Monday, July 6, 2009

Vic Darchinyan vs Joseph Agbeko Preview: It's All The New Raging Bull

Jeff Pryor previews this Saturday night's highly anticipated Showtime main event between bantamweights Vic Darchinyan and Joseph Agbeko.

Photo © Tim Barry /

It is fraught with peril, he whosoever chooses to take the name of a legendary boxer... few have ever succeeded in such an endeavor. Ray Leonard and Shane Mosely are on that short list. Jack Dempsey too.

Jake Lamotta, though known more colloquially as "The Bronx Bull" is probably better known by todays era of fans as the "The Raging Bull" due of course to Scorsese's movie. Lamotta in his heyday, and even now sitting ringside in his cowboy hat is a real character and was a great middleweight prize fighting champion. The only man to beat Ray Robinson in his first 130 fights. Big shoes to fill for anyone looking to shoulder the mantle of the "Bull".

There are few boxers like Vic Darchinyan. Brash and disrespectful, insulting and arrogant. Blazingly devastating, and diabolically awkward. Perhaps most closely related to Prince Naseem Hamed in the boxing family tree; he is equally as despised by many, dynamically difficult to match up with and non too shy in proclaiming exactly the hellfire he is about to rain down upon his opponents.

Make sure to check out The Boxing Bulletin's live blog coverage of this event

The pint sized Armenian is often seen stalking menacingly towards his opponent, chest puffed out like some muscle bound mouse, part menacing, part hilarious. But for all his overwrought trash talking bravado and hyperbole he has backed it up in spades about 97% of the time.

As he steps into the ring with "King Kong" Joseph Agbeko this weekend, another fighter with a nickname built of hollywood homage, this Blockbuster Brawl ought to provide as much entertainment as a few hype job summer popcorn flicks; complete with explosive action, cheesy one liners such as "I will transform 'King Kong' Agbeko from champion to chimpion" and a predictable ending, in this case a triumphant Vic Darchinyan.

Some would argue that the ending is far from scripted, that Agbeko has a decent shot at the upset and maybe he does, in the sense that any iron chinned Ghanian who can punch does.

On the list of attributes that Agbeko can claim to hold over Darchinyan, however, there are few to name. He has been the bigger man, fighting, (in so far as I can tell, as most of his bouts were in Ghana and for which details are sketchy) at as high a weight as 121lbs., though he only holds a half inch height advantage over Darchinyan.

It's hard to find another category in which Agbeko could be said to hold an advantage. Darchinyan brings more to the table in virtually every meaningful area; he has shown more explosive power, speed, and boxing skill. He has an extensive amateur career as well as top flight pro opposition which he has nearly unilaterally destroyed.

On the other hand Agbeko's record is shrouded in the ambivalence of fighting the vast majority of his career in Ghana. You've never heard of any of the opponents he faced there... their own mothers might not have heard of them, and due to the corruption involved in the sport within the country, it is impossible to ascertain the true records of those names which make up the meat of Agbeko's work there. In looking over his tally it would probably be generous to say that Agbeko has been in the ring with approximately seven live bodies. If one were being critical, you might say only three. And one of those, Wladimir Sidorenko, he lost to.

In his previous two bouts, also his only meaningful wins, against Luis Alberto Perez (25-1) and William Gonzalez (21-2), Joseph was entertaining and tough, but inconsistent. He has attributes that should make him a real challenge for Darchinyan or any other top prizefighter, but like his countryman Joshua Clottey he may not have that extra something it often takes at the very highest level of the sport.

While in my opinion Agbeko is merely grist for Darchinyan's proverbial mill, the reason why you should tune in to watch the little dynamo fight is not because of the outcome of this bout, but because of what will precede it.

Darchinyan's stalking, smirking, systematic slaughter of opponents is a sight to see.

In keeping with the Hollywood motif that permeates this bout (or at least this hack-kneed article), for a moment let's go "Back to the Future".

If you've only come to know Vic Darchinyan over his stint on Showtime the last few years, then seeing him at the start of his career might be a bit of a revelation to you. The earliest pro incarnation of "The Raging Bull" was decidedly less raging. Quick, precise and even patient, Vic 1.0 was a terrificly skilled boxer. With solid defense and effective offense, you get the sense, when watching his first ten bouts or so, that Darchinyan was slow to shed the amateur mindset. Understandably so in that his extensive career included 176 fights and an appearance at the 2000 Olympic games.

Darchinyan's debut against Sande Kizito was fought at a surprisingly high level of competence for two men whose combined record was 0-0-0. Darchinyan ground out a hard fought 6 round decision and even re-matched Kizito twice. The second bout getting another nod in a slightly easier affair, and then finally knocking Kizito out in seven, to round out the one sided, but competitive trio of fights.

