International Boxing Federation (IBF) Bantamweight Champion Joseph King Kong Agbeko and undefeated rising star and World Boxing Council (WBC) Silver 118-pound Champion Abner Mares participated in a media conference call on Tuesday to discuss The Bantamweight Tournament Final: Winner Takes All taking place on Saturday, August 13, live on SHOWTIME (10 p.m. ET/PT, delayed on the West Coast) from The Joint at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nev.
Agbeko (28-2, 22 KOs), of Accra, Ghana, will defend his IBF title against the fast-rising, Mares (21-0-1, 13 KOs), of Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. by way of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, in the tournament final. Mares’ WBC Silver bantamweight belt will also be on the line.
The world championship fight is promoted by Don King Productions and Golden Boy Promotions and is sponsored by Corona.
Here are what the fighters had to say on Tuesday.
JOSEPH KING KONG AGBEKO:
“I would like to thank SHOWTIME for the new date which is Aug. 13 due to my injury. I thank my promoters too at Don King Productions for waiting for me to heal and to get ready for this fight. I’m so looking forward to this fight and thanks to God for it is finally coming off and I’m ready for it.
“This is a very big fight. Everyone is watching and people will know after you win this fight that you are the best in the world. That’s what I strive to achieve in my career: to be the best in the world at this weight class and then move on to the next one.”
What was the difference in the first time you fought Yonnhy Perez and the second?
“Well, in the first fight I don’t think I had a lot of time to prepare for the fight. I came into the ring slow and started out that way. That first fight just did not go well for me due to a few issues. So I came back and was able to do better the next fight.”
Did you fear after suffering your sciatic injury that your career might be finished?
“When I had the injury the only thing that I was worried about was the fight that I had coming up. I knew definitely that it wouldn’t affect my career. My main concern was disappointing every one because I knew I couldn’t fight. I knew everyone was counting on me. All my fans and family in Ghana were depending on me. I didn’t want to let anyone down.”
Was there ever any indication on why you had the sciatic injury you suffered?
“Yeah, they said it could really happen to anyone because of the time that the flight was delayed at the airport and the time I spent not moving on the plane for the six hours from New York to L.A. It doesn’t happen every day but the people at the hospital knew because they are so close to the airport. It does happen to people sitting on a plan for a long time.”
Did it affect your preparation for this fight?
“Yes, I think since I had to start all over again. I took some time off but then I was able to come back and I’ve been working on my speed and everything else for this fight.
“I’ve been on conference calls for SHOWTIME before and this is definitely the most relaxed one because I wasn’t asked a lot of questions. So I was very relaxed because I didn’t have to answer a lot of questions. This fight has been very hyped and I’m hoping to come out the winner on Aug. 13.”
“We are getting close to this fight that I’ve been waiting for for quite some time. The fight got cancelled back in April and now we’re less than 13 days away. I’m ready to do this.”
What’s more important in this fight, winning the tournament or winning the world title?
“I think they are both important. For me it would be my first title so it has big significance but the SHOWTIME Tournament is also important because you have faced two of the greatest bantamweights out there so for me winning this tournament it means you’ve only beaten the best. You can take pride in knowing you beat only the elite fighters in their prime in your weight class.”
How do you compare Agbeko and Yonnhy Perez?
“Well, Agbeko and Yonnhy have two different styles. I had a draw against Yonnhy in a fight a lot of people thought I won. He was the world champion at the time. If anything I won in that fight because I learned a whole lot. And I was able to show that in my next fight against Vic Darchinyan. They are both such different fighters. The only similar thing is that I was fighting for the IBF title against Yonnhy and now I’m doing it again. So I definitely don’t want to lose or have a draw in this fight.”
What was your reaction when the April fight was called off?
