By Francisco Salazar
Ronny Rios and Efrain Esquivias know each other very well. The two Southern California pugilists have sparred one another countless times at gyms across Southern California over the years.
They will find themselves inside a ring once again Friday night at the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, Calif.
Only this time, wins and losses will count on their record with a potential big money or world title fight down the line for the victor.
The two featherweights will square off in a 10 round bout, topping a 'Boxeo Estelar' card that will air live on Estrella TV and RingTVLive.com, beginning at 10 p.m. ET/ 7 p.m. PT.
It is Rios who is riding the momentum thus far between the two fighters. The 26-year-old from Santa Ana has won his last two fights since suffering his only loss as a pro at the hands of Robinson Castellanos over a year and a half ago.
Rios (25-1, 10 KOs) is coming off an impressive 10 round unanimous decision over Jayson Velez on Nov. 19 in the Las Vegas, Nev. Rios is now ranked amongst the top 10 in two of boxing's major sanctioning bodies.
Esquivias (17-4-1, 10 KOs) has only one victory in his last six fights, albeit that win was against former world titleholder Rafael Marquez. The fighters from nearby Gardena was a former contender, but has lost his last two bouts.
Even with the familiarity between the two, Rios is not looking past Esquivias.
"I'm not looking at who I'm fighting," Rios told Boxingscene in a recent interview. "I'm looking at what I have to do to take that next step. There's a lot of fighters that can't get up for fights like this and it causes them to lose."
"I'm focused on Efrain. We know him very well. We sparred a lot over the years and we also fought in the amateurs. I'm not really focusing on what happened in the past. His strengths are his conditioning and he puts on a lot of pressure. From what I've seen, he doesn't stop coming."
Rios could not be competing at a more-opportune time in the featherweight division. The weight class is loaded with numerous talented fighters, but a number of younger fighters are promoted by Golden Boy Promotions.
Rios, Joseph Diaz, Manuel 'Tino' Avila, Julian Ramirez and Abraham Lopez fight under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. Matchmaker Robert Diaz has told RingTV on previous occasions the plan is have them eventually face off.
Ramirez and Lopez fight Saturday night down Interstate 110 at the Stubhub Center in Carson, a fight that matches two unbeaten featherweights.
A win over Esquivias could pit Rios against the winner of that fight or against Diaz or Avila.
"The featherweight division is full of a lot of talent," said Rios, who is managed by Frank Espinoza. "I can't really think of any other fighter right now besides who I have in front of me. So after that, maybe we can sit down and talk. I've never said no to any opponent."
Rios' speed and athleticism may not stand out, but he knows how to fight. He has steadily improved, not just from absorbing and learning in the gym, but from sparring.
Rios has the had the fortune of sparring against some of the top fighters in the world, especially those who eventually became world champions. The level of sparring Rios has received over the years against these fighters is an education in itself.
"I learned a lot of things from Mikey Garcia. I learned a lot from (Daniel) Ponce De Leon. I actually sparred with (Orlando) Salido a while back. You just get little tricks. You get a lot of veteran moves."
The Rios-Esquivias fight is anticipated to be a solid fight, despite Esquivias' record over the last couple of fights.
It may not be the anticipated war that is Francisco Vargas-Orlando Salido, which will occur the following event. But styles make fights and Rios-Esquivias is a solid fight based on their in-ring abilities.
Esquivias is an opponent Rios believes will bring the best out of him.
"It will be action-packed fight. He comes forward. I like to come forward. I can't really throw him off his game too much so you got to mix and move."
"If we have to brawl, we can brawl."
Francisco A. Salazar has written for RingTV since October of 2013 and has covered boxing in Southern California and abroad since 2000. Francisco also covers boxing for the Ventura County (CA) Star newspaper, RingTV, and Knockout Nation. He can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter at FSalazarBoxing