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Bantamweight Champ Joseph Agbeko won’t need popularity If He Wins Tournament Finale

Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko the IBF Bantamweight Champion met a small contingent of boxing media Tuesday afternoon in the Bronx at John’s Boxing Gym. The Don King promoted fighter will defend his championship Saturday April 23 live on Showtime against Abner Mares from Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

It is the championship fight of the other Showtime tournament, the other being the “Super Six” Super Middleweight tournament that has brought a boxing fan to a brink with all the changes and fixtures that go along with a long and dragged out tournament. However, no matter how one views the Showtime concept of tournament boxing to determine who is number one, it seems this final bout with Agbeko has gathered interest and anticipation.

Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

Because like the competitive and not so well publicized featherweight division, the bantamweights suffer the same dilemma. A boxing fan does not get to appreciate what they can do, that is, sustain interest and give some respectability to the sport.

“I love the tournament,” commented Agbeko (28-2, 22 KO’s) the native of Accra, Ghana who recaptured the IBF crown from Yonnnhy Perez in the semifinal round in November. It was the first loss for the (20-1-1) Perez who will be in the consolation bout opposing former two-division world champion, the 35-3-1, Vic “Raging Bull” Darchinyan. It was Perez who remained undefeated in a close fight with Agbeko taking a unanimous decision in 2009.

Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

This has been more of four of the best type of elimination determining the best that is brief and not cluttered. There were no problems with fighters pulling out, making weight, partly due to the limited top 10 names in the division that leaves little acclaim this division receives. “It gives a lot of exposure to the division and what we can do,” said Agbeko as he prepared for another workout close to home.

“The winner of this fight is the best bantamweight in the world,” he says with a heavy accent similar to welterweight contender Joshua Clottey. He and Clottey are from the same country, and also train together when possible, residing a few minutes apart in in the vicinity of Yankee Stadium which is in proximity to the old and revamped gym in the South Bronx.

The fight with Mares will be a test. The bantamweights can throw a lot of punches, have speed and offer some power. The forum of being seen by millions on Showtime won’t hurt, and Agbeko, a Don King promoted fighter, with, a resounding win could put this division on the map. Though there are those in boxing who will never look at the bantamweight king as a division that propels the sport.

Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

“That’s what they may say that we are not popular,” he says. “I feel happy to be in the final of the tournament. The only prediction that I know is that I am going to come out of the ring as the winner of the night. I’ve really prepared for Mares. I don’t know if he will take the strength and the skills I bring to the ring.”

Agbeko, 32-years old did not watch Mares defeat Darchinvan. It does not concern him claiming that the southpaw Darchinvan would offer nothing to study the possible next opponent. He goes about his business and depends on experienced advisor and cut man Len DeJesus and trainer Adama Addy.

They also have seen the talent that Agbeko brings to the ring. Addy, who has trained Agbeko 18 years, going back to their days in Ghana keeps his fighter in the Bronx to avoid distractions back home. “There is no girlfriend here,” he said with a laugh. But the serious business has been taking place in the gym with a realization that Agbeko will be considered an elite fighter if he indeed prevails over Mares.

“We have no particular style going into this fight,” he says. “With him (Agbeko) you don’t know. As for the question of how Agbeko can make the division more prominent, Addy commented “The power he has makes this division popular.”

Take that to the bank because power from guys coming in at 122 is something to admire. Mares also can be dominant but may not offer the strength and power to his opponent. Though he did go down in the seventh from a Darchinyan punch to the body and came back to floor his opponent in the seventh with a vicious left that had Darchinyan dazed.

As for the ultimate question of moving to the ever more competitive featherweight division, Agbeko said he has no problem in taking another step. The money will never be huge in his division and there is a young champion Yuriorkis Gamboa taking charge at 126 and destined to be around a long time

To that he said, “I’m thinking of moving up to featherweight to take on the big guys. I’m thinking of Gamboa, Lopez (Juan Manuel) and I’m thinking about being in the league with them. After this fight, if I don’t get any good competition then I’m going to move to featherweight. I want to fight them I want to prove to the world that I’m the best.

And to many, Agbeko is the best, at least for now among the bantamweights.

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