Those three bouts took place over the course of Vic's first seven fights. As one watched his progression, it was clear that while their initial bout was fought on virtually even terms, Darchinyan was improving at a much faster rate than old Sande Kizito was. One wonders why exactly Kizito's people insisted on shoving him back in with Vic over and over. In fact, Kizito faced Darchinyan three times and an 18-0 Hussein Hussein once, all in his first six fights. Talk about a murder's row to start your career with.

Vic 2.0 beta version, really didn't appear until midway through his career. After that trilogy and a series of fights against tough, but outclassed opposition, almost all of which Darchinyan had begun to knock out, a subtle shift in his style started to take place. Around the time he fought Wandee Singwancha for the second time, which would be his 18th fight, he had started to gain confidence in his power. His boxing started to take more and more of a backseat to his grandstanding power game.

That confidence would eventually change to utter infatuation, around the time he began to show up on Showtime regularly a few fights later. At this point he was the full version of Vic 2.0. An awkward crablike monstrosity of a pug toughman, who, with a mocking sneer on his lips, would strut forward and dash straight left hand after straight left hand into his opponents face, daring them to try and keep their feet under the assault.

Caution was thrown to the wind, defense was thrown out the window and virtually all semblance of his boxing acuity was sacrificed in his lust for destruction. With each concurrent fight his pre-bout banter grew more coarse and his in the ring ferocity more brutal, eventually putting Victor Burgos in the hospital and on the edge of death.

The zenith of his arrogance came as he stepped into the ring against Nonito Donaire in mid 2007. Though his usual brawling tactics were not working, he continued without change and ultimately failed to realize that though Donaire was the naturally bigger man, he was also the faster.

After suffering his first loss in that knockout of the year, Darchinyan 3.0 has emerged. A dynamic combination of the best parts of the two earlier versions of himself. This new Vic maintains the viciousness and explosiveness of recent years, but combines it with the discipline and boxing ability that he had strayed from at the height of his success.

This new animal is one who has impressively blown out a solid contender in Dimitri Kirilov, knocked out a pound for pound technician in Cristian Mijares and ground down a battle tested and courageous warrior in Jorge Arce.

Rarely do fighters truly learn from their losses. Darchinyan has proven to be unique in this way too, remaking himself into a more complete fighter, by adding back in what he willingly subtracted. He is now a balanced fighter. Violently combustive with leaping left hands and an unpredictable pawing, hooking right, all the while maintaining a sneaky defense that appears much more porous than it really is.

It appears that as he has moved up in weight, from flyweight to super flyweight, his power has clung to him with devastating effect. Should that continue to hold, his run at Bantamweight should be as entertaining as everything he has brought us so far. Particularly if a match can be made with Fernando Montiel, the hard hitting technician who like his countryman Juan Manuel Marquez has recently shed his reputation for clinical performances to infuse action and drama into his bouts.

Montiel vs. Darchinyan is among the best fights that can be made in the sport and one only hopes we get to see it before one or the other of them begins the inevitable twilight of their career, such as was the case with Jorge Arce who was a couple years past his optimum time to have faced Darchinyan.

One thing can be certain when talking about Vic Darchinyan's immediate future and his place in the sport. He is filling a role that some embrace and others despise. The lovable villain. So brashly cocky that you almost have to admire him.

Though equally polarizing, the difference between what Vic does and what a Floyd Mayweather jr. has done, is that while each have proclaimed what devastation lies ahead for their opponents, Darchinyan has backed it up in the ring.

It's not the bold, sometimes ridiculous, even offensive braggadocio that marks Darchinyan as a special fighter. It's what he does after saying these things that makes him someone to watch. Whether it be in hopes of his humiliating defeat or of his smugly victorious mighty mouse facade once he's dispatched another adversary.

While we've had our share of famous Sugar's in the sport, the big shoes of Jake Lamotta are ironically being filled by a pugilist who tips the scale at just under 120lbs.

Darchinyan has proven that he is worthy of his legendary namesake, not just for his eccentric style and trash talking, but for the very real devastation he unleashes in the ring.

As he steps in to face "King Kong" this weekend, it's nice to know that when Vic asked Agbeko earlier "Where would you like me to hurt you most? In the body or in the face?" That he was actually taking notes.

It's with this attitude that "The Raging Bull" has stomped, snorted and sneered his way to a legacy befitting his fabled title.

e-mail Jeff Pryor


Anonymous said...

Very impressive article. Thanks to the author of this article.

Anonymous said...

such a stupid post. Corruption in Ghanaian boxing? where are you from. Azuma Nelson, Ike Quartey, Alfred Kotei, Joshua Clottey. Please don't write out of ignorance, i am doing well holding back a barrage of insults.

Anonymous said...

Yeah agree - where are you getting these allegations of corruption in Ghanaian bxing from - Complete BS

I've been over there and the only problem I see is lack of proper nutrition. I've been to Jamestown and Bukom if anyone knows their sh it

Andy said...

The corruption has nothing to do with the fighters like Nelson, Quartey, is in the reporting of results - which has been documented in Ghana and other countries.