By Jake Donovan
Brandon Rios made the first defense of his lightweight belt with a third round knockout of Urbano Antillon on Saturday evening at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.
The official time was 2:49 of the third round.
The fight promised to be a war for however long it lasted. Even Rios was surprised by how early it ended, but nobody was shocked over how the bout came to a close.
Both fighters threw hard shots at a frantic pace from the opening bell, making for a thrilling opening round on a fight that never came close to disappointing. Power punches were flying as momentum swung back and forth, not particularly uncommon for Rios in the early going as he is by his own admission a traditionally late starter.
Antillon put that theory to the test, scoring with a massive right hand that shook Rios late in the second round.
Just when it appeared that the advertised Fight of the Year would live up to its pre-fight buildup, Rios decided to take over – and eventually end matters.
A knockdown early in the third round permanently changed the course of the bout. Antillon rose to his feet and bravely battled back, but simply lacked the firepower to hold off the determined Rios, who clearly had stoppage on his mind.
That moment would come late in the round, when Rios landed a bomb of a straight right hand. Antillon crashed face first to the canvas, but once again attempted to rise to his feet to continue. Referee David Mendoza had other ideas, waving off the bout once he recognized that the fighter was no longer capable of defending himself.
Rios throws his hat into the ring as the future of the lightweight division, at least for as long as he can continue to make weight. With Juan Manuel Marquez moving up first for a tune-up bout and then a third fight with Manny Pacquiao later in the year, a huge void is left at the top of the division.
Performances like this suggest that Rios could very well be that man. The 25-year old improves to 28-0-1 (21KO) with the win, racking up his second impressive knockout of 2011. The California-based rising star made his presence when he rallied back to knock out Miguel Acosta earlier in the year.
Antillion resurrected his career with a tough-as-nails performance in narrowly losing to Humberto Soto late last year. A rematch was on tap between the two before Soto pulled out the fight – and his agreement with Top Rank and Zanfer Promotions – leaving Antillion without a dance partner.
Rios immediately jumped in and agreed to the fight, claiming there was history between the two. Antillon never quite saw it that way, but could’ve used similar motivation to fuel his own performance. The Californian dips to 28-3 (20KO), dropping his second straight and having now lost three of his last five, dating back to a shocking knockout loss to Acosta two years ago.
Speaking of shocking, welterweight spoiler Carlos Molina scored a huge upset with a surprisingly wide unanimous decision over former titlist Kermit Cintron.
Scores were 98-92 across the board for their catchweight bout.
Cintron returned to the ring for the first time in 14 months, and struggled to get a rhythm going at any point in the fight. Even his best moments – a left hook in the second round and a long right hand late in the fight – were immediately countered by Molina, who for a change was able to enjoy a full training camp after a career largely spent accepting late notice fights.
The point of no return for Cintron came in the fifth round, when Molina dominated the action with pure power punching. The Chicago-based Mexican never looked back, applying constant pressure throughout the rest of the night.
Molina continues his impressive run as he improves to 19-4-2 (6KO). The divisional gatekeeper is now unbeaten in his last 11 fights dating back to 2007 (10-0-1 over that stretch), including an impressive 10-round draw with junior middleweight contender Erislandy Lara.
Cintron’s career appears to have hit a wall. The Puerto Rican has now lost two straight as he falls to 32-4-1 (28KO). The bout marked his first ring appearance since his bizarre ending against Paul Williams last May, also in this very arena.
The former titlist was signed by Top Rank (co-promoter) in the hopes of grooming him for a future shot at Manny Pacquiao. That one remains a pipe dream, as Cintron’s career continues to spiral downward.
Once upon a time, Cintron’s handlers could claim that their fighter has only lost to the very best. Losses to Antonio Margarito and last year’s bizarre battle with Paul Williams were easily forgiven considering where those fighters stood at the time of the fight.
The loss on Saturday night now causes the 31-year old Cintron and his handlers to reexamine his career. His last notable win came in an upset over Alfredo Angulo in May 2009, posting only a tune-up victory in Puerto Rico later that year.
After that came the debacle with Paul Williams, a night that ended with Cintron somehow flying head first through the ropes and on to the ring apron, resulting in a strangely scored unanimous decision loss in a bout that barely stretched into the fourth round.
The Puerto Rican entered a co-promotional deal with Top Rank (already serving under the DiBella Entertainment baner), with the idea of posting a win streak and eventually scoring a major fight with pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao.
While not unfathomable especially when considering some of Pacquiao’s recent opposition, it’s clear that any major fight Cintron lands in the near future will come strictly in an opponent capacity.
Meanwhile, Molina’s stock skyrockets. The catchweight and recent streak allows the Mexican to entertain opportunities at welterweight and junior middleweight. His resume is a clear indication that he’s willing to fight anyone at any time and has certainly earned the right to fight for big money.
The show was aired live on Showtime and presented by Top Rank, Inc.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to JakeNDaBox@gmail.com