By Lyle Fitzsimmons
When he’s in California, Mario Barrios can be a pretty typical 23-year-old.
He spends time outdoors along the Bay Area coast. He binges on Netflix. He’s breaks out the PS4.
But those are just diversions on a what he expects will be a career-enhancing business trip.
The native Texan will be nearly 1,400 miles from home on Saturday night, when he’ll visit the venue formerly known as the StubHub Center – it’s now Dignity Health Sports Park – and play a co-starring role in the latest three-bout edition of Showtime Championship Boxing set to air at 10 p.m. ET.
Gervonta Davis will meet late replacement Hugo Ruiz in a WBA title match main event at 130 pounds.
Barrios will risk his No. 1 WBA ranking at 140 in a scheduled 10-rounder against Richard Zamora, a 25-year-old Mexican who’s won five straight since a first-round TKO loss nearly two years ago.
A win keeps the unbeaten San Antonio product – a client of Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions organization – in the running for an imminent championship shot of his own, with whatever WBA champ emerges from the latest World Boxing Super Series, or any other claimant who becomes available.
That WBA strap will be up for grabs when Kiryl Relikh faces Regis Prograis in a WBSS semifinal set for “early” this year, and the same goes for the IBF belt that’ll wind up with either Ivan Baranchyk or Josh Taylor after their semifinal duel. Outside the tournament, Maurice Hooker is the WBO champion, Jose Ramirez holds the WBC title and Mohamed Mimoune wears the IBO crown.
Challengers Prograis and Taylor are ranked first and second, respectively, by Ring Magazine, followed by Ramirez, Relikh, Hooker and Baranchyk. Mimoune is unranked by Ring, but listed fourth by Boxrec.com.
Those seven fighters are a combined 148-4-3.
But Barrios’ confidence – even several spots below at No. 37 (according to Boxrec) – remains undented.
“I feel I’m ready for any of the champions in this weight class right now. Whether it’s Ramirez, whether it’s Relikh, Hooker. Any one of them. Whichever one we can get first we’re definitely going to go for it,” he said. “As of right now, it’s looking like the WBA will be the first one because that’s the one I’m ranked number one in. But there’s nobody that I don’t want. I want all the smoke.
“I want all the best fights in the sport and in the division that I’m in.”
Boxing Scene sat down with Barrios ahead of Saturday’s TV appearance and discussed how he approaches the final week’s countdown, how he handles the pressure of being the favorite, and what changes he’s made since leaping up from 130 pounds and teaming up with Virgil Hunter.
Boxing Scene: Walk me through what this week is like for you.
Mario Barrios: This last week, for most boxers, becomes very stressful. This is a week where everything starts getting to you. The cut, this is when you start feeling it. You start feeling the last couple weeks of training. Personally, to me it’s like the slowest week ever. I’m just looking forward to Saturday. I’m just focused. Training winds down. It just kinda feels like it just drags along up until weigh in. Then of course we eat and most boxers, we’re in a good mood again. I’m just focused. I know all the hard work is already put in. There’s nothing more that we can do to get better. All the rounds are put in and everything, now it’s just to be patient and to go in there Saturday and put in work.
Boxing Scene: Are you constantly thinking of the fight, or are you occupying yourself elsewhere?
Barrios: Fortunately, I’m out here in the Bay Area. There’s plenty of places for me just to go and clear my mind. There’s a lot of parks, a couple shorelines that I enjoy going to. Just being outdoors, just getting my mind off of things. I usually have my headphones in, just listening to music when I’m by myself. Whatever it is, I like to be outdoors. It is what really takes my mind off of everything.
Boxing Scene: Some guys think of nothing but the guy they’re going to fight and what it’s going to feel like to get hit, etc., and then others try to get as far away from it as possible until Friday night or Saturday. Where are you on that line?
Barrios: When I’m not in the gym, I like to be able to take my mind off things. I’m not one of those fighters that has to be constantly thinking of my opponent, my fight. When I’m in the gym, that’s my whole focus. For the time I’m in the gym I’m working. I’m imagining the scenarios of the guy I’m fighting. I’m imagining the guy in front of me when I’m shadowboxing and I’m on the bag, doing mitts and everything. So when I’m not in the gym I like to take my mind off things. Whenever I come out here to the Bay Area, I usually bring my PS4. I’m usually on Netflix or playing some type of game.
Boxing Scene: That sounds like a 23-year-old.
Barrios: (Laughing) Yeah, I guess it does.
Boxing Scene: You have the undefeated record, you have the ranking, you have the TV fight. If things go well, big things are probably not far away. Is that something you feel a lot of pressure about? Where’s the line between ‘this is big and important,’ and ‘this is what I wanted all along’?
Barrios: One thing I’ve really had to learn in this sport is being patient, and that’s exactly where we’re at right now. There’s no pressure with this fight, We’re going to go in there and take care of business. We’re going to go in there and execute our game plan as best as we can. I never have any doubt when I step in the ring because I know the amount of work I’ve put in during camp. We know there’s definitely big things on the horizon, but we’re not looking past Saturday night whatsoever. We know this guy. He’s coming here with nothing to lose. He’s looking for a huge upset. My focus right now is on him. But if everything goes as planned, we’re looking at a world title shot very soon. With that, we’re just being patient, because we know everything’s wrapped up in that one tournament and then other people have got contracts and others and such.
Boxing Scene: You’re where you want to be, but do you walk in thinking ‘I’ve got not a lot to gain here, but a whole lot to lose’?
