By Robert Morales
It was July 2011, and lightweight world champion Brandon Rios squared off with Urbano Antillon in a title defense at Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. Rios and Antillon went toe-to-toe in three hard-hitting rounds, Antillon not getting out of the third after being decked twice in the round.
At that point, Rios was really on the minds of boxing people of all sorts, from fans to promoters to TV executives to reporters. And for good reason. He was a mean dude with dynamite in his fists, and he had no problem getting into vicious fights. He was all action, and people were loving what he brought to the ring.
What a difference a year has made.
Rios was supposed to make his second defense against John Murray this past December, but lost his title on the scales when he weighed a half-pound over. The title was vacated, Rios stopped Murray in the 11th at Madison Square Garden, but it remained vacant because Murray was the only one who could leave with the belt.
No problem. Rios got a chance to win back the vacant title in April of this year against Richard Abril. Rios missed weight by two pounds, coming in at 137. That fight also went on, with Rios again having no chance to leave with the belt, and he won a split-decision to remain undefeated.
But the damage to his reputation was done. Any story you see about him online is usually filled with a lot of hateful comments about how unprofessional he is and, well, much worse than that.
Rios, 26, has moved up to super lightweight and Oct. 13 will take on another undefeated fighter in Mike Alvarado of Denver on the undercard of the Nonito Donaire-Toshiaki Nishioka super bantamweight title fight at Home Depot Center. Since it is part of an HBO doubleheader, it should be noted that TV's largest cable boxing network has not abandoned Rios.
Following a news conference Monday at the Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, Rios and his trainer - Robert Garcia - talked about the past failings. Garcia suggested that for those who think Rios was apathetic about making weight, think again.
"When you get somebody that doesn't make weight - Brandon didn't do it twice - but they don't know what Brandon went through," Garcia said. "He tried to make weight, it's not like he wasn't trying. That last fight, the night before the weigh-in, it was Alvarado, we were at the same gym and he was on the same card (against Mauricio Herrera) and he was making weight, also.
"He knows what Brandon went through. Everybody knew, you know, in the camp that was there, saw what Brandon went through trying to make weight. Those last two pounds were just impossible. He just couldn't do it. His body just gave up on him, it didn't respond. Nothing we could have done. At 140, he'll be a lot better."
Even the optimist, Garcia believes Rios can repair his reputation moving forward.
"Well, after this fight, the way the fight's going to be, people will forget what happened those last two fights and they'll understand," Garcia said. "That's all it is."
What Garcia would probably like to see is Rios given credit for fighting as well as he did despite having problems making 135 for some time.
"We all saw his last couple of fights, he couldn't make weight," Garcia said. "And even the previous fights, trying to make 135, and still came out and still fought his heart out and still was very strong. Even though he had a hard time making weight, he was still strong enough to be able to knock Murray out, Antillon, (Miguel) Acosta."
This is very telling, Garcia said.
"This just lets us know that he's going to be a lot stronger, a lot more comfortable at that weight," he said of 140. "He'll be much stronger now, even though it's a different weight division and he's moving up in weight. The guys are going to be bigger - yes, we understand that - but he's going to be a lot stronger, too."
In A Terrific Mood
Rios teased reporters while speaking during the news conference.
"I miss you guys, even though you write bad things about me," he said.
Later, after the proceedings, he sat down at the dais and for a while, couldn't stop smiling.
"I'm in great spirits right now because I don't have to kill myself to make 135," Rios said. "One-forty is going to feel great, be great. Everything's going to be absolutely 100 percent."
If Rios (30-0-1, 22 KOs) is able to get a spectacular win over Alvarado (33-0, 23 KOs), fans might be willing to forgive Rios his misgivings, as Garcia suggested. But these days, when people have at their disposal avenues such as the comments section on websites worldwide, as well as Twitter, there is no guarantee of that. But it was hard to tell if Rios is all that concerned with that. He spoke of a conversation he had with his wife, Vicky.
"My wife, she talks to me," Rios said. "She told me, 'If you worry about the people that's saying you're going to be s**t, you ain't going to go nowhere. So you gotta keep level-headed, keep doing what you're doing and forget about all that bulls**t, put all that bulls**t behind you. It is what it is, it happened. Now you're in a new weight class, now you're ready to show the world and shut them up and show that whatever they said about you, that's their opinion.' "
Demonstrating that he still has plenty of fire, and that all the haters haven't sapped him of that killer instinct, Rios predicted "a violent, bloody fight. It will not go the distance. One of us will get knocked out."
No Concern about Sept. 15 Fight Night
Bob Arum is promoting the middleweight title fight between Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Sergio Martinez that will be contested Sept. 15 at Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas (on HBO pay-per-view).
It was during the Donaire-Nishioka and Rios-Alvarado news conference that Arum and the rest of us found out about a car belonging to someone in the Martinez camp being vandalized in Oxnard, where Martinez - from Argentina - now lives. Allegedly, the colors of the Mexican flag were poured over the car.
