LAS VEGAS – A word of warning to prospective parents: Name your child King Kong at your own risk.
Joseph Agbeko's parents opted to legally name their son after the famous gorilla of movie lore when he was born in Accra, Ghana, on March 22, 1980. His full birth name is Joseph King Kong Agbeko.
The result is that any time another child wanted to prove his toughness, he went after King Kong. And when someone got beaten up, they looked to King Kong for protection. Agbeko decided to become a boxer because he believed the name King Kong was a sign from God about his destiny.
It was clearly a good choice, because he's one of boxing's most underappreciated world champions who is growing in reputation with each outing. Agbeko is 27-1 with 22 knockouts and will defend the International Boxing Federation bantamweight title against Yohnny Perez on Saturday at the Treasure Island in a bout televised nationally by Showtime.
The fictional King Kong was a giant, but the real-life version is only 5-foot-6 and weighs just 118 pounds. But Agbeko, who is coming off an impressive July 11 unanimous decision over Vic Darchinyan, says he fights big.
"I'm small, maybe, in height, but I'm King Kong inside," Agbeko said. "I have the heart of the real King Kong. He's in my bones and in my heart. I come out and fight like I'm really King Kong."
When a fighter believes he's King Kong, he tends to believe in the power of his punches and can occasionally, if not frequently, neglect his defense. And for as good as Agbeko is, he tends to be hit more often than most world-class boxers.
It's a flaw that, to this point, has kept him from being ranked among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Agbeko's ambitions are huge – he wants to become universally recognized as the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world – and understands that he can't afford to be one-dimensional, no matter how good his offense might be.
"I've been blessed with so many skills as a boxer, not just on offense, but (defense), too," Agbeko said. "When you are a warrior and you come to fight, sometimes, it's easy to focus on that and not worry about the other points of the game. But I know my capabilities and I know my responsibilities as a champion and as one of the best in the world.
"That is to be consistent in every area and to do each aspect (of the sport) the way a champion should. I want to succeed everywhere."
One way he has succeeded is by grabbing the attention of his powerful promoter, Don King. King said he's become enthralled by the way Agbeko is willing to take on any challenge and not be intimidated.
King put Agbeko in against Darchinyan at a time when Darchinyan was regarded as one of the world's elite talents. Darchinyan held a super flyweight belt and was looking to add bantamweight and super bantamweight titles to his war chest.
Agbeko was to be just another step on the path toward superstardom for Darchinyan. But Agbeko was never intimidated and pulled out a unanimous decision, retaining his belt and earning major respect from King.
"When I announced the fight, all the boss scribes and all the boxing experts told me we were feeding him to the lions, that Agbeko was like a condemned man and should be counting down his final days," King said. "The whole world saw that fight and saw what he did. He was fearless, just like you'd expect King Kong to be, and he stuck his head into the lion's mouth and he laughed and he came out on top."
Roles are reversed a bit this time, though. King Kong and King are gaining all the attention. Agbeko is a favorite and is predicting a knockout.
And Perez is sitting quietly, stewing, and hoping to prove the skeptics wrong.
"I like the fact Agbeko thinks he is going to knock my block off," Perez said. "I really want him to show me how good he is. I love for fighters to make bold predictions. Just ask Silence Mabuza about his prediction before our fight last May. Ask him about his desire to go home early that night. Silence will tell you how dead wrong he was."
King Kong, though, is hardly concerned. He's professing all sorts of respect for Perez, but still insists he's going to knock him out.
He gained plenty of momentum by beating Darchinyan, but said it was the start, not the finish.
"I want to be No. 1 and to be No. 1 I have to beat more than just Darchinyan," Agbeko said. "There are bigger and tougher guys out there than Darchinyan and I want to go through them one, two, three, to prove to the world that I am the best."