By Chris Robinson
When I caught up with Larry Merchant on Wednesday night it was actually just hitting the early morning Thursday hours over in Germany as the HBO color analyst had been overseas for over a week for his duties covering the recent Wladimir Klitschko-David Haye heavyweight title affair in Hamburg. Just waking up and with only a few minutes to spare before heading for his plane home to the States, Merchant was still open to a brief talk and I decided to take a look at some of the action taking place this weekend.
On Saturday night WBA lightweight champion Brandon ‘Bam Bam’ Rios will face a stern test as he locks horns with fan-friendly Urbano Antillon on a Showtime-televised tilt from the Home Depot Center in Carson, California. Rios stamped himself as a fighter to look out for last February with his come-from-behind stoppage over Venezuela's Miguel Acosta inside of the Palms Casino in Las Vegas and his rowdy personality make him hard to forget.
I asked the affable Merchant what he thinks of Rios and whether or not Antillon’s spirits will still be high after two previous setbacks in title attempts against Acosta in July of 2009 and Humberto Soto last year.
“I like Rios. He’s one of the good, young, American fighters. He’s in tough and we’ll see how good he is,” stated Merchant.
Turning his attention to the Maywood, California fighter, Larry couldn't predict his mindset heading into the fight but expects him to be fully up for the challenge, claiming “I don’t know the fighter well enough to determine that. But I just assume that we are going to see the best of [Antillon].”
There has been a lot of trash talk taking coming from both Rios and Acosta and it’s safe to say that things have gotten a little personal. Rios is already rambunctious to begin with, so could his emotions boil over in a negative way come Saturday?
“I talked about it last Saturday night,” Merchant continued. “It rarely or just doesn’t affect good fighters negatively. Might it get the guy out of his plans or make him become more aggressive than he is supposed to be? I suppose that could happen, but these guys are both aggressive fighters.”
Merchant then flashed back to last weekend’s festivities and was able to take something positive away from an otherwise uneventful event when reflecting on how the younger Klitschko brother was able to deal with the unrelenting taunts coming from Haye, his British foil.
“Wladimir Klitschko said it best that nobody was ever confronted with more so-called bad blood than he was before the fight with David Haye. He just went into the fight with a clear mind and a cold heart,” said Merchant.
On the same night Rios-Antillon goes down in Southern California, miles away former champion Paul Williams will look to get his career back on track when he meets standout Cuban amateur Erislandy Lara at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. Williams’ last ring performance saw him get crushed in shocking fashion by a Sergio Martinez left hand in the second round and the boxing world is eager to know what the 29-year old will bring to the table from here on out.
“We’ll find out,” Merchant stated. “Boxing is about getting off the floor and it’s about what do you do next time? This is an opportunity for him to prove to himself and everyone else that there is life after getting knocked out. There are many fighters who have come back and some fighters have never recovered. He’s come back from disappointment before; no reason he can’t do it again unless there is a reason we don’t know about.”
Interestingly enough, the co-feature to the Rios-Antillon bout is a junior middleweight match between former title holder Kermit Cintron and streaking Carlos Molina. Cintron has been out of the ring for over fourteen months, last seeing action in May of last year as he lost to Williams via a bizarre, four-round technical decision after the fight had to be stopped due to the Puerto Rican lunging out of the ring face first.
The Molina fight marks Cintron’s first fight under Top Rank but in Merchant’s eyes the 31-year old has much ground to cover.
“I think he’s got a lot to prove after his fight with Williams. Whether he’s capable, for example, of fighting Cotto if Cotto should beat Margarito, he’s got to prove he’s a viable fighter again. That was a shaky loss and it seems to me that he’s the kind of fighter that really has something to prove.”