On Showtime This Saturday: Agbeko-Mares, Darchinyan-Perez
Kevin L. Johnston - After a splendid weekend of boxing that featured highly entertaining bouts on both HBO and Showtime, the trend looks to continue this weekend on Showtime with the Bantamweight Tournament Final. In the championship bout, Joseph "King Kong" Agbeko (28-2) of Ghana takes on undefeated Mexican youngster Abner Mares (21-0-1). In the battle for third place, the flamboyant Vic "Raging Bull" Darchinyan (35-3-1) of Armenia is pitted against the savvy Colombian tough guy Yonnhy "El Colombiano" Perez (20-1-1).
Most boxing pundits think both fights will be extremely close and competitive, and the bookmakers ostensibly agree. Mares is a subtle favorite over Agbeko nearly everywhere you look, while Darchinyan-Perez is a virtual pick 'em at most books with Perez being a tiny favorite at some books. Indeed, these four pugilists are very familiar with each other and all fight at an elite level. Perez has fought Agbeko twice; he beat Agbeko on points in October of 2009 and then lost to him on points in December of 2010. Perez and Mares have also gone at it before, fighting to a draw in May of 2010. In addition to trading victories with Perez, Agbeko also beat Darchinyan on points in July of 2009.. Oh yea... and Mares beat Darchinyan on points in December of 2010. In case you're thoroughly confused now, it seems to be the classic example of "Fighter A beat Fighter B who beat Fighter C, etc." only a lot more complicated because draws and split wins are involved. In a nutshell, even Stevie Wonder can see that the bantamweight division is very competitive at the top and fans will surely witness some quality boxing on Saturday.
With a concise yet pertinent sample size of fight results available to help study and analyze these four pugilists, who exactly has the edge and the betting value this weekend? If you glance at the round robin of results I attempted to describe in the previous paragraph, you'll notice the common denominator is that Darchinyan is the only fighter who does not have a victory over any of the other three fighters. Agbeko beat Perez once and Darchinyan once. Perez beat Agbeko once and fought Mares to a draw. Mares beat Darchinyan once. Hmmm, sounds like Darchinyan is 0-2 against the participants of the Showtime Bantamweight Tournament thus far. This logical analysis should never be the only tool for evaluating a group of fighters that have all fought one another, but it is certainly a decent starting point.
If you can get Yonnhy Perez at pick 'em it presents the best value on board this weekend. Darchinyan is more than just an average fighter, but he has always been a little overrated in my opinion because he fights with "flair" and "swagger." He's what I call a public darling... people love his style and respect his power because he has a few highlight reel knockouts on his resume. Moreover, he's a cocky trash-talker who occasionally keeps his hands low and dances. Boxing bettors, especially casual ones, love wagering on fighters they like or can identify with and Darchinyan has these likeable characteristics, which can often skew the odds because bookmakers know how to capitalize on perception. In reality, Perez should probably be a significant favorite, albeit not a large one. Something in the -150 to -180 range for Perez to win sounds about accurate, but because of anticipated public action on Darchinyan, the odds have been set at a virtual pick 'em.
Darchinyan is 35 and nearing the end of his prime, if not already past it. Perez is 32, still in his prime, and the better all-around warrior of the two. I'll take the younger, more complete fighter every time over the slight hype job who also happens to be on the wrong side of 35. Darchinyan will probably have his moments early, but I envision a focused Perez stepping his game up in the later rounds and winning a narrow but decisive points victory. Don't hesitate to pull the trigger if you find Yonnhy Perez to win at -110 or better.
In the main event, which on paper appears to be a coin flip, the value is on Joseph Agbeko who can be found as high as +120 at some books. Mares is a very good young fighter, but Agbeko is as tough and cagey as they come. I think his durability and craftiness will frustrate Mares and ultimately Agbeko will win a razor thin decision, possibly even a split or mixed decision. In a fight where both boxers seem equally matched, why not take the dog? Since this fight is much tougher to call though, be aware that I'm advocating taking Perez more so than I am Agbeko. If you're a units bettor, I recommend putting 3-4 units on Yonnhy Perez and 1-2 units on King Kong Agbeko. Don't forget to tune into Showtime this Saturday evening to catch all the action!
(Kevin L. Johnston is a freelance writer from Indianapolis who contributes material for rumorsandrants.com and ESB. You can follow him on Twitter @WiseGuyAction or reach him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org)