Barrios: Between me and my opponent, I have more to lose with this fight. I understand that, which is why I prepare to be the best fighter I can be come Saturday night. I’m more than ready. I’m going in there Saturday with no doubt in myself. But yeah, between the two of us I’m definitely the one that has the most to lose. Zamora, I know he’s going to come with everything and he’s going to try to pull the upset, but we’re not going to let him.
Boxing Scene: Talk about the fighter you’ve become at 140. You’re knocking guys out and people are hearing about you and seeing you on TV. What is the main difference now, other than weight?
Barrios: I’m more mature and I’ve grown as a fighter with Virgil Hunter. We’ve had a tremendous camp together and since I’ve started come out here and working with Virgil he’s really helped me grow as a fighter. Learning more. Not how to use my height, but how to use my length. That’s something that took a while to learn. It’s not about fighting tall, it’s about fighting long when you have the stature that I do, and Virgil has really helped me grow as a fighter overall.
Boxing Scene: How does a guy your size even weigh 140 pounds, let alone be able to fight and do anything at 140 pounds?
Barrios: Genetics. When I turned pro, we never forced my body to make a weight it couldn’t, and whenever I started having trouble then that’s when we would make the decision to go up. As of right now, I’m making 140 very comfortably and naturally. The weight cut, it’s not bad whatsoever. We’re going to try and lay here as long as possible until I’m unable to make it and then we’ll decide what’s the next step for myself.
Boxing Scene: So you’re not one of those guys who’s going to torture yourself to stay at a certain weight? When you feel like you can’t do it and function anymore, you’re going to go up?
Barrios: Exactly. At the end of the day, I’m the one that’s in the ring and I’m the one that’s taking the punches, so I want to be as strong as possible.
Boxing Scene: How heavy do you get between fights? Where are you weight-wise when you’re walking into a training camp?
Barrios: I walk around about 154. That’s after a fight when I’ve taken two weeks off and I’ve been home eating breakfast tacos and everything. That’s about the heaviest I get. Whenever I go into camp I try to be around 10 pounds out.
Boxing Scene: So you could stay at 140 for a while unless you have another growth spurt?
Barrios: For sure. Right now our focus is on the 140-pound division. Because right now we’re making the weight good and I feel strong here. Our eyes are set to be at 140 for a while.
Boxing Scene: Talk about Saturday night. When we watch the fight Saturday night how are we going to be able to tell that it’s Mario’s night and it’s going the way he wants it to?
Barrios: You can expect me to be controlling the whole pace of the fight. You can expect an action-packed fight. I like to think I have the style of a boxer-puncher. I’m not one that’s going to be just moving around the ring the whole time. I like to mix it up. I’m definitely going to be in control of the whole fight come Saturday night.
Boxing Scene: You think you’ll be able to stop this guy?
Barrios: Based on what I know about me, I feel I have the potential to stop anybody in this division. I know I have the speed, I have the power. If the knockout comes or if I end up hurting him in the fight, I’m going to take full advantage of it and I’m going to try getting him out of there.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s legit title-fight schedule:
WBA super featherweight title – Carson, California
Gervonta Davis (champion/No. 4 IWBR) vs. Hugo Ruiz (No. 9 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Davis (20-0, 19 KO): First title defense; Eleven straight wins by KO/TKO (43 total rounds)
Ruiz (39-4, 33 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2); First fight in 130-pound weight class, never heavier than 125
Fitzbitz says: There’s always a chance for drama when it comes to a late replacement, and Davis may be down after missing a Mares date, but there’s little reason to believe in miracles here. Davis in 6 (99/1)
WBC super bantamweight title – Indio, California
Rey Vargas (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Franklin Manzanilla (No. 3 WBC/No. 20 IWBR)
Vargas (32-0, 22 KO): Fourth title defense; Five of eight scheduled 12-rounders have gone the distance
Manzanilla (18-4, 17 KO): First title fight; First time fighting north of Mexico
Fitzbitz says: Manzanilla is ranked third by the WBC, yet his last 10 fights include a 1-46-2 foe and an 0-14-0 foe, not to mention a pair of losses, too. So, no, I wouldn’t cringe for Vargas. Vargas in 8 (99/1)
WBC super lightweight title – Fresno, California
Jose Ramirez (champion/No. 11 IWBR) vs. Jose Zepeda (No. 13 WBC/No. 26 IWBR)
Ramirez (23-0, 16 KO): Second title defense; Never scored a KO/TKO beyond the sixth round
Zepeda (30-1, 25 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Five KO/TKO wins in five fights within weight-class limit
Fitzbitz says: The champion is hardly unconquerable and the challenger has shown pop against lesser foes, but it’s not quite enough on paper to suggest a dethroning. Ramirez by decision (70/30)
This week’s garbage title-fight schedule:
WBA world super featherweight title – Indio, California
Alberto Machado (“world” champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Andrew Cancio (No. 8 WBA/No. 29 IWBR)
Why it’s garbage: We’ve been round and round on this one in particular. Many people believe Machado is the legit claimant at 130, regardless of what the WBA says. Regardless, to paraphrase an old football saying regarding starting quarterbacks, “when you’ve got two champions you’ve got no champions.”
Last week's picks: 2-1 (WIN: Commey, Valdez; LOSS: Alvarez)
2018 picks record: 8-2 (80.0 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,020-345 (74.7 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.