by Cliff Rold
Sometimes, a fight is worth looking forward to in part because of how much is already known about the men in the ring.
Sometimes, a fight is worth looking forward to in part because of how much is about to be found out.
This weekend, Showtime’s main event provides the latter. There have been hints in recent form about how good the WBA’s 135 lb. beltholder might be, indication about how close his challenger might be to championship form, but both men remain largely unknown.
It’s unlikely to still be the case come the early hours of Sunday morning.
Let’s go to the report card.
Titles: WBA Lightweight (2010-Present, 1st Attempted Defense)
Previous Titles: None
Height: 5’8 ½
Weight: 134.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 134 lbs.
Hails from: Caracas, Venezuela
Record: 28-3-2, 22 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #1 at Lightweight
Record in Major Title Fights: 1-0, 1 KO (2-0, 2 KO including interim title fights)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 1 (Paulus Moses)
Title: 1st Title Shot
Weight: 134.5 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 136.25 lbs.
Hails from: Oxnard, California
Record: 26-0-1, 19 KO
BoxingScene Rank: #6 at Bantamweight
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Defeated: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Acosta B+; Rios B
Pre-Fight: Power – Acosta B+; Rios B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Acosta B+; Rios B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Acosta B+; Rios A
Both Acosta and Rios leapt into the boxing consciousness with singular, stand out performances in recent vintage.
For Acosta, it was a then-surprising knockout of undefeated Urbano Antillo in the summer of 2009. He has since followed that win up with a knockout of undefeated Paulus Moses for the alphabet belt he holds. Acosta has won 19 in a row since a three fight losing streak between 2002 and 03.
For Rios, it was a steady ass whipping that lead to a seventh-round disqualification out of previously unbeaten and respected Anthony Peterson. Eight consecutive foes have failed to hear the final bell versus Rios.
For one of these men, barring a draw, a streak is coming to an end. Which will it be? Does Acosta make it 20 straight and take his third “0” in four outings? Or does Rios pick up win number 27 and send Acosta to the deck for nine in a row?
Acosta appears to hold some critical advantages in overall speed and defense though how he’ll use the speed difference could negate some of the edge. The southpaw Acosta fights in a loose style, lulling opponents in with a pawing jab only to crank up leveraged left uppercuts and whipping body shots. That matters because Acosta has more knockout power than fighters with his style usually carry.
That his buttery defense ties foes in mental knots doesn’t hurt. Against Antillon, he frustrated the pressure fighter with feints, blocking shoulders, and head movement, consistently making him miss or making him think he had room to step in on Acosta only to eat stinging leather.
However, Acosta also showed there and in previous fights that his relaxed form can sometimes leave him open for right hands. He rides the shot well but being open for them at all could play right into the heavy handed Rios’s hands. Even if he mitigates the right, the combination skills of Rios will mean another hard shot is coming behind it.
It is the skill in Rios’s combination punching that will be critical on Saturday. Rios is stronger than Moses, and more fluid and accurate than the rugged but unpolished Antillon, presenting Acosta with a different challenge than he has seen recently. Rios’s relentlessness and heavy hands can offset any speed advantage Acosta has in one tricky shot. By keeping the slicker man off balance, Rios can prevent Acosta from putting what he needs into the uppercut or overhand left. Even if Acosta does let loose, Rios blocks fairly well with his gloves.
He gets hit, sometimes callously, but Rios has the ring education to be smarter and is when he needs to be.
In terms of intangibles, both men have shown gameness in stepping up when asked so far. If an edge is to be assessed it has to go to Rios who, unlike Acosta, has never been stopped. The Venezuelan titlist was stopped in consecutive bouts to start the aforementioned losing streak. Even if those defeats were fairly long ago (almost eight years for the second of them), it’s still enough to nod towards Rios. While Acosta may hold a belt, the quality of foes each man has faced is fairly even across the board, only marginally favoring Acosta in recent vintage.
In other words, this is a pick ‘em affair going in.
So who will be the pick to come out with the duke?
Acosta has a lot to like about him and the two victories over Antillon and Moses are a solid reason to see him, heading into this fight, as the legitimate top challenger to the lineal Lightweight champion, Juan Manuel Marquez.
There’s something about Rios though, a star quality, a tenacity, and an overall skill set, that indicate he may burn out quickly but will burn brightly first. Rios may be rocked early by way of careless aggression. If he does, he will weather the storm and, as the rounds pass, Rios’s sharp shots, fired in high volume, will wear Acosta down and see him taking real punishment along the ropes.
The pick here is Rios arriving in the upper echelon at 135 with a stoppage sometime around the ninth or tenth.
Report Card Picks 2011: 1-1
Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]