ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Abner Mares kept his punches up and beat Joseph Agbeko on Saturday night, retaining his IBF bantamweight belt by unanimous decision.
Mares (23-0-1, 13 KOs) won 118-110 on all three judges' scorecards in a rematch of his majority-decision victory over Agbeko (28-4) in August.
The boxers' first bout in Las Vegas was among the most controversial in recent memory. Mares landed several blatantly low blows on Agbeko, but the referee inexplicably didn't notice them or penalize Mares, who acknowledged his mistakes.
The rematch featured almost no questionable blows, and Mares landed more total punches and power shots despite fighting the final 10 rounds with a deep cut near his right eye from a punch. The Associated Press scored it 116-112 for Mares.
"I'm happy that my fans finally saw my true boxing skills," said Mares, the crowd favorite who grew up in nearby Hawaiian Gardens. "I beat him the first time, and I beat him again. I knew I was winning the whole fight."
In the co-main event, Panama's Anselmo Moreno kept his WBA bantamweight belt in his American debut, winning a steady unanimous decision over Vic Darchinyan. Moreno could be Mares' next opponent, Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer said.
Mares was usually a bit sharper and crisper than Agbeko, whose entourage still raised him on its shoulders after the final bell. Agbeko's small but vocal Ghanaian cheering section disliked the verdict.
"A lot of media guys told me at the press conference that this is California, and that I will have to knock him out to win," Agbeko said. "I told them no. If I win, I deserve to win. Right now, I don't have anything to protest. I don't feel like a loser. I think this decision is unfair. You shouldn't have to knock out your opponent to win in California. I thought I fought better tonight than the last fight."
Both fighters traded exciting shots from the first round, and Mares didn't flinch when his cut opened in the second round.
"It bothered me a few times, because he was only going for my eye," Mares said.
Agbeko was understandably sensitive to low blows, complaining to referee Lou Moret after borderline punches in the third and sixth rounds.
The fighters' defensive skills and strong conditioning led to a few uneventful rounds, but Mares came alive in the final minute of the 11th. The champion landed several strong punches that staggered Agbeko, who made it to the bell while the crowd roared for the hometown favorite.
"Last time, I was a little stocky," Mares said. "This time I didn't have as much muscle, so I was faster."
In his 26th consecutive victory and ninth title defense, Moreno (32-1-1, 11 KOs) thoroughly outboxed the more exciting Darchinyan (37-4-1), who was docked a point for throwing the backpedaling Moreno to the canvas at the fourth-round bell.
"He's a great boxer, but he faced a ghost tonight," Moreno said. "He couldn't catch me. ... He threw a lot of punches, and I avoided them. That was the plan. Yes, he did connect a few times, but so did I."
Moreno said he hopes to fight Mares next in a unification bout.
Darchinyan, the Australian brawler of Armenian heritage, also has lost to both Agbeko and Mares in the past 2½ years.
"I couldn't find him, and I lost the fight," Darchinyan said. "I was going for big punches, and I couldn't find a home for my left."