“At the moment I heard that the fight might be cancelled and that there might be another opponent I was happy, but I was not mentally happy. I was getting ready for a world title fight and whoever stepped in it would not be for a world title. Just another 12-round fight. Yeah, I was ready and yeah it might make sense and I could have gone the 10 or 12 rounds with whoever they put in there but I was kind of mentally disappointed. So I didn’t want to take that risk. I had more to lose than to win so saying that, the whole camp just decided to wait for Agbeko. He made it to the finals and it’s only right to fight him for the SHOWTIME Bantamweight title.”
Are you aware of the fact that you have the chance to become Golden Boy’s first homegrown fighter to start your career with them and win a world title? What does that mean to you?
“It means a whole lot to me. I’ve said this before: Golden Boy is not just my promoter but also my family. I get along with everyone so well. From Monica (Sears) to David (Itskowitch), the entire staff. We go out to lunch and outside the ring everyone is so nice and just like family. So winning this fight I’ll be the first Golden Boy fighter to start from scratch and become world champion so that would mean a whole lot for me. And I know it would mean a whole lot to Golden Boy Promotions. We’re a big happy family and we would all win that night.”
Have you had to change much in your preparation since the fight was called off to now?
“I’ve had to change everything, even sparring partners and the place we were training. Once the fight was cancelled I said let’s move on. I took three weeks off and didn’t think about boxing at all. Then I got right back in the gym and the first thing we did was to plan a trip to Guadalajara and we trained out there for three weeks. It was something different. I wanted a whole new environment. Just changed everything. I didn’t want the whole team over again for another three months. That helped a lot. Now we are in a different gym here in Santa Fe Springs which is really nice. The people and the atmosphere are great. I’ve actually had fans come over here to watch me train and talk to me and I’ve never had that before. We changed everything and I’m very happy it went so quick.”
If you win this fight, will you be the best in the division?
“This tournament is made up of the best bantamweights. A lot of fighters had the opportunity to get in it and some chose not to for whatever reasons. We definitely deserve to be called the best bantamweight out there. There are a lot of great and top pound-for-pound bantamweights out there. After this fight we should be called the best then after this, other fights can be made. Let’s do it. But I think myself and Agbeko have proven that we are here and we will fight anyone and we should be recognized as the best.”
Did you change your approach or game plan since the cancellation?
“No, not really. Same game plan. I had a lot of people ask me since he got injured, am I going to do it differently now? No. If I did that that would only make me think he was not fully healthy and that he wasn’t going to perform the same. I know he had the back problem and it’s all cured and I think mentally he knows it’s cured so I don’t want to think about it again.”
How do you stay motivated after such a let down as the cancellation was?
“As a fighter in my young career I’ve already been through so many ups and downs that maybe a veteran hasn’t even gone through yet with my detached retina, with this fight being cancelled and with me getting a draw in my first world title. But, you know, it only makes me stronger. It only motivates me more. Things happen for a reason. When I saw Agbeko at the podium the next day and he was limping I was actually thinking it was such a freak thing that I was glad it hadn’t happened to me. Things happen. It happened. I took off with my family for vacation for three weeks and I’ve come back stronger. I was able to go back to Guadalajara where I’m from and I had a great camp and it went by so quick. The preparation I’ve had for this fight was just fun and the same emotion and focus and will to become a world champion.”
Was your camp better than it was for the April fight?
“I’m honestly going to say, yes, it was.”
What was your initial reaction to the cancellation?
“I just felt bad. My parents always taught me not to feel sorry for the guy on the boxing side but I generally felt bad on the human side. He just looked like an old guy limping with the cane. I thought, man, this could be the end of his career. It was like me with my detached retina and when they told me my career could possibly be over. Plus, I have some family members who have had the same injury and they told me it was really painful so I just felt bad for Agbeko. That’s why we gave him a second chance and we thank God he’s better and that he can continue what he loves doing and that’s boxing.”
Tickets, priced at $200, $100, $75, $50 and $25, along with a limited number of VIP suite seats priced at $150, are on sale now and may be purchased at the Hard Rock Hotel Box Office, all Ticketmaster locations, online at www.Ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000.