By Jake Donovan
Bob Arum has a gift for selling a fight, sometimes to the point of unbelievable hyperbole. But even the Hall of Fame promoter knows when to pump the brakes and just recognize something for what it truly is.
“Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillon - you don’t have to sell that fight. Everyone knows they are going to see a really great and entertaining fight.”
Marketing in its simplest form.
The lightweight battle – which takes place at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California – needs no primer, just a camera to bring the action to those at home who love nothing more than a good old-fashioned throwdown. Showtime has that part covered, airing the card live at 10PM ET.
The network didn’t hesitate to become involved after being along for the ride in Rios’ last fight – a thrilling 10th round knockout of Miguel Acosta in what became the year’s first legitimate Fight of the Year contender.
Without overselling the fight, expectations are for this weekend’s action to contribute to that category.
“I’m personally looking forward to seeing this fight because I love an all-action fight,” Arum proudly states. “I personally predict that when all is said and done and we’re sitting around discussing fights of the year, this fight will be right up there as one of the candidates as 2011 Fight of the Year.”
Such talks have become commonplace when Rios (27-0-1, 20KO) enters the ring these days. The Oxnard-based slugger doesn’t know how to fight any other way than to go full throttle the moment he enters the ring.
His run as of late has become the very definition of winning curing many things. The defending alphabet lightweight titlist has endured his fair share of negative press and for good reason, including his part in a video mocking trainer Freddie Roach and his Parkinson’s disease.
To his credit, Rios didn’t tiptoe around his actions, owning up to and apologizing for it almost immediately after it was released.
Whether or not anyone bought into it is anyone’s guess, but his string of wins before and after have gone a long way towards converting even the most hardened skeptics.
But life in the winner’s circle wasn’t always so spectacular for the 25-year old. The wins were piling up, but the reviews were mixed, especially those caught by the Telefutura Solo Boxeo cameras, a circuit on which he received a fair amount of shine on the way up.
By his own admission, Rios’ heart wasn’t always into the job he was asked to perform. Half-assing it in training, not taking the sport or even life seriously and going in and out of jail for a series of petty crimes, Rios was on the verge of becoming the poster child for wasted talent.
All of that changed about two years ago, when he met the woman he would marry and have a child with. It was at that point when boxing went from a job to a career.
The sport – in particular, the lightweight division - has been much better off as a result.
A 2008 majority draw to Manuel Perez remains the lone blemish on his resume, as he enters this weekend’s showdown riding a streak of eight straight fights that have ended inside the distance.
Among the lot was a breakthrough performance last summer, oddly enough also the one fight in which he didn’t officially score a knockout. But Rios’ two-fisted assault of Anthony Peterson was enough to make the former amateur standout lose his composure and eventually low blow his way to disqualification in a battle of then-unbeaten lightweights.
The night was designed as a showcase for Peterson, whose back story along with older brother Lamont has long fascinated the boxing public and even served as a the pre-fight feature segment on the HBO telecast.
Seven rounds later, a new star was born as Rios became the first to drop and defeat the D.C. product, who has yet to return to the ring.
Rios resurfaced two months later, filling in on short notice on the televised undercard portion of a pay-per-view headlined by stablemate Antonio Margarito, who would catch a devastating – and possibly career-ending – beating at the hands of Manny Pacquiao. Things went much better for Rios, who opened the telecast with a fifth round knockout of Omri Lowther in his final fight before securing a title shot.
That’s when the real fun began.
Rios was brough to Showtime by Bob Arum, who at the time was disappointed with the regard in which he believed cable giant HBO held his fighters, in particular their refusing to air Miguel Cotto’s fight against Ricardo Mayorga. The incident led the promoter to bring a portion of his stable across the street.
The first leg of the bond formed between Arum and Showtime came in Rios’ title winning effort over Acosta, though the ending proved to be a huge sign of relief considering the means in which he acquired the title.
For the first five rounds or so, Rios was made to look like a plodding slugger against the mobile Acosta, who used his boxing skills to the fullest advantage in piling up a huge lead.
Rios was never worried.
“I’m pretty much a late starter,” Rios readily admits. “I was putting on the pressure from the start and we knew the first couple of rounds were going to be pretty hard because of the way he is. We knew that the momentum would shift as the rounds went on and I would get stronger. He was doing his job but I was just putting the pressure on more and following what my corner was telling me to do and I knew I would come out victorious.”
Such is exactly how the night turned out, with Rios scoring three knockdowns before forcing a stoppage midway through the 10th round. Acosta admitted after the fight that he never recovered from the first knockdown, which came four rounds prior, an indication of the devastating power that Rios carries.
While arguably the biggest win of his career to date, the night didn’t come without its share of disappointment. Rios suffered an injured right mitt that forced him out of the gym for a couple of months before being able to resume his career.
The hope was to land a long awaited shot at fellow titlist Humberto Soto, but the Mexican’s handlers have remained hell bent on steering their charge away from the young bruiser.
Brought into the picture instead is Antillon (28-2, 20KO), who pushed Soto to the brink before falling just short on the scorecards in their own Fight of the Year candidate late last year.
There was a time when Antillon was the flavor of the month, regarded as the possible future of the lightweight division. Then came his disastrous turn against Acosta two years ago, where he built up an early lead before falling apart and getting blitzed in the ninth round of their vacant title fight.
The Californian became something of an afterthought following that evening, but won back respect in a big way after his strong showing against Soto.
Plans were in place for a rematch this past May, to have served as the chief support for Manny Pacquiao’s virtual shutout of Shane Mosley. The fight was scratched, however, after Soto pulled out, leaving Antillon without a dance partner.
At least until Rios was ready to jump in and settle an old score.
“We were supposed to fight a year ago and unfortunately I got cut in sparring. He was running around saying I didn’t want to fight him and that I was chicken. He was just running his mouth and after awhile he just started to get to me.”
But even the satisfaction of signing on the dotted line wasn’t enough to whet the fighters’ appetites – at least from Rios’ point of view.
“When this fight started he was (running his mouth) again and talking all kinds of smack. At the press conference he mentioned my wife. Fighters shouldn’t bring families into it.
“I needed something in the gym because lately it’s gotten a little boring. I have to have that little excitement, someone talking smack about me, someone doing this or that to me.”
Perhaps a moot point, but his opponent doesn’t quite share the same recollection or level of hatred.
“It’s kind of mind boggling the way he’s taken it,” Antillon claims when asked if this fight is personal for him as well. “I did mention his wife but never in a way that should upset him. He can play victim to whatever he wants and say I said this or I said that. It doesn’t matter to me.”
What does matter is that after 12 rounds or less, there is a demand for both fighters to once again grace a television scene. That part shouldn’t be an issue at all, not as long as it’s business as usual for both fighters.
“I know he (Antillon) has said the third time is a charm for a world title but in this manner it will not be a charm,” Rios predicts. “He’s a helluva fighter and a tough challenger so we’re ready for the best.
“I’m just really happy to be fighting back in California again. I haven’t fought here since 2005. I just can’t wait to give the hometown fans what they came for and have paid to see - just two warriors going out. That’s exactly what they are going to get: two guys beating the crap out of each other.”
Entertainment in its simplest form.