We are getting closer to seeing how good middleweight prospect Caoimhin Agyarko really is.
Last Saturday night, ‘Black Thunder’ had a rumble against Mexico’s Ernest Olvera, which ended before it had reached the halfway point of its scheduled eight rounds. A wobble in round one, having to absorb hefty body shots in round two and a continuation of Agyarko’s aggression and power in the third, were a recipe that Olvera didn’t want to taste any more of. His beaten soul trudged back to his corner.
While listening to the words of his trainer Alan Smith, Agyarko noticed something was going on a few yards across from him. “He’s done,” Agyarko told Smith. Olvera was. Sat on his stool bloodied and beaten, the image of a man who had done 12 rounds with Agyarko rather than three, the 25-year-old nicknamed ‘Macho’ had took enough punishment in his first foray into fighting in Britain.
Agyarko returned home to Belfast on Monday and took some time out to speak to Boxing Social the day after about his ninth win that extends his unbeaten run.
“It was a very long camp,” said Agyarko. “It was a 13-week camp and one of the first camps I’ve had where there’s been no injuries or complaints so I’m happy enough.
“A lot of opponents pulled out. It was meant to be for a title so there was a couple of ups and downs but in terms of my performance and how things went I was happy. I took my time in there, I was patient, and I got another stoppage so, yeah, I’m pleased. I’ve had good feedback from the fight, too.”
Promoted by Frank Warren and managed by his son Francis there are plenty reasons to be excited about Agyarko’s future, a few of which were displayed at the weekend. The 24-year-old hopes to be back out in September, in a title fight, and get back in the ring once more before the end of the year. Two more wins and a title would cap off a satisfactory 2021 and lead Agyarko into fights against the “big boys”.
The win over Olvera was our first look at Agyarko since he beat Robbie Chapman in his second and final fight of 2020. The subsequent seven months have been taken up by camp for his last fight, helping Billy Joe Saunders in his preparations to face Canelo Alvarez and some time spent making small adjustments to his craft. For example, how he starts a fight.
“Sometimes I start too fast. I go out and hit them too hard, too early and people sometimes then go into a little ball,” he said.
“In sparring, we’ve went to just 50% in one round and then eased myself into rounds. I’m doing eight and 10-rounders so there’s no point in going all guns blazing at the start if you have someone who is durable, and you might not get them out of there. I know I carry power and I can carry it through to the 10th round. If you watch the Jez Smith fight, I still had power in the ninth round. I’m just taking my time and staying patient and working on certain things.”
Training alongside Billy Joe Saunders bought Agyarko valuable experience that can’t be picked up in a normal day at the gym.
“It was unbelievable,” Agyarko said of the time spent in camp with Saunders.“Just to go out there and experience it all, to see someone prepare for that kind of level of fight and what it takes to be at that level. Other than just sparring Billy Joe, it was the whole experience for me. It was unbelievable. I picked up so much knowledge of Billy Joe out of the ring as well as in the ring.”
The result did not go the way of Saunders as Canelo, once again, cemented his status as not only the superior man at super-middleweight but the number one fighter overall in the world.
“I actually had Billy Joe a round up going into the ninth,” Agyarko recalled. “I actually truly believe Billy would have beat Canelo and outboxed him, but Canelo went in there and proved how good he is. It was a very competitive fight but unfortunately Billy Joe got a broken eye socket. Canelo showed what level he’s at and he’s going to be very hard to beat.”
By the time Agyarko reaches world title level, a fighter like Alvarez may very well be retired or have gone on too long like his legendary countryman Julio Cesar Chavez. After 40 plus amateur fights, Canelo’s professional career began in October 2005 at 15-years-old; his first 22 bouts taking place at home before his American debut three years later on a card headlined by Antonio Escalante. There was never a rush at building Alvarez into the superstar which he has become. Agyarko is a firm believer in taking his time, too. His own amateur career, which included over 130 fights, six national titles, a senior title and dipping his toes into the tough proving ground of the World Series of Boxing, could have been used as a narrative to speed up his progression. Yet recent examples of fighters perhaps jumping in too deep, too soon, serve as reminders to be cautious.
“You look at someone like Willy Hutchison who is an unbelievable talent but [it was] a step too far, too soon and that can affect someone’s career,” Agyarko said of the Scot who slipped up against Lennox Clarke in a British title challenge this year.
