Worst officiating ever taints Abner Mares’ win over Joseph Abeko

One of the best fights of the year spoiled by a referee's ineptitude. Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

An honest mistake, a referee’s missed call has been known to happen but there’s no excuse when it happens repeatedly in the same contest. That’s what happened Saturday night in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in the finals of Showtime’s Bantamweight Tournament.


What we had was contender Abner Mares, under contract with Golden Boy Promotions, getting a free pass even though he was repeatedly landing low blow after low blow on his opponent Joseph “King Kong” Agbeko.

Joseph Agbeko (background) is knocked down by Abner Mares (L). Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

“First and foremost, I have to enforce the rules,” said referee Russell Mora to Showtime’s Jim Gray when questioned immediately after the fight in their post-fight interview. “Those punches (close to 20) were on the belt line. It’s a fair punch. I have to call it fair.”

When Mora said he couldn’t say right then and would need to review the replay tape, Gray had the Showtime’s production staff show it to him. Still, Mora was unshaken. So the highly anticipated matchup between Agbeko and Mares will now be forever shrouded in controversy.

Joseph Agbeko is interviewed by Jim Gray after his controversial loss to Abner Mares. Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

Agbeko, who now drops to 28-3 with 22 KOs, is from the Bronx, NY, by way of Accra, Ghana. Mares, now 22-0-1 with 13 stoppages, is a local from Hawaiian Gardens, CA, by way of Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico.

Coincidence or what? On-line FSN Sport Science’s Episode 4 of Cheap Shots has Abner Mares as their spokesperson for low blows.


It's a shame the low blow controversy will forever taint this action packed match. Mares started off fast, and punched with authority, ripping off multi-punch combinations to keep Agbeko off balance.

From the outset, referee Mora found himself with one difficult decision after another. In Round #1 after Agbeko missed a wild left hook, which had him off balance, Mares caught Agbeko with a shot to the top of his head which had Agbeko headed downward and towards the ropes. Mora felt because the soft punch landed at the same time as Agbeko was falling, a knockdown had occurred. So, from the git-go, Mares was ahead with a 10-8 round.

From the second to the fifth round, Mares continued with his varied attack, primarily to the body. In the fourth round, Agbeko landed a great overhand right that buckled Mares legs. Before long Mares was back on the attack. In the fifth round, there were more instances when Agbeko pulled Mares' head down, and Mares landed some low blows.

In the sixth round, Agbeko came inside a punch with his head down and the top of his head clashed with Mares' head causing a cut over the left eye. There was no foul or penalty, but Mora did stop the action to acknowledge the cut was due to an accidental head butt.

In the seventh round, Mares continued to control things but his blows started to stray south of the border on a regular basis. At that time, Al Bernstein, the color commentator, admitted to being upset that Mora hadn't penalized Mares for the repeated infractions.

In the 9th round, Mares ran into another Agbeko right. Though he weathered it okay, he did seem to be slowing a bit, and his punches had lost some of their power.

In the 10th round, it looked as if Agbeko was about to take control of the fight. He was making better use of his jab and landing a few good lead rights. Another low blow landed by Mares initiated another strong protest by both Bernstein and Antonio Tarver.

In the 11th round, Agbeko continued to step things up and increase the pressure on Mares. Then the usual happened, Mares fired a left just below the belt. The punch was definitely low, but Mora apparently thought it was at the belt line.

With his gloves protecting his privates, Joseph Agbeko tries to recover from yet another low blow. Tom Casino/Showtime

With his gloves over his privates and grimacing with pain, Agbeko went to his knees. Instead of sending Mares to a neutral corner, and giving Agbeko up to five minutes to recover, Mora signaled a knockdown and started the count. That meant another 10-8 round for Mares which virtually assured victory.

Abner Mares is raised on high by his corner people after defeating Joseph Agbeko. Photo: Tom Casino/Showtime

In the 12th round, Mares got on his bicycle and Agbeko could never catch up. When the decision was announced, one judge scored it a draw while the other two had it for Mares, 115 to 111.

As you might imagine, Agbeko's manager and corner people are incensed by Mora’s actions or lack of action and promised to file a formal protest and demand a rematch.

Showtime’s boxing commentator Al Bernstein called Russell Mora’s behavior “the most disgraceful performance by a referee that I’ve seen in the past 15 years.” In all the years that this writer has been watching at home or sitting ringside, I’ve never seen anything that comes close.

Pre-fight quote from Agbeko: “I don’t understand why Mares is a 2-1 favorite. I’m the champion. I just want a fair fight.’’

Quote from Agbeko after the championship fight: “Fighters from Africa are always getting cheated.” In other words, he felt the fight was fixed.”

Showtime’s ringside analyst Antonio Tarver said, “Mora robbed all of us of a great fight.’’

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