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Boxing:

Joseph Agbeko and Abner Mares out for bantamweight glory

Showtime tournament final days away after prolonged delay

Image

Steve Marcus

IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko, left, of Ghana and Abner Mares of Mexico face off during a news conference at the Hard Rock hotel-casino Thursday, August 11, 2011. Agbeko will defend his title against Mares at the resort Saturday.

Updated Friday, Aug. 12, 2011 | 5:46 p.m.

Agbeko vs. Mares weigh-in

Corona beer models adopt a boxing pose after an official weigh-in for IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko of Ghana and Abner Mares of Mexico at the Hard Rock hotel-casino Friday, August 12, 2011. Agbeko will defend his title against Abner Mares of Mexico at the resort Saturday. Corona is one of the fight sponsors. Launch slideshow »

Agbeko vs. Mares news conference

IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko, left, of Ghana and Abner Mares of Mexico pose during a news conference at the Hard Rock Hotel on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. Agbeko will defend his title against Mares at the resort Saturday. Launch slideshow »

If You Go

  • What: The Bantamweight Tournament Final: Winner Takes All
  • When: Saturday, August 13, First fight at 2 p.m. with televised card at 7 p.m.
  • Where: The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel
  • Tickets: $25 to $200, Ticketmaster

An unfortunate medical condition IBF bantamweight champion Joseph Agbeko suffered four months ago ultimately benefited Las Vegas.

Five days before Agbeko was set to face Abner Mares in a title fight to conclude Showtime’s bantamweight tournament in April, he collapsed upon arrival in Los Angeles. Agbeko had a case of sciatica, a nerve issue, and the California Athletic Commission ruled him medically unable to fight.

With Agbeko now healthy, Showtime rescheduled the championship bout for Saturday at The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel.

“I got a second chance to look at Joseph and study him more,” Mares said. “If anything, now we’re more ready to fight each other.”

Agbeko and Mares are unanimously two of the top five 118-pound boxers in the world after defeating division mainstays Yonnhy Perez and Vic Darchinyan, respectively, to reach the finals of the tournament.

The bout carries a recurring theme for combat sports. The 31-year old “King Kong” Agbeko (28-2) is the veteran champion with the 25-year old Mares (21-0-1) serving as the younger upstart with high expectations.

“He has a dream,” Agbeko said, “but ‘King Kong’ is here to kill his dream.”

Agbeko and Mares are in agreement about one thing — They believe the winner of Saturday’s fight should rightfully be referred to as the world’s best 118-pound fighter.

Most who follow boxing would argue otherwise, as 28-year old Nonito Donaire holds the WBC and WBO belts. But Donaire, who defeated Fernando Montiel via second round knockout, did not participate in the tournament. That’s something that doesn’t sit well with both Agbeko and Mares.

“The two of them were scared because these are the best fighters and you might lose,” Agbeko said of Donaire and Montiel. “They were scared and pulled out of the tournament, so winning this tournament makes you the best. No doubt.”

Mares was less critical of Donaire. It may have been because he considers a future bout against him as inevitable.

“Either myself or Joseph Agbeko are going to face Nonito Donaire because that’s the fight to make after this fight,” Mares said. “There’s no other way around.”

A few factors, notably television contracts and Donaire’s desire to possibly move up in weight, could block the matchup from the happening.

But if Mares keeps at his current pace, he may look like the most attractive option to challenge Donaire. Thirteen of his 21 wins have come via knockout.

He’s hailed as the next great Mexican champion in the smaller weight classes. Mares, who fights out of Los Angeles, didn’t realize his popularity in his home country until he traveled to Guadalajara to clear his mind after Agbeko’s injury postponed the fight.

“I had fans come up to me,” Mares said. “That was something new for me.”

Mares added that many people figured the cancelation of the first fight hit him hard, but that wasn’t the case. He never entertained the notion of taking another bout and was content to wait for Agbeko.

“Things happen for a reason and now we know why,” Mares said. “If anything, we’ve got more exposure now. People know about it more. It’s worked out better.”

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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