Photos by Sumio Yamada
VIC DARCHINYAN vs JOSEPH AGBEKO
One thing about Vic Darchinyan that cannot be denied is that, for all his tough talk, he is willing to walk the walk by facing top-calibre opposition, which is what he is doing this Saturday when he steps up to bantamweight to challenge IBF champion Joseph Agbeko, with Showtime televising the intriguing fight.
Darchinyan, 33, has been a champion at flyweight and he is currently dominant in the 115-pound junior bantam division. Now he steps up to bantam in an attempt to become a three-weight world champion, although he is not relinquishing his 115-pound titles just in case.
Darchinyans promoter, Gary Shaw, feels that the Armenian from Australia will go down in history as one of the greatest ever fighters in the lighter weight divisions. This remains to be seen, but certainly he will be recognised as one of the most exciting.
When Darchinyan is in the ring, fans can be sure of seeing action. Darchinyan presses forward and throws heavy punches from his southpaw stance, yet there is an awkward cleverness about him and he is very good at landing punches from angles that the other man isnt expecting.
Darchinyan looked tremendous when knocking out 115-pound champions Dimitri Kirilov and Cristian Mijares, and in his last fight he dominated Jorge Arce, which isnt easy to do even though the colourful crowd-pleaser isnt quite the fighter he once was.
On Saturday, though, Darchinyan faces a very hard fight. Agbeko isnt widely known outside of the hard-core fight fraternity, but those in the business know how good he is. The New York-based Ghanaian is promoted by Don King, who stages Saturdays show in conjunction with Gary Shaw. The agent Rick Glaser, who introduced Agbeko to King, is one who senses an upset on Saturday. Darchinyan looks great when he is able to bully a guy, but Agbeko is someone who cant be bullied, Glaser said over the phone from Buffalo, NY, this week. Hes a big, strong bantamweight and hes hungry.
Darchinyan has lost only once, when he got drilled by a left hook from Nonito Donaire in the fifth round of what had been an even fight up to that point. He fought a controversial draw with Z Gorres in the Philippines, when Darchinyan suffered a heavy knockdown in the second round but came back to drop the Filipino in the ninth. Gorres was also given an eight count in the first round, when he seemed to slip but the Filipino was down on three other occasions without being given an eight count, when he was hit but also partly thrown over, and if just one of those trips to the canvas had been ruled an official knockdown it would have tipped the scoring in Darchinyans favour.
Agbekos only defeat was in Germany, when he lost a debatable, majority decision to Wladimir Sidorenko, and I am told that the Ghanaian was unlucky not to have won. That fight was one round on one card from being a draw, and for Agbeko to have fought the Ukrainian dynamo down to the wire was the tipoff that here was a fighter who deserved to be respected.
Agbeko outclassed Luis Perez to win the IBF belt, beating up the tough Nicaraguan in seven rounds, but he had a tough time in his last fight, against another Nicaraguan, William Gonzalez. The Gonzalez bout was Agbekos first in 15 months, though. A fight had to be cancelled after Agbeko contracted a mild form of malaria while at home in Ghana. He was not at his sharpest against Gonzalez but still gritted out the win, showing great heart and tenacity. Gonzalez can punch, but Agbeko stood up to the Nicaraguans heaviest blows and came on strongly, winning the last two rounds on all three judges scorecards to secure the majority but well-earned decision.
While Agbeko looked as good against Gonzalez as he did when running right over Perez, the layoff could have had a lot to do with it. That fight should have helped Agbeko, agent Sean Gibbons, who was in Gonzalezs corner that night, said in a phone conversation this week. Ive gone back and forth on this one. Youve got Darchinyan moving up in weight, and Agbeko is relentless. I can see Agbeko pulling out a decision, but its a tough one. It should be a great fight with Darchinyan involved, you cant go wrong.
I, too, am in two minds about this fight. Darchinyan, although moving up in weight, is exceptionally strong for a small man and is said to have handled middleweights in the gym back home in Australia. He is a heavy puncher from either side, left hand or right hook he seems to have improved his right-hand jabbing and hooking. Agbeko is a sturdy fighter, but he has never faced anyone quite like Darchinyan. He seems fearless, though, and has held his own with Darchinyan in the trash-talk department.
Darchinyans southpaw stance might not present too much of a problem for Agbeko, because the Ghanaians last two fights were against left-handers and he was able to land his punches easily against Perez and Gonzalez. Darchinyan has an unusual style, though, and the way he rolls his shoulders and moves his upper body around probably makes him a more difficult target than it might appear from outside the ropes. Agbeko, though, might be able to negate Darchinyans style by keeping right on top of him and keeping the punches flowing.
This might all come down to which man can better take the others punches, because this looks like being one of those wars of attrition. If Darchinyan can slow down Agbeko with his heavy blows especially with his body punching he can take command in the later rounds. If, however, Agbeko can keep pressing forward, punches flowing, it is easy to visualise him sweeping to victory down the stretch with his persistency and high punch-output.
Darchinyan has had many championship fights and he has overcome some excellent fighters, but I dont think he has met anyone with quite the same pressure and workrate that Agbeko brings but then, the African fighter has never met anyone as experienced and dangerous as Darchinyan.
Even though Agbeko was able to take William Gonzalezs punches, he did get rocked in that fight his legs seemed to go a bit on a few occasions, although he always came back firing. Of course, either man can hurt the other on Saturdayâ€š it is that type of fight.
Darchinyan was stopped by Donaire, true, but he cockily walked onto a great left hook that might have finished off any fighter in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, and that defeat seems to have taught him a lesson because he hasnt been as reckless in his recent fights. The Filipino Gorres dropped him, but Darchinyan came back strongly. I thought Darchinyan got wobbled a bit by Arce, but he didnt go down and even now Arce can really hit, as he showed with a one-punch KO win in his last fight.
For me, Darchinyan against Agbeko is a wide-open fight. My initial thoughts were that Darchinyan would have too much big-fight experience and be a bit too tricky and crafty for the more straight-ahead Agbeko, but this was based on Agbekos desperate struggle against William Gonzalez, who is a good fighter and hard hitter but probably not on Darchinyans level. The big question, for me, is whether Agbeko can improve on his showing against Gonzalez, and considering that he was coming back from a long layoff it is quite possible that he can.
To and fro we go, but with the fight three days away at time of writing I find myself coming back to Darchinyan. There is a chance that he will be even stronger at bantam than he was at 115 pounds, and when a boxer asks his promoter to get him the best fighters available taking the path of most resistance, as it were then you know that the fighter has enormous confidence in his own ability. Tentatively, then, I give Darchinyan the edge and I lean in his direction in what I think will be a long, tough, exciting and competitive fight if there is a stoppage it will probably not be until very late in the proceedings