Moving up to 118 pounds in an attempt to win a title in his third division, Vic Darchinyan ran into a major roadblock when he faced IBF Bantamweight Champion Joseph Agbeko and lost a hard fought unanimous decision.
Hailing from Ghana but fighting out of New York, Agbeko was a largely unknown and inactive titlist coming into the fight but fully aware of the opportunity before him. A bantamweight ironically named “King Kong,” Agbeko needed to defeat Darchinyan, who was fast becoming a big star in his own right, to become larger than life in his home country and an international name in boxing. To his fortune, the Ghanaian held physical advantages over Darchinyan, the most important of which being that he was the natural bantamweight in the pair. For this fight, he knew, he would need to be King Kong.
But if anyone in boxing can’t be intimidated, it’s Darchinyan. In recent years, Darchinyan has become a must-see fighter due to the fact that he carries an uncharacteristically big punch for the lower weight classes, he rarely gives any ground to an opponent and he has an incredibly inflated ego. The latter two points were illustrated at a Thursday press conference when he refused to let Agbeko hold a fist near his face while posing for the cameras. Darchinyan repeatedly pushed Agbeko’s fist down until promoter Gary Shaw had to separate the fighters to keep them from getting things started early.
The first round brought some terrific action. Darchinyan tried to rush Agbeko but ended up taking a straight right to the head. Agbeko popped Darchinyan with another straight right, followed by one to the body and a left hook upstairs. Agbeko then scored with a right to the jaw but took a left hand to the mouth in return. A right to the chin from Agbeko forced Darchinyan into aggression as he beat three left hands into the Ghanaian, driving him into the ropes. Just as fast, Agbeko answered with a right hand upside the head that wobbled Darchinyan back. The last forty seconds saw both men landing, and Darchinyan actually got the better shots in but not enough to make up the ground he lost.
Missing with a jab, Darchinyan caught an uppercut and a right from Agbeko to start round two. In a hard exchange, they traded body shots and left hands before Agbeko finished the rally with a big right that snapped Darchinyan’s head aside, again wobbling the challenger. Vic got in a right hook and a short left but took a right from Agbeko. Darchinyan scored with a left and suffered another right as Agbeko had an answer for his every shot, and he was taking Vic’s punches well. Agbeko scored well from a distance, too, landing a jab, a straight right to Darchinyan’s mouth and a left hook. Darchinyan missed a straight left and caught a left hook to the body in return, followed by one to the head that knocked him off balance. He got in a good body shot, but the bell cut his rally short, and Vic returned to his corner bleeding from his left eye.
In round three, Darchinyan became frustrated, trying to hit Agbeko while leaning on him. He next charged in, running directly into Agbeko, and took the worst of the collision as he was sent stumbling into the nearest corner. Out quickly, Darchinyan fired shots but ended up taking a left hook from the champion before the bell. Popping Vic with straight rights was becoming routine for Agbeko, so he added a long left hook to the head, followed by a straight right across the mouth in round four. Vic again rushed in wildly, hit the ropes and took another right to the head. Bent on landing something, he smashed in a straight left to the throat of Agbeko against the ropes. Agbeko landed a body shot in return, but an irritated Darchinyan responded by pushing him onto the seat of his pants. Back on his feet, Agbeko led with his right and batted Vic’s head aside with a left hook. Darchinyan connected with another straight left, but Agbeko hardly flinched before scoring with half a dozen right hands in return, none of them hurting Vic on the spot, but the damage was adding up, leaving him bruised under the left eye. Holding a forearm to Agbeko’s head, Vic managed to land a good left hand before the bell, but he was badly trailing on points after losing the first four rounds.
They traded lefts early in round five, and Agbeko added another, followed by a right to the body. Growing desperate, Darchinyan faked with his left, then his right and finally pulled the trigger on the left, catching Agbeko. Another pair of solid lefts to the head followed for Darchinyan. To fight out of a clinch, Vic swiped another left over Agbeko’s head, putting together some good shots. Darchinyan pushed the champion into the ropes but failed to land enough to convincingly win an otherwise close round and went back to his corner bleeding from the nose. Agbeko mostly peppered Darchinyan with shots for the first half of round six before unleashing a hard straight right that knocked Vic’s head up. Darchinyan waited until the last ten seconds, when the round was well out of his reach, to beat in some lefts. Unfazed, Agbeko stared Vic down after the bell and pulled a glove across his throat, execution-style. Darchinyan, unaccustomed to being on the receiving end of such an exchange, could do nothing but nod as he walked away.
Both men fought with renewed vigor in the seventh, but, after three minutes, Agbeko had won the round. The problem was the round proceeded to last another minute as the timekeeper lost track. As the action continued, Darchinyan missed a three-punch combination and pushed down on the back of the champion’s head, sending Agbeko to a knee. Referee Tommy Kimmons surprisingly told Agbeko he was hit with a punch and began counting, having ruled a knockdown, despite the protest of both Agbeko and his promoter, Don King, who stood and voiced his opinion from the front row. Kimmons hesitated before allowing the fighters to continue, asking the timekeeper if the bell had rung. Some good exchanges followed before the bell finally did ring, and, by way of two officiating errors, Darchinyan had his best round of the night, which put him back into contention on the scorecards in a fight he was otherwise way behind in.
