Ronny Rios has breathed new life to a career that was close to becoming that of a gatekeeper. He is now a legit contender in a compelling division at 122 pounds.

Rios hopes to land a world title fight this year, but must first get by Oscar Negrete Saturday night at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, California. The 10-round bout will precede the two world title fights between Joseph ‘JoJo’ Diaz and Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov, along with WBO junior middleweight titleholder Patrick Teixeira and Brian Castano.

All three fights will stream live on DAZN (8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT).

Rios (32-3, 16 knockouts), who resides in Santa Ana, California, has not fought since November 2019, when he notched a knockout win in round 4 over Colombia’s Hugo Berrio. In his previous bout in July of that year, Rios knocked out Diego De La Hoya, who entered the fight unbeaten, in round 6.

The 31-year-old is nowhere near the same fighter from almost three years, when he lost by knockout to Azat Hovhannisyan, who is also fighting on Saturday’s card. Rather than go back out and fight, Rios had to reinvent the wheel, so to speak, analyzing hours of tape to see what he was doing well.

“I just had to capitalize on my strengths,” Rios told BoxingScene in an interview earlier this week. “I had to go and better myself. I spent hours looking at what I was doing wrong. I had to correct those mistake, but then I also had to see what my strengths were and fight to them. I began sitting down on my punches as well.

“For this camp, I had high-quality sparring. Above what I’ve done in past camps. My nutrition was on point as well. It’s one of the best camps I’ve had. I know everyone says that, but I felt it. With all the experience in previous fights, it benefits me more, especially in preparation for each fight.”

Rios, who is the WBA Gold titleholder, thought he had a fight lined up with WBA ‘Regular’ titleholder and unbeaten Brandon Figueroa last year. So did Golden Boy, Rios’ promoter, who thought the WBA would enforce the rules of having a purse bid and Figueroa had already fulfilled a voluntary defense.

Instead, the WBA allowed Figueroa to make another voluntary title defense of the WBA ‘Regular’ title against Damien Vazquez, who Figueroa knocked out in his last bout on September 26.

Rios hopes a fight against any of the other world titleholders at 122 pounds can be made, but is not holding his breath with regards to Figueroa. In the meantime, Rios faces Negrete, who fought three times against current WBA ‘Regular’ junior bantamweight titleholder Joshua Franco.

In his last bout on February 6 of last year, Negrete (19-2-2, 7 KOs) defeated bantamweight Alberto Melian by unanimous decision.

“It’s frustrating,” said Rios, who also challenged then-WBC junior featherweight titleholder Rey Vargas and lost by decision in August 2017. “I was promised to be next for Figueroa. He took a voluntary title defense, then he was allowed to make another one after that. I just have to move forward. He wasn’t man enough to fight me. I tip my hat to Oscar Negrete for accepting the fight.

“I honestly hope to fight IBF/ WBA unified titleholder Murodjon Akhmadaliev. That’s the fight I want the most.”

Rios stops short of calling himself a perfectionist, but acknowledges he learns something new during each training camp.

Over the last couple of years, he has his younger brother and welterweight prospect Alexis Rocha train alongside him. Rios acknowledges they both push and motivate each other when they share a training camp.

With the amount of time he puts in during training camps and studying film of each fight, Rios believes the best is still yet to come, and a win over Negrete will lead to more significant fights down the line.

“I’m not content. I enjoy great sparring sessions and the level of opposition who I spar. I do well, but I still see mistakes. I’m always trying to correct them. For this fight, my focus is on me, not Negrete.

“I’m just a competitor. I want to be the best I can be. I want to compete and to be at my best to win. I just want to continue providing for my family.”

Francisco A. Salazar has written for BoxingScene since September of 2012 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (Calif.) Star newspaper. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing.