“You see the other night at [Madison Square Garden], Brandon Rios? That’s what a heavyweight needs, is that determination. You don’t see that.
“He finds a way. He makes the adjustment. He’s just a tough guy who has will, and he wasn’t going to fold.”
– Former heavyweight contender Gerry Cooney, on Rios’ 11th-round knockout of John Murray.
Speaking with Brandon Rios, you get the feeling that he would be disappointed if his fights did not wind up being the blood-and-guts, knock-down, drag-out events that they usually are.
Perhaps even more than the money that can be gained in the sport, Rios simply loves a good scrap.
“I am a fighter. I am a warrior. It’s my job and I love my job. I love to fight. Whoever they put in front of me in the ring,” said Rios, currently rated as THE RING’s No. 1 lightweight. “I don’t care who it is — I’ll be ready. That’s what I train for. If anything changes, I’ll be ready. It doesn’t matter to me.”
Rios (29-0-1, 22 knockouts) returns to action on April 14 against Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8 KOs) at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas in a clash that is for the vacant WBA lightweight belt which once belonged to Rios.
Rios-Abril is the co-featured part of a split-site, pay per view card that is being produced by Top Rank and distributed by HBO Pay Per View.
The main event matches WBA/WBO lightweight beltholder, Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs) against Ukrainian Sergei Fedchenko (30-1, 13 KOs) for the WBO’s interim junior welterweight belt from New Mexico City Arena in Mexico City.
“If is Gamboa, Abril or Mike Tyson, it doesn’t matter, I’ll fight them,” said Rios. “I have had a tremendous training camp and I can say nothing bad about it.”
Rios also earned the WBA crown in February of last year when he came from behind to knock out Miguel Acosta in the 10th round.
Rios dropped Acosta during the sixth, eighth and last round of the fight, finally cornering his rival and unloading a barrage of blows — the most telling of which was a vicious right hand — that crumpled Acosta at 1:14 of the round.
The victory ended a 19-fight winning streak for Acosta.
Rios lost his WBA title, as well as $20,000, on the scales for failing to make weight the night before his fight against Murray.
He missed the contracted weight of 135 three times, then weighed 146.4 pounds at a 9 a.m. weigh-in the day of the bout. An agreement with with Murray’s camp allowed the fight to go on, with only Murray having a chance to win the vacated crown.
But for Abril, Rios said that a switch in nutritionists has made a big difference in the weight-cutting issues, having hired Cecilio Flores, who formerly worked with RING middleweight champion Sergio Martinez.
All of the above, though, is just the work leading up to the real attraction for Rios, who has told RingTV.com before that he longs to be in clashes that conjure the trilogy between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward.
“I love that sort of fight. I love to fight. I love to give the fans what they pay for. I love to show the world that I am a warrior. I’m not here just to collect a paycheck,” Rios said during the February interview.
“I’m here to put on a show, and I’m here to give the fans what they want and what they pay for. Not only that, but I need to be in a real fight for myself. That’s my high. That’s my drug. That’s what I need. That’s like my crack. I really need that.”
It is that sort of sentiment that separates Rios from other fighters, according to his manager, Cameron Dunkin.
“Brandon is a real pleasure to work with. He doesn’t talk about money. He just wants to fight, and you want to make him money,” said Dunkin.
“I talked to [Top Rank President] Todd duBoef about that, and he said he does want to make him money because it is a passion. He draws all of that out of us and we love to watch him fight and we all want to root for him because he is a great guy.”
Rios lists, among his idols, Mexican great Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and the late, hard-punching Diego Corrales. A former three-division titleholder, Chavez, who was 89-0-1 before he lost his first bout by split-decision, retired with a mark of 107-6-2, including 86 knockouts.
“I always looked up to Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and Diego Corrales,” said Rios. “I looked up to them because I had the same style as them. I take a little from off them and try to do it my way.”
A troubled youth growing up in Garden City, Kansas, Rios said “I don’t know where I would be right now” if it were not for boxing.
“What drives me is I love my sport, and I love what I do. A lot of fighters do it for a job. I do it because I love it. It’s my high. It’s like my Ritalin. I am very hyper and It calms me down a lot,” said Rios. “If I didn’t do this, I don’t know where I would be right now. I think I’d be locked up.”
Dunkin compares Rios favorably to another fighter he once managed: Johnny Tapia.
“What he said about how he wouldn’t know what he would be doing if it wasn’t for boxing, Johnny Tapia used to say that a lot also,” said Dunkin. “The passion and the love. Johnny went undefeated for so long and beat so many great fighters. Johnny was very hyper, and just wanted to fight, just like Brandon.”
A fight nearly broke out between Rios and Abril at a recent press conference that was to promote Rios-Gamboa, to which Gamboa was a no-show.
Abril, a 29-year-old Miami-based Cuban who is coming off an impressive unanimous decision over Acosta, confronted Rios at the press conference, all but slapping him in the face.
“Abril started talking smack…He came up to me and said, ‘I want to fight you.’ I said, ‘who are you? You look like an average guy on the street with a tuxedo on.’ He kept running his mouth, saying, ‘I am the champion and you are nothing.’ I said, ‘you are the champion and you want to fight me? There is my manager right there, Cameron Dunkin,'” said Rios.
“Then he told me to talk to him in Spanish because he didn’t know what I was saying. I said, ‘if you don’t know what I’m saying, then get the f__k out of here.’ Then we got face-to-face and he pushed me. I will never forget that he pushed me.”
Rios has so much energy, motivation to fight and belief in himself, he quipped that he might just take Cooney’s advice.
“Maybe I will go up to the heavyweight division,” said Rios. “So we can have an American heavyweight champion.”
Photos by Chris Farina, Top Rank Inc.
Lem Satterfield can be reached at [email protected]