“This is the worst officiated fight I’ve seen in years…” – Al Bernstein
LAS VEGAS, NV — A surging Joseph Agbeko had his hopes of a late comeback to retain his title dashed when referee Russell Mora incorrectly ruled a low blow a knockdown, giving Abner Mares a world title and Showtime’s first ever bantamweight tournament.
Early on, Abner Mares’ physical strength and punching accuracy had the champion on his heels and confused. Mares took the first round big behind hard left hooks (some straying low) to the body. Agbeko’s balance issues hurt him as a missed left hook resulted in slip that was ruled a knockdown. Mares finished the round strong with several flush straight rights and continued his momentum in the second and third with consistent pressure.
Agbeko attempts to punch with Mares and brawl were ill-advised; the challenger’s left hooks repeatedly landed first, and in close Mares’ thudding body shots forced Agbeko to give ground. However, these shots also mixed in regular low blows, causing referee Russell Mora to be on multiple warnings by the end of the third.
Agbeko finally round his range in the fourth. The under-seiged champion kept Mares at bay with his superior jab and had his best moment when he momentarily stunned Mares with the best punch of a night; a flush, reverberating straight right. Mares responded with inside work in the fifth, but also received more low blow warnings sans point deductions.
A clash of heads in the sixth resulted in a bad cut above Mares’ left eye, and the injury seemed to help slow him down enough to aid Agbeko’s comeback. The Ghanaian champion lowered his left hook output and began scoring well with right hands in the seventh and eighth stanzas. By the ninth, it was Agbeko who was now doing the better inside fighting with digging hooks whenever Mares made it past the jab.
The fight was on the table in the championship rounds. Agbeko continued his surge in the 10th behind his straight rights. Inside, he added uppercuts on the rushing Mares to great effect. Amazingly, several more of Mares’ hooks strayed low, but again resulted in no deductions from Russell Mora.
Mora’s bad officiating reached its zenith in the 11th. Agbeko started the round with a solid 1-2 followed by another scoring right hand. Mares got inside and Agbeko stood his ground, forcing both men into an exchange. One of Mares’ shots, a left hook, landed flush on Agbeko’s groin right in front of Russell Mora. As Agbeko crumpled to the canvas in pain, Mora ushered Mares away and began a 10 count to the outrage of the fans. Agebeko beat the count, and his corner had to be restrained by ringside security as they berated a sheepish Mora for his fight-changing call.
Sensing the fight was his, Abner Mares back pedaled and stayed away from any toe-to-toe fighting in the 12th. Agbeko, having suffered rounds of low blow punishment, still pushed the fight and refused to retaliate despite now being unable to land the knockout blow needed to win.
The scorecards reflected how Mora’s bad call directly altered the fight’s outcome. One judge had the contest a draw, 113-113. The two others scored it 115-111, giving Abner Mares his first ever title win.
Agbeko had to be restrained from going after Mora even before the scorecards were read. Mora agreed to an on camera interview with Jim Gray. After seeing the replay he refused to admit he had made a bad call, saying he needed to see more “angles.” He also directly contradicted his in-fight actions, now claiming the low blows he gave repeated warnings for were “on the belt line.”
Mares’ previous tournament win also had low blow controversy after Vic Darchinyan complained he was constantly hit low and created a video to show the missed calls. Mares suffered one point deduction in that bout.
After seeing the low blow knockdown on replay, Mares said it was the referee’s call and asked that his moment as a new champion not be spoiled by controversy. When pressed about his low blow history, Mares justified it by claiming his opponents made them happen by grappling and pushing his head down.
“The referee stole my title!” exclaimed Agbeko in his post-fight interview. “You can’t be the bantamweight champion with the referee fighting for you. Boxers from Africa, they always try to cheat them.”
At press time, Joseph Agbeko plans on filing a formal protest with the IBF on Monday (August 14).
I couldn’t believe what I was watching last night. It’s a shame that an otherwise excellent tournament had to be sullied by an inept referee. His performance has opened up a lot of questions about bias or even an outright payoff. At best Russell Mora has shown himself incapable of handling a big fight atmosphere. At worst he shown clear fighter bias or that he takes payoffs. Either way this needs to be the last boxing match that Russell Mora officiates.