This caused Tuesday's workout in neighboring Ventura to be cancelled. Arum promotes Chavez, of Mexico, but he wasn't happy to hear about this incident.
"Well, nobody wants that kind of activity," Arum said. "I think Sergio is a gentleman and Argentina is a great country and you know, people do crazy, stupid things and this is a stupid thing.
"But I don't know what the facts are and so forth. I know the fans at Thomas & Mack Center will be very well behaved and I think there will be a lot of Argentine fans, a lot of Mexican fans."
Capacity for boxing at Thomas & Mack is 19,522, and Arum said there are only about 2,000 tickets left for this fight. Moreover, he said of the 9,700 tickets available in the lower bowl, only three remain.
This is not astonishing to Arum. Rather, it was expected.
"It's the middleweight championship of the world," he said.
"People have been talking about this fight for a couple of years now. My guy, Julio, was not ready for the fight; Sergio's a great, great champion. He's ready now. People want to see this fight. Anybody who calls themselves a boxing fan wants to see this fight, period, period. So no, I'm not surprised."
Donaire a Man's Man
Insulting a man's wife on the streets could mean the worst for the one doling out the insult. Of course, Nonito Donaire is not a gangster, so he probably doesn't think like that. Good thing.
That doesn't mean he wasn't very upset when he heard that Top Rank Inc. chairman Arum said that his wife, Rachel Donaire, dressed "like a tart." It happened last year during the promotional problems Arum and Donaire were having, which means that perhaps emotions were involved.
It didn't make it any easier for Donaire to take. As he and Rachel were sitting in an adjoining room Monday at the Biltmore Hotel, he recalled what he felt during that time.
"Definitely, I mean, you know, I was offended because of the fact that that's my wife," Donaire said, taking a break from autographing boxing gloves. "I protect my wife no matter what. I'm the man, I'm the husband and I'll do my husband duty as to protect my wife in that way.
"But she was OK after a while. We did talk and I think people, when they are angry, they tend to say stupid things sometimes. I've said stupid things when I was angry with fights or when a disagreement comes about. And if you can mend it on both sides, not just one way around, then it can be mended that way."
An apology from Arum went a long way in that regard.
"Bob apologized to Rachel and that was the turning point," Donaire said. "We were there to work with each other and Bob apologized, so that was the good thing about it and that's how it was mended. She was OK with it and I was OK with it."
One has to wonder what would be happening in the career of Donaire had he ended up with Golden Boy Promotions last year. But an arbitrator ruled in favor of Top Rank Inc. in its effort to retain Donaire.
Donaire thought his contract with Top Rank was over and wanted to move to rival Golden Boy. Arum disagreed, saying Donaire had not fulfilled his contract, and Arum won. Naturally, Donaire almost didn't have a choice but to make up with Arum.
Since the reconciliation, Donaire has won three more fights, including one against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. that netted him another world title in yet another division. That's not to say Golden Boy would not be doing just as well for Donaire. One thing's for sure, Donaire appears perfectly content with where he is today. That was evident when he was asked about the future as it pertains to his wish-list of opponents.
"Well at this point the No. 1 guy I'm aiming for is already in front of me, so that's the guy I want to fight, that's the guy I've been aiming for in this division," Donaire said, smiling big. "You know, like I was aiming for (Fernando) Montiel in that (bantamweight)) division.
"So in terms of what comes afterwards, it doesn't matter at this point until I get my eyes set on another opponent that I want to fight."
Donaire (29-1, 18 KOs) intimated he is stoked to be defending his title against a fighter the ilk of Nishioka (39-4-3, 24 KOs), the former super bantamweight champion who made six title defenses before losing his title out of the ring, no thanks to governing body politics.
"He's the toughest guy I've ever faced," said Donaire, 29. "You know, being at 122 he not only has speed and power, he's a veteran as well. He's a tactical guy. It's going to be a very difficult, dangerous fight but this is where I excel, in an exciting fight and a very challenging opponent."
Then again, Nishioka is 36 and will not have fought for a year and 12 days when he steps into the ring with Donaire, so we'll see.
Donaires Spar - With Each Other
Many may already know this, but Rachel Donaire is a former U.S. national collegiate and military taekwondo champion, so after Nonito Donaire finished saying he is the husband and protects his wife, he was asked if perhaps his wife can whip his behind.
"Yeah, she can," he said, again smiling.
Well, we don't know that yet because the one time they laced up the gloves, Nonito put restrictions on Rachel.
"One time it was during camp and he yelled at me about something and I got mad," Rachel Donaire said. "And then, he was sparring that day. He let me go after him for a round. I couldn't hit him; I was getting mad.
"He said I could only punch him, though. He didn't say I could kick him. So it was kind of unfair because I telegraph all my punches."
In taekwondo, the feet are typically more lethal than the hands.
Robert Morales covers boxing for the LA Daily News and BoxingScene.com