitating shots he took below the belt.

As for Mares, 22-0-1 (13), this is his third inconclusive bout in a row, and it should be pointed out that even with two faux knockdowns, carte blanche to whack Agbeko below the belt as often as he wanted from the opening bell, and a referee playing out some sort of “Touched By An Angel” fantasy on his behalf, he still managed only to scrape by Agbeko. Even in this age of hyperbole, when one or two decent performances makes a fighter an instant “P-4-P’ entrant, this streak is decidedly unimpressive. Instead of Ruben Olivares or Lupe Pintor, Mares is starting to resemble Paulie Ayala or “The Clay Pigeon,” Legs Diamond, whose skill at surviving assassination attempts finally gave out in a cheap boarding room in Albany, New York, in 1931.

The fight began with Mares, Norfolk, California, starting faster than usual, aware that a junkball artist like Agbeko cannot be allowed to sit on the perimeter looking for openings. Pressing behind his jab, Mares, 117 1/2, took the fight to Agbeko and peppered him with hard combinations. Late in the first, Agbeko seemed to slip and hit the canvas awkwardly, but Mora ruled it a knockdown. At the time, the knockdown looked questionable. Retrospect, of course, casts the mandatory eight count Mora administered in a more sinister light.

A focused Mares scored well and looked solid until the fourth round, when Agbeko, 118, rocked him with a blistering counter right. Both fighters had their moments during the middle rounds, exchanging hard shots, with Mares, 25, throwing more and landing more often. Among these punches were probably a dozen that strayed low. Mares, who suffered a nick from a butt in the sixth, began to fade as the rounds went by, with Agbeko, 31, mixing in rights with more regularity and mauling inside with some success. In the early rounds, Agbeko, the Bronx via Ghana, relied primarily on his left hook and an accurate jab.

The eighth, ninth, and tenth rounds saw Agbeko gaining an edge, despite several more low blows from Mares, including a humdinger in the 10th. But Mora ignored most of these punches with a stoicism that might have impressed Epictetus.

By the 11th, Mares appeared to be wilting and he wound up with a hard shot that ricocheted with a thud off the cup of Agbeko. It was a blatant foul from Mares, whose goody-goody image may have suffered irreparable damage after this fight. Agbeko collapsed, Mora sent Mares to a neutral corner, the crowd groaned, Al Bernstein nearly went haywire at ringside, and then…then the real madness began. Mora approached an agonized Agbeko and, incredibly, began to count. At that moment, the idea that this bout was being held in the spirit of competition—admittedly a shaky premise for the preceding 10 rounds—simply vanished, and the sad truth was revealed: that Agbeko, on his knees and in pain and whose living is based on hurting and being hurt—according to ritualized notions of fair play—never had a chance. He dragged his battered body from the canvas and finished out the fight, perhaps aware that talent, dedication, and hard work—the cornerstones of successful fighters and many unsuccessful fighters as well—were no match for the shadowy forces of boxing.

In musty gyms all over America you can find the husks of men who have sacrificed more than can be imagined to pursue a glory most would find unfathomable. But they chase it anyway, despite the dangers, the pain, and the cutthroat nature of the sport for which they bleed. Yes, in boxing, dreams die hard, but the truth is, nightmares die even harder.


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  • JohnPaulFutbol


    I agree with this take entirely. Mora was a disgrace and no question he had an agenda. But damn, 30 lowblows or so? I’m sorry, Mares has to be accountable for his actions in the ring and Mora’s “performance” doesn’t launder that. When you combine the bullshit KD’s and the lack of any point deductions, that’s a pretty big swing. And credit to Agbeko for hanging in there and making it a close fight…….can’t imagine what the accumulative effect of that many lowblows thrown by a professional fighter with 8oz gloves is. There is simply no way to condition your balls for that sort of shit!

    Mares had better work on his conditioning and straighten out some of his punches. Not sure it would matter vs. Donaire though, he could even probably attempt to hit him in the nuts as many times….but he’s getting poleaxed if they fight.

  • thenonpareil



    thanks for writing. I used to play around with Magnetic Poetry for refrigerators and it’s improved my writing a lot. Thanks for the compliment.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi Hit Dog,

    And then…and then you had to try your luck on the G train! When Mora started counting, we just howled in disbelief–that anyone could be so scummy in such a public sphere is inconceivable, but there you go.

    Mora had what I will call a personal agenda, to differentiate it from those who are yelling fix and conspiracy. It’s like when Laurence Cole disqualified Emanuel Augustus once simply because he didn’t like him. Unfortunately, Agbeko entered the ring at a serious disadvantage, one that makes a mockery of the theoretical meritocracy of the ring.

