Joseph Agbeko appeared confident Saturday as he entered the ring to defend his IBF bantamweight belt. He was irate 12 rounds later as he left without it.
Abner Mares came out as the aggressor and held off a charge by the defending champion to claim the title by a majority decision at the Hard Rock Hotel in the finals of Showtime’s Bantamweight Tournament.
Judge C.J. Ross called the fight a draw at 113-113, but Oren Shellenberger and Adalaide Byrd gave it to Mares with 115-111 scores.
Though Mares (22-0-1, 13 knockouts) fought aggressively throughout, Agbeko’s focus was on the first and 11th rounds. He received deductions in both rounds, the first for a knockdown in which he appeared to slip into the ropes, and the second coming after referee Russell Mora began a count after Agbeko dropped to the floor when he was hit with an apparent low blow.
Agbeko said he was hit with numerous illegal punches.
“I am a champion, and this isn’t the way I am supposed to lose a fight,” said the 31-year-old Agbeko (28-3, 22 KOs). “The referee wasn’t giving (Mares) any warnings. He wasn’t doing anything about it. I don’t think the referee is supposed to steal my belt from me.”
Mares, who kept his opponent against the ropes throughout the early rounds, didn’t see things quite the same way.
“I didn’t just fight anyone tonight,” said Mares, who landed 318 of 732 punches as compared to Agbeko’s 231 of 662. “I fought a champion. I fought my heart out, and I’m the champion now.”
Though Mares, 25, consistently was on the offensive throughout the first three rounds, Agbeko landed a big right hand in the fourth. Mares staggered, and momentum turned.
“The first rounds were going my way,” Mares said. “But he’s a champion, and he kind of adjusted to my style.”
Mares, who sustained a cut above his left eye as the result of an accidental head butt in the sixth round, fought from his heels throughout most of the remaining rounds but never backed down.
The fighters split the later rounds, and Mares raised his hands in victory upon hearing the final bell.
Though the scoring differential seemed to make the referee’s disputed calls a moot point, Agbeko remained upset throughout the postfight news conference.
“I demand an immediate rematch,” said the native of Accra, Ghana, “because I don’t think this makes a champion, no way.”
Mares welcomed the invitation.
“I’m open for anything,” he said. “I’ll fight anyone. If they want to do the whole tournament over again, let’s do it.”