Bruising Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko looks to continue his recent tear when he defends his KCRW bantamweight title against undefeated Yonnhy Perez tonight at the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Both fighters are coming off of grinding scraps and it is likely that this bout will be no different. In fact, a brawl seems all but guaranteed. Agbeko, 27-1 (22), upset Armenian Wildman Vic Darchinyan via decision in July and Perez knocked out Silence Mabuza last May in the final round of a fight he was losing.
Despite smacking Darchinyan around in an ugly affair, Agbeko does not appear ready to assume a spot in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Darchinyan, briefly on the revolving door carousel of several dopey “P-4-P” lists, was not as good as his cyber clippings suggested and there is the possibility of overrating Agbeko based on his performance against a fighter who throws punches like a man suffering from ergotism. His attributes—-stamina, hand speed, athleticism, and durability--are nearly equally counterbalanced by his flaws: a tendency to square up, poor balance, and negligible defense when on the attack. Still, Agbeko must be considered a proven commodity at this point, while Perez, 19-0 (14), has talent but perhaps does not yet have the resume to compete on the highest levels.
Compared to Vic Darchinyan, however, Perez, with his fluid combinations and amateur pedigree, resembles Benny Leonard. Agbeko, the Bronx via Accra, Ghana, will not be able to stymie Perez from the perimeter the way he did Darchinyan. On the outside Agbeko likes to nod, dip, and feint before rushing in with hard shots. He is fairly quick and often uses his speed to throw unorthodox punches, like perplexing double lead rights. For some reason this arcane weapon is a favorite of West African boxers based out of the South Bronx. Its delivery, which resembles that of a quarterback double-pumping, often leaves its hurler off-balance and susceptible to counters. Joshua Clottey also uses it regularly, as does Anges Adjaho, originally from Benin, but now living in upstate New York. In addition, Agbeko tends to square-up when on the attack with wide punches and Perez should be able to thread straight rights down the middle. Darchinyan could never really catch Agbeko coming in because Darchinyan, like a tipsy javelin thrower, often needs a running start before letting his arcing blows go.
Oddsmakers have installed Agbeko as the favorite. He is stronger, hits fairly hard, and is more experienced. To top it all off, his awkward style means trouble for anyone who steps in the ring against him. So what will it take for Perez to swing an upset? First, he will have to add some angles to his game; stationary targets allow Agbeko to get away with hurling junkballs all night; Perez has shown a talent for slipping punches here and there, but he needs to add footwork to keep Agbeko off-balance. Second, Perez has to try to break Agbeko down to the body. There were moments against William Gonzalez when Agbeko, 29, looked visibly distressed after taking some thumpers to the ribs. It is up to Perez, who holds sleight height and reach advantages, to consistently attack the body while throwing combinations. Eventually, Agbeko will be forced to give ground and Perez will go to work with straight rights and his relentless left. If Perez, 30, can manage to force Agbeko to fight on his back foot he will have an edge. Finally, Perez has to avoid headbutts and make Agbeko pay when he rushes in without caution.
For his part, Agbeko will have to replicate his fight with Gonzalez and kick up a fuss for all three minutes of each round. His tendency to reach when punching will be a liability against a precise sharpshooter like Perez, but his experience and chin will help him through some hard times. If Agbeko can make the fight a roughhouse affair he should be able to outwork Perez, who does not have the slickness to outmaneuver Agbeko on the inside. Perez is the more skilled fighter and throws snapping punches accurately and in combination. His left hand is particularly effective. To offset these strengths, Agbeko might have to turn into a grinder in the clinches and throw some junk at his opponent. Agbeko does have some clever moves--including a heat seeking missile of a forehead and a nifty shimmy--and will probably empty his entire bag of tricks or treats in order to unsettle Perez.
It is not clear whether Perez, given his relative inexperience, can hold up under a sustained assault. Judging from his dramatic KO of Mabuza, Perez, Santa Fe Springs, California via Cartagena, Colombia, is not the kind to wilt under pressure. He was behind on the scorecards when he lowered the boom on Mabuza and never looked discouraged despite the fact that he was down on points against the toughest opponent of his career. That poise, more than anything, is reason to like his chances against a fighter as careless as Agbeko often is.
If Perez stays busy, attacks the body, and keeps Agbeko on the perimeter with his snapping jab, he might be able to pull off the upset. In order to outpoint Agbeko--since a knockout seems unlikely--Perez will have to maintain his composure and fight with discipline. Of course, Agbeko will have his say in the matter, and will be there clawing until the final bell. Perez via close decision in a fight that can go either way.