Darchinyan smacked in a left on Agbeko in the eighth but caught two rights to the head in return. In the center of the ring, Vic snapped Agbeko’s head up with a right hook. Agbeko answered with a straight right and a left hook shortly thereafter. Two more straight rights followed suit before Vic landed another right hook. A straight right from Agbeko jolted Darchinyan’s head and doubled him over, momentarily buzzed. Agbeko rained more blows in and appeared closer than ever to putting Darchinyan away. Vic’s response was to land a low blow and a right hook, but Kimmons caught the low blow when Agbeko doubled over, and Agbeko was given some recovery time. When the action resumed, it was Darchinyan who landed the better shots, including a right-left combination that knocked Agbeko’s head up. They brawled into and through the bell, but, by the time they stopped, Darchinyan had dropped another close round.
Scoring with straight rights and countering with left hooks, Agbeko was back in control to start the ninth until they brushed shoulders and spun around each other, where Darchinyan drilled him with a straight left across the face. In the center of the ring, Vic landed another hard straight left. Agbeko started to get sloppier the more he got hit and absorbed two right hooks from Vic. Darchinyan continued to land lefts as Agbeko countered with rights, opting to brawl. And at the end of the round, Darchinyan landed his best shot of the night – a long left hand to the jaw that knocked Agbeko’s head up – before Agbeko hit him with a left hook after the bell. Having finally put some hurt on the champion, Darchinyan pulled out his best round of the fight when he needed it most.
Vic beat his gloves together to start round ten, trying to psyche himself up, and it must have worked as he scored with three right hooks. Darchinyan landed a left and two more right hooks before bumping heads with Agbeko and complaining. Agbeko pulled off Vic’s advances and countered with a swiping left hook that turned the challenger’s head. Almost instantly, Darchinyan began bleeding from a gash over the right eye, though it wasn’t clear whether the punch or headbutt had caused it. Vic must have felt it was the latter because he responded by grabbing Agbeko around the head and hurling him onto the canvas in a blatant foul. Kimmons helped Agbeko to his feet and, rather than admonish Darchinyan, told Vic that the cut came from a headbutt. Back in action, Agbeko landed a left hook to the cut and a straight right, and Vic began holding on. Blood covering the side of his face, Darchinyan shouted in frustration at the bell.
As Darchinyan’s corner went to work on his cut and the ringside doctor watched closely from the apron, Agbeko stood and looked to be celebrating as he raised his hands before the eleventh. He quickly caught Darchinyan with a left hook that knocked him back into the ropes. Vic tried to answer but ended up running his head into Agbeko’s and instantly complained. From there, the fight got ugly as Darchinyan pushed Agbeko in the chest, and Agbeko proceeded to stumble all the way across the ring and crash onto his back in a complete oversell. Back on his feet, Agbeko won the majority of the exchanges that took place in the round. Darchinyan applied a headlock near round’s end, and the crowd, tiring of Vic’s tactics, booed him. Agbeko gave him a taste of his own medicine when he landed a right after the bell and strolled into the final round with a big lead.
Bleeding from both eyes as well as his nose, Darchinyan needed a knockout to realize his dream of becoming a three-division champion. But he had virtually nothing left. After eating a straight right, he grabbed Agbeko under the arm and tried to get in a shot before Kimmons stopped him. Agbeko answered with a right to the body and one to the head. A straight right to the head followed, and another one snapped Darchinyan’s head back. Darchinyan spent the closing minutes doing more clinching than punching, even ending the fight in a hanging onto the champion. As Agbeko rushed to his corner in celebration, Darchinyan could barely find the strength to raise a glove to the crowd.
Agbeko had a hug for Don King, who took the opportunity to denounce Kimmons’ refereeing abilities. But the fight had been largely lopsided in Agbeko’s favor, and, being the champion, it would have been nearly impossible for a judge to deny him the win.
But Florida has long been a subject of criticism in terms of officiating, and the scores came in all closer than the fight should have been at 116-111 and two inexplicable 114-113 cards, but they were all in favor of the right man, Agbeko, who retained his title and got the biggest win of his career. As frustrated as he had been during the fight, Darchinyan was respectful in his post-fight comments, admitting that he strayed from his game plan and did too much head hunting. It was clearly the wrong move against the stronger Agbeko, who was able to take Vic’s one-punch-at-a-time approach.
Darchinyan must decide whether to pursue another title at bantamweight or drop back down to the lower divisions, where he has been dominant for the last two years. Attempting to avenge the loss to Agbeko would probably be the wrong move at this juncture, if ever. King Kong was just too strong, and that’s something that isn’t going to change. A better idea would be to rematch Nonito Donaire, who knocked Darchinyan out in 2007. That would make for a compelling grudge match, but it might be one Vic doesn’t feel he could win. His management certainly doesn’t feel that way since Shaw declared Vic wouldn’t fight Donaire again because Donaire ditched his promotion.
The jury is still out on Agbeko. He didn’t look incredible against Darchinyan by any means yet still won handily. His next couple fights will tell if he’s a blossoming fighter or if Darchinyan was just too small to really contend with him. One thing Agbeko can immediately do to improve his image further is fight more often than he has been since winning his IBF title. That’s one area he shouldn’t turn to fellow Ghanaian and friend Joshua Clottey for. And Don King has had a string of titlists in recent years who sat on their titles rather than defend them, including Daniel Santos and Cory Spinks among others. The odds are against him becoming a major star, but then again, he probably feels the odds have been against him all his career. For now, Agbeko has all the reason in the world to celebrate.