Mario Barrios blames no one but himself, but he is sure he knows why he faded during the second half of his controversial victory against Batyr Akhmedov.
Barrios cut weight too late for that 12-round, 140-pound title fight in September 2019, which left the unbeaten Barrios fatigued when he most needed energy. Akhmedov came back and battered Barrios at times in the later rounds, yet Barrios scored his second knockdown of their fight during the 12th round, won a unanimous decision and captured the then-vacant WBA world super lightweight title on the Errol Spence Jr.-Shawn Porter undercard at Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“It was a war,” Barrios told BoxingScene.com. “I thought the first half of the fight I was boxing beautifully. Of course, Akhmedov was a very busy fighter, as far as punch count goes. But I believe in the first half of the fight, I made him miss a lot. I was boxing real nice and I was able to put him down once. Then, towards the end of the fight, due to my own preparations for that fight, I gassed out. I never made any type of excuses for it, but that’s what happened – I gassed out.”
The 25-year-old Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) will fight for the first time Saturday night since he beat Uzbekistan’s Akhmedov (8-1, 7 KOs). He’ll make an optional defense of his title against Houston’s Ryan Karl (18-2, 12 KOs) on the Gervonta Davis-Leo Santa Cruz undercard at Alamodome in San Antonio, Barrios’ hometown (Showtime Pay-Per-View; $74.99).
Barrios believes he did enough to defeat Akhmedov, although he is willing to fight Akhmedov again if he succeeds against Karl.
“[Talk] of a rematch has been brought up several times,” Barrios said, “and I have said it every time – I would gladly give Akhmedov a rematch. For sure, he earned it. He’s a warrior, like me. I tip my hat to him and I would give him a rematch.”
Judge Jeremy Hayes scored seven of the 12 rounds for Barrios and one round even (116-111). Judge Tim Cheatham credited Barrios for winning seven rounds as well (115-111). Judge Zachary Young scored six rounds apiece for Barrios and Akhmedov, but Barrios won on his card because he dropped Akhmedov twice (114-112).
Though the judges favored Barrios, CompuBox credited Akhmedov for landing 103 more punches overall than Barrios (238-of-924 to 135-of-772). According to CompuBox, Akhmedov connected with more power punches (181-of-652 to 113-of-413) and jabs (57-of-272 to 22-of-359).
“You know, he started to come on heavy, but I did what champions do,” Barrios said, “I held my own and I stayed in the fight. Where I thought I won the fight was, I mean, that last knockdown. Because going into the 12th round, I had it dead even in my head. So, I mean, my corner, they all told me going into that 12th round I had to do something huge. And miraculously, I still don’t know how it happened, exactly, but it just kind of happened. I was able to put him down with a straight right hand.
“It seemed to be a godsend, you know, a tremendous blessing. From that point, I knew the fight was mine, regardless of how beat up I was and how many punches he landed. I knew me winning the first half of the fight and the two knockdowns had secured the win for me. But it was a great learning experience. I don’t view that fight in any way as a bad fight for myself. Most champions, they have hard fights like that. [Floyd] Mayweather had [Jose Luis] Castillo, and every great fighter has had close fights like that.”
A year after that unconvincing victory, Barrios has been smarter about preparing for his initial title defense versus Karl.
“Honestly, I didn’t lose the weight properly for that fight,” Barrios said. “I was drained in the second half of the fight, obviously. When I needed my legs and my explosiveness the most, they weren’t there. But that was totally on me. I never made any type of excuses when asked about it, and I still don’t. I learned from it, obviously. It’s not something I wanna go through again. I’m excited to go out there [Saturday night] to show everybody the changes I made and to show everybody the fighter that I still am.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.