  • thenonpareil

    @dennis wise

    Hi Dennis,

    Agbeko was not given a sporting chance. It’s one thing to have incompetence and bad judging, etc., but for a man to train as hard as a world-class fighter has to and have someone make sure that equality is not going to be allowed is revolting. The timing was just right from Mora’s perspective, it seems.

    As you note, the fight was close going into the 11th, Mares was fading, and the 12th round would have decided the bout. I’ve read some folks say that the 11th was a 3-point swing against Agbeko. Actually, it was 4 points, because any other referee would have penalized Mares. I’ll go further and say it was a FIVE-point swing because the blow Mares landed was clearly deliberate, and a foul that blatant deserves a two-point deduction.

    Jim Gray has few fans in boxing, but he seemed as disgusted as anybody, and let Mora have it. That Mora was shown replays and still claimed that the low blow was not low only makes things more bizarre.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi JDL,

    thanks. Mora’s wretchedness was so in-your-face that even people who are not surprised at what happens in boxing seem shocked. I’ve never seen a fighter commit one deliberate foul after another from beginning to end without having a point deducted. Even Mares’ corner told him to stop going low. Some of his shots were borderline and some, especially early, were due to Agbeko pulling down on Mares, but even taking that into account, Mares landed punishing shots to the groin over and over again. Mora needs to be fired, but only in the real world do people get canned for poor performances. Boxing is as far from the real world as an episode of Ancient Aliens is.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi JPF,

    you’re right, Mares cannot be given a pass. If you ask me, he decided at some point that he was going to get away with murder and went to town from that point on. People say that he’s an inaccurate puncher, etc. But Mora immediately came out bombing to the bozak….and the accumulation of these blows probably caused Agbeko to wilt by the middle rounds. I’m surprised he made it to the last round, in fact. Some of the shots, including the last piledriver blow to the Johnson, looked deliberate to me.

    Mares is scrappy, as I mentioned to JPM, but he’s no superstar. Beat someone of note clearly, and then maybe we can talk about his elite skills. Right now, he’s got fast hands, throws in combination, and works the body well when he does it legally. So what?

    Without a referee who doubled as Mares’ guardian angel, this fight would have been up in the air until the final moment, but we’ll never know what would have happened had Agbeko been allowed to compete fairly.

    Donaire plays Torquemada to Mares, even with Russell Mora as the referee.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi HectorUson,

    Many fighters enter the ring at a disadvantage because they are not house fighters or P-4-P media darlings, or judges are incompetent, etc. But Agbeko was not only shut down by a biased referee, but he was also put in the position of being injured since his physical condition was depleted by illegal tactics with the blessing of the referee. That’s the scummiest part of all.

  • JohnPaulFutbol

    @JDL@thenonpareil It’s funny that you mention the Darchinyan fight, because obviously it was just on my mind. I remember hearing the complaints from the Darchinyan camp and my attitude was “get the fuck out of here.” Because I like/liked Mares and have never liked Darchinyan, I suppose. That must’ve affected my take on that fight. I’d like to rewatch. But there does seem to be a pattern here. There is just no fucking way you hit a guy low that many times by accident….inaccurate puncher, getting your head pulled down and all that just doesn’t justify or rationalize it.

  • JohnPaulFutbol

    @thenonpareil I’m just going to enjoy this points lead I have over you right now CA, while it lasts. 33-7 is a nice cushion. But, I suppose it’s no surprise, given that I’m the emperor/general of the BCAA!

  • JohnPaulFutbol

    @JDL@thenonpareil I just checked vid, fuck! Abner Mares has a fetish.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi trueboxingfan1,

    thanks for writing. Mares wasn’t the dirtiest fighter I’ve ever seen, but what’s unique here is how oblivious Mora was to infraction after infraction. Unfortunately, I suspect nothing positive will come out of this whole sad situation.

  • thenonpareil


    I don’t even understand that whole fucking “points” thing! Don’t think you’re getting any prizes or anything for getting these weird points!

  • thenonpareil


    Hi JDL,

    I agree re: Agbeko. He showed remarkable restraint, especially when you consider how many fighters look for the first opportunity to bail out of a tough bout. As far as retaliation goes, I guess Agbeko was the only guy in the ring on Saturday night interested in sportsmanship.

  • thenonpareil


    Hi ergfacefights,

    Yes, there is something particularly disturbing about this situation. Getting jobbed by judges is bad, but you don’t really know what they are thinking about from round to round. In this case, so many people witnessed what Russell Mora saw (and is paid to see) that it’s even more troubling. Mora ignored–over and over again–what everyone else saw and that looks positively nefarious. Nothing significant will happen here. Agbeko and Mares will fight again, but Mora will just be hidden away on undercards for a while. Then he’ll pop up again in a big fight as if nothing ever happened.

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