“At some point, you have to step up regardless and, if you’re good enough, you’re good enough, it’s as simple as that. For me, I know I’m good enough, I know how good I am, and I know when it’s my time I’ll take the opportunity and I’ll perform but also, I don’t need to be rushed. I don’t need to be thrown in the deep end too soon. I’m a fighting man and I’ve said to my team I’ll take these fights and they’re trying to hold me back a tiny bit, which is probably a good thing because that’s what they’re there to do. They’re meant to guide my career to the top, so we’ll have plans put in place and, so long as they have my best interests and I keep on improving, there’s no doubt I’ll be at the top.”
Agyarko, just as he told the Queensberry Promotions’ YouTube channel on Saturday night, believes he is ready for anyone in Britain but taking just two more fights this year may be the difference between success and failure when the time comes to take a leap into domestic title contention. A couple of months ago, Denzel Bentley, in the first defence of his British middleweight strap, jumped up in class against Felix Cash. It was an admirable move by Agyarko’s promotional stablemate, but Cash proved that experience against men like Jack Cullen and Jason Welborn were a crucial ingredient that helped him take Bentley’s title in just three rounds.
“Technically, I’m better than them guys, I feel,” Agarko said of Bentley and Cash.
“It’s just about getting the experience. I’ve had nine fights; they’ve had 14-15 fights. I still have a bit of learning to do but listen if it’s for the right money, the right belt… they’re meaningful fights so something’s got to be on the line. The risk has got to be worth the reward. I’m still learning. I’ll talk to my team and whoever’s next is next, and I’m willing to fight anyone and beat them.”
“I thought it would have went one way or the other,” he said of Bentley versus Cash.
“I thought it was either Cash [by] stoppage or Bentley points. Cash got the stoppage very, very early. It just shows in that fight that there’s levels in boxing and maybe that was a step too far for Denzel Bentley. He won the British title but who has he beat. He beat Mark Heffron who is a very good fighter, but I still don’t think [Bentley] had them experienced fights. He got beat and Felix Cash was just a step too far for him. Felix has had them tough, meaningful fights. He beat Jack Cullen, he beat Jason Welborn. There are levels in boxing, and you can’t rush things, so I felt like it was a step too far for Denzel, especially experience wise as well.”
Agyarko may not have fought someone of their ilk just yet but there is one of his nine triumphs which is beginning to age well. Fight number seven put Agyarko in with Jez Smith last summer. Traditionally a welterweight and his career looking somewhat rocky, Smith stepped up to face the Belfast fighter and, despite being stopped in the ninth round, gave Agyarko an acceptable test. Smith’s career has been reborn since then thanks to his appearances on Matchroom shows. Now campaigning at super-welterweight, Smith got a ‘winner stays on’ fight against Ben Ridings and came out on top before travelling to Spain to take on former European welterweight champion Kerman Lejarraga. A career-best showing from Smith gave Lejarraga a nightmare, which included dropping the Spaniard twice before visiting the canvas himself in the sixth and then stopped one round later. It was a more than credible display by Smith.
“I didn’t get enough credit for beating Jez Smith,” Agyarko said. “Jez Smith is a top fighter, very experienced, very good. He just fought a top, top fighter, a European champion [Lejarraga] who beat Bradley Skeete, knocked out Frankie Gavin and Jez Smith went in there to his backyard and dropped him twice and was stopped very prematurely. It just shows my win against Jez Smith was good and I don’t feel like Jez troubled me at any times. Some rounds were maybe a bit close, but he was never really in the fight in terms of winning it and definitely didn’t drop me like the way he did with Lejarraga. It was a good win for me at the time but I’m getting more credit for it now than I did then.”
Agyarko has many believing he could go to the very top and 2021 will be the final year in his education as a prospect before those badges are replaced by contender status. Next year is when we will discover if Caoimhin Agyarko has what it takes. Should he deal with British level comfortably then Agyarko will move on to the European stage or the fringes of the world’s top 10. Be patient, no rush, are the party slogans from Team Agyarko. Good things come to those who wait.
“I had a good amateur background, and everyone thinks I should be rushed because of that but I’m 24 years old. I’m performing well in the gym, performing well on the night but it’s about getting more rounds in,” said Agyarko.
“I’m putting people away early, six of nine and I’m fighting people with winning records. I’m not fighting basically journeymen. It’s nine fights and I’ve had five opponents with a winning record and good tough guys. I’ve still got a couple more learning fights to get then I’m ready for the big boys.”