By Francisco Salazar
Mike Alvarado could not do it.
Neither could Urbano Antillon.
It looked like Miguel Acosta was able to do it, but even he failed to do it.
What do all three men have in common? They shared the ring with unbeaten Brandon Rios in memorable fights that featured some tremendous ebb and flow action.
Okay, that is easy to point out for diehard boxing fans. How about all three boxers failed to knock Rios down to the canvas.
That honor goes to Joel Ortega.
Who? What? Someone knocked down Rios and it was not those three hard-hitting men.
Yup. Joel Ortega. Not only did Ortega knock Rios down once, but he did it twice. While Ortega was a second or two from beating Rios, who was then an 8-0 fighter, it has been the closest anyone has come closest to beating Rios (with the exception of Manuel Perez, who has a draw against Rios).
Rios will face Alvarado in a rematch this Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Will Alvarado engage in the same toe-to-toe action with Rios, which found some success? Or will he do hope to find one punch that will floor Rios the way Ortega did on a rainy January 20th, 2006 evening at the Activities Center in Maywood, CA?
HBO will televise the fight, along with the Terence Crawford-Breidis Prescott bout, on its “Boxing After Dark” telecast.
Maybe the Rios that fight fans and media have come to know was born on that night when he found himself knocked down against Ortega. Rios was badly hurt, was able to maintain his composure, and finally ended matters in the fifth round when he knocked Ortega out.
While Rios is commended and praised for his fan-friendly style in recent bouts, the bout against Ortega seemed like a wake-up call for Rios.
“I was talking to Robert about the fight with Ortega the other day,” Rios told Boxingscene.com in a telephone conversation earlier this week. “That fight was crazy. I knew that if I could get up from two hard knockdowns, I could become a world champion. That fight taught me that I was made for this. I knew I could take a punch.”
In their first fight before a raucous crowd of about 8,000 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Alvarado landed some vicious shots to Rios’ head and body. While Rios was not visibly hurt from the punches, the impact of the punches sure made people wince around ringside.
Rios (31-0-1, 23 KOs) admitted that he was cautious of Alvarado in the first fight, due to the power and boxing skills the Denver, CO fighter possesses. While Rios boldly predicted a fifth round knockout over Alvarado in the rematch, it was the lessons he learned in the Ortega fight that have taught him perseverance.
“Those type of fighters have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” said Rios, who is promoted by Top Rank and managed by Cameron Dunkin. “I just know that I have to watch out for those types of guys.”
“With Alvarado, I know he wants to get his revenge and he’s going to be at his best. He has everything to gain now. He’s strong and aggressive. I’m just more focused than the last time we fought. I know I can hurt him and I know he can’t take any of my punches.”
Seems easier said than done, especially with Rios’ bold prediction of when the fight will end on Saturday. While most members of the media predict an ending similar to that of the first fight, Rios will strive to make that goal a reality.
While it would seem Rios would be able to do this with skill set, tenacity, and power, along with trainer Robert Garcia, the Oxnard, CA fighter sought the services of another individual.
The individual Rios and his camp sought out was strength and conditioning coach Angel Heredia, who has been involved in some eyebrow-raising situations throughout his career. He admitted to supplying Olympic sprinter Marion Jones with performance enhancement drugs during the 2000 Games and was a government witness in the BALCO trial against Victor Conte.
Rios insists that the relationship is professional and only sought the services of Heredia for only conditioning and endurance.
“I’m wanted to work with Angel because I wanted him to help me with my power and conditioning. Nothing else. I never did morning runs and conditioning work until I started working with Angel. I feel a lot stronger because of all the endurance work we have done.”
Whether Rios retains Heredia after the Alvarado fight remains to be seen. Whether Rios follows through with a knockout over Alvarado will remain to be seen as well.
Rios could lose to Alvarado on Saturday or against another junior welterweight later this year or beyond. Even a possible move to the welterweight division is not out of the question for Rios.
However, one thing that is sure of Rios is that he loves to fight and give a good show in the process. Do not ask him about pound for pound rankings or when he will make seven figures. He is happy being who he is, even if it is not conforming.
“I love to fight and I know people love how I fight. I have a passion for boxing and even if I was not fighting, I would be around the sport in some way. If my career ended, I would be a trainer or work with younger fighters.”
Fight fans are understandably anxious for Rios and Alvarado to get it on in the ring. Even a fight that took place two weeks ago at the Home Depot Center between Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov might have satisfied fight fans’ appetite of watching a great action-filled fight.
It may have even set the tone for what will take place in the ring this Saturday between Rios and Alvarado. While some are optimistic it could happen, Rios does not read too much into it.
“It was a great fight and it was a great performance by both guys. I saw a side of Bradley I never expected to see. But I don’t see how that fight could compare what Mike and I did in October. Our fight was back and forth for six rounds, while you saw action in the first two and the last two rounds.”
“There’s no comparison. That’s the way our fight was and it’s how our styles are.”
And those styles could make for another exciting evening. Just like on October 13th, fight fans could be on the edge of their seats, throwing imaginary punches themselves or jumping up and down as the excitement builds.
Aside from his fight with Rios, Alvarado has had those exciting bouts where he has persevered and snatched victories. In exhibiting heart and a will to win, both Rios and Alvarado could give everyone a reason to love the sport all over again.
For Rios, he could trace back to his fight against Joel Ortega as a reason why he is still unbeaten who eventually captured championship gold. In fact, he gives Ortega, a fighter with a record of 11-18, and 6 KOs, props, something he rarely publicly does.
“He was the most dangerous fighter I faced and he has been the only one to put me down.”
Should Brandon Rios remain unbeaten, and that is if he remains unbeaten, Joel Ortega could very be that footnote in Rios’ career that is the equivalent to a Trivia Pursuit question.
It just goes to show that world champions and contenders are not the only ones to bring out the best physically or psychologically in a fighter. Joel Ortega proved that with Rios.
For that, Rios owes a lot to Ortega and more importantly, to himself.
Francisco A. Salazar has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. He also covers boxing for the Ventura County Star newspaper. His twitter handle is Salazar_soccer and he could be reached at [email protected]