Unified super flyweight champion and thrill seeker Vic Darchinyan attempts to add another title to his trophy case when he takes on rugged Joseph Agbeko for the IBF bantamweight doodad tonight at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida.
This fight has “unpredictable” written all over it. Darchinyan, 32-1-1 (26), is the more skilled and experienced fighter, but this will be his first major bout as a bantamweight and that might be the equalizer by the time the opening bell rings. Of course, when you are swapping punches with a fighter nicknamed “King Kong,” maybe there are other considerations. Agbeko has seen his potential dulled by long stretches of inactivity over the years, but he is without question a live underdog at about 2 ½ to 1 on most sportsbooks.
Both fighters are coming off of marquee wins. Except for a few brief moments, Darchinyan completely dominated former two-division titlist Jorge Arce for a grisly 11th round TKO in February. Arce, however, is well past his best days. Even so, he had Darchinyan buzzed and holding on at one point before Darchinyan regained control to carry on a beating that started the moment the two fighters met at center ring.
Agbeko, on the other hand, is coming off of a taxing decision over Nicaraguan southpaw William Gonzalez last November in Newark, New Jersey. Gonzalez, well below Darchinyan in class, managed to wobble Agbeko several times throughout the fight and appeared to hurt the Ghanaian with bodyshots as well. Gonzalez was also hindered by three cuts incurred by headbutts over the course of the fight. It was an exciting slugfest, but not the kind of preparation you want going into the biggest fight of your life. Agbenko, 26-1 (22), showed heart, determination, and stamina against Gonzalez, but looked shaky several times after absorbing some stiff straight lefts and right hooks from Gonzalez.
Both fighters, in fact, appear vulnerable to big punches. The only real x-factor in this fight, it seems, is whether or not Darchinyan, 33, can take a shot from a fairly powerful natural bantamweight. Early in his career Darchinyan fought as high as 118 ¾ pounds, and his reign at flyweight was probably achieved by boiling down dramatically. Still, he is a one-punch KO victim at the hands of talented Nonito Donaire. He was also dropped by Z Gorres and rattled by a faded Jorge Arce, now in his 14th year as a professional. In addition, Darchinyan may find his punch has less oomph against a bigger opponent, which may let Agbenko off the hook regarding concerns about his sturdiness.
Agbeko, 29, is a solid fighter, one who can punch with either hand, but he does not appear to have the skills to offset Darchinyan. Some of his flaws–a tendency to square up in front of his opponent, poor balance, and, worst of all, a propensity to reach with his punches, leaving his chin dangling over his lead foot and exposed–are made to order for Darchinyan to pick out openings for his deadly left. Agbeko, in contrast, lacks the mobility and finesse to draw Darchinyan into making mistakes. He will come forward throwing punches while Darchinyan shifts and slides, pokes and prods, counters and cuffs, sidesteps and potshots.
For Agbeko to win, then, he must force a pace that will, in a sense, camouflage his shortcomings while simultaneously taking Darchinyan out of his game plan of measured destruction. Fighters who take the leisurely route with Darchinyan are doomed. Once Darchinyan is in control with his unwieldy style it is difficult to wrest momentum from him. He is a clever counter puncher, mixes his shots to the head and body, and knows how to use angles for some of the UFOs he launches with bad intentions.
Agbeko is a tough proposition, however, and Darchinyan will have to use all of his tricks to keep him at bay tonight. His shifty moves, combined with a powerful left cross and uppercut, have befuddled opponents for years. Some of his antics actually seem implausible at times, and it is shocking to see so many professional fighters falling for his sucker routines. This business, for example, of stretching out left arm and inverting it at a right angle to his body seems, inexplicably, to mesmerize opponents nine out of ten times he uses it. It reminds one of how Norman Rockwell used to hypnotize chickens–by rocking them slowly back and forth–in order to keep them still so he could paint their likenesses. Naturally, when a fighter sets his arm in such an odd posture his balance is compromised and, more importantly, he is completely unable to punch with the extended hand. Instead of stepping forward behind a jab and running off a combination when this curiosity presents itself, though, most fighters freeze and allow Darchinyan to slap them with his poised right like something out of a vaudeville routine. Only Nonito Donaire, who was one step ahead of Darchinyan at every turn, refused to be hoodwinked by Darchinyan. The question here is whether Agbeko will fall for these kinds of ruses or whether he is prepared to disregard them and go after Darchinyan with abandon.
Pressure, and only the whirlwind kind, will take Darchinyan out of his sneaky rhythm tonight. If this is the strategy that Agbeko employs, and from all accounts it seems likely he will, then Darchinyan is in for some duress. This will be a hotly contested fight and Agbeko will be in it until the final bell. In a bout that can go either way, Darchinyan should have enough of that strange guile at the ready to squeak by on points or possibly score a late TKO, but a visit to your online bookmaker to cash in on a potential upset might not be the worst idea you ever had.