NEW YORK -- The four of them weigh about as much as the two Klitschko brothers, who have dominated the heavyweight division the past few years.
Abner Mares, Yonnhy Perez, Joseph Agbeko and Vic Darchinyan are virtually unknown outside of boxing circles, fighting in a 118-pound division that rarely gets any attention. But they've all signed on for a single-elimination tournament that begins later this month in hopes of not only making a name for themselves, but also providing boxing fans with some exciting fights.
"I really respect all the fighters; we are all great fighters put together for this tournament," Agbeko said during a conference call Thursday. "This is my opportunity to show the world that I'm the best bantamweight."
The semifinals are scheduled for Dec. 11 at the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma, Wash., when Agbeko faces Perez in a rematch of one of the best fights of 2009. Darchinyan and Mares fight in the other semifinal, with the winners meeting for the tournament title early next year.
The tournament originally was scheduled for Leon, Mexico, but Showtime did a site survey and realized that the cost for staging the event there -- including security in a region that has been besieged by violence among the drug cartels -- would be prohibitive.
When no venue could be secured in Los Angeles, the event was moved to Tacoma, Wash.
Perez is the only current champion, while Agbeko and Darchinyan have both held world titles and Mares is a top contender. They have a combined record of 102-4-3 with 76 knockouts.
"I'm so happy to come back and fight Yonnhy," said Agbeko, who also has fought Darchinyan. "I think there's less pressure on me, and I have to prove to the world that I'm a champion.
"Vic is a very good fighter, very experienced fighter, and he's been doing this for a very long time. He's done a lot for boxing."
All four of them have, which is why Showtime invited them to participate in the event.
The premium cable network has had mixed success with a six-member, modified round-robin tournament involving the super middleweight division, but trimmed the bantamweight tournament to only four fighters for two reasons: to streamline the event, and because Nonito Donaire and titleholder Fernando Montiel declined to participate in it.
Even if the casual boxing fan is unfamiliar with the four fighters involved, though, they are certainly familiar with each other.
Agbeko (27-2, 22 KOs) is originally from Ghana and now fights out of the Bronx, following in the footsteps of countrymen such as Ike Quartey and Joshua Clottey. He's an exciting veteran who hasn't stepped into the ring in more than a year, since losing a unanimous decision to Perez (20-0-1, 14 KOs) in October 2009 in Las Vegas.
Perez, meanwhile, fought to a majority draw against Mares at Staples Center in Los Angeles earlier this year. The California-based Colombian is the current IBF champion.
"I know this is going to be a great war, just like the first one was," Perez said. "I know how great of a fighter Agbeko is. I saw him in the ring, and I felt him in the ring. I know he's coming prepared technically, and he'll be trying to get that belt away from me."
The Armenia-born Darchinyan (35-2-1, 27 KOs), who now fights out of Australia, has won three straight since losing to Agbeko in July 2009. The 34-year-old former two-division champion is considered among the heaviest punchers in the 118-pound division.
Mares (20-0-1, 13 KOs) is a popular fighter in his native Mexico, and Richard Schaefer of Golden Boy Promotions believes he could become the next superstar there.
"I've been training hard for this fight, again, because I know Vic Darchinyan is a tough fighter, a strong fighter. What can I say? He's a champion, and you got to train really hard and win, and look good winning, against a champion," Mares said. "I think we all know speed beats power, so I think that's my advantage. Either way, we plan on fighting him."