Bad Left Hook Fight Preview: Miguel Acosta v. Brandon Rios

Miguel Acosta and Brandon Rios go to battle tonight on Showtime. (Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime)

Showtime is in action with their first major card of 2011 tonight, as they have a split-site doubleheader in store for boxing fans, with a terrific main event in the lightweight division. We'll have live coverage tonight, starting at 10pm EST.

Main Event: Controversy v. Mystery

That main event, from the Palms in Las Vegas, will pit Miguel Acosta and Brandon Rios in what could be a great fight. Rios (26-0-1, 19 KO) made a ton of new fans when he got his first major exposure last year on HBO, relentlessly pressuring Anthony Peterson on September 11. His ability to absorb punishment and keep moving forward was remarkable, and frustrated the more technically proficient Peterson into the first loss of his pro career, a well-deserved seventh round disqualification after about 473 low blows.

It looked like a star-making performance, and in some ways it was. The finish was slightly anti-climactic, but Rios made his point. You need to really hurt him to keep him off of you, and Peterson just didn't have enough firepower. Guys who fight like Rios always become fan favorites. He is beyond a pressure fighter, really. He's a tank. Add in the fact that he has plenty of power in his own shots, and you have the recipe for a cult hero in boxing, like Arturo Gatti, Micky Ward, or Michael Katsidis.

But then November rolled around. Rios took a short-notice fight on the Pacquiao-Margarito undercard against Omri Lowther. He was far from in his best shape, but he still managed to pull past Lowther inside of five rounds. Sadly, Rios made a lot more headlines for his pre-fight antics than he did his actual fight, or for that matter, for every fight in his career combined. Those headlines came from the controversial video of the Margarito camp mocking Freddie Roach's Parkinson syndrome, and Rios was the chief offender. Trainer Robert Garcia and Margarito were certainly not without fault, but Margarito argued that he was just portraying Roach as scared, and the argument was there. With Rios, who contorted his facial expressions to insult Roach's illness, there was no such argument, only apologies that were hard to buy. Whether Rios simply made a stupid, youthful mistake, or he was being truly malicious and is actually a jerk, doesn't even matter now. Rios is painted as a "bad boy of boxing," likely forever. Truth be told, there are worse things to be as far as his bank account is concerned, but he also gave himself a serious hit in terms of popularity. Rios really could have become a serious fan favorite with his style and his charismatic personality. Instead, he went the other way with the personality.

But as much as I don't buy Rios' apology, I am willing to chalk it up to the aforementioned overzealous nature of youth. A camera pointed at him, some guys started talking trash, he joined in, and he went too far. We've all said and done stupid things we regret. I don't expect my boxers to be perfect, model citizens, and at the end of the day, I just want to see the guy fight and move on from that.

Tonight, he'll have to fight. Miguel Acosta (28-3-2, 22 KO) is no joke, and is the best fighter Rios will have faced to date. The 32-year-old Venezuelan is one of the best fighters in the world who nobody's paid much attention to. He started his career with two draws in 1999-2000, and lost three in a row in 2002-03. Since then, he's been undefeated, winning his last 19 fights, mostly in his home country.

Last year, Acosta traveled to Namibia to face reigning trinket-defender Paulus Moses, and knocked him out in six rounds. In his fight prior to that, which came a year before, he shocked then-unbeaten Urbano Antillon with a ninth round stoppage. In some ways, the Antillon-Acosta fight was reminiscent of the first fight Rocky Juarez lost, to Humberto Soto. Like Juarez, Antillon was the prospect, with big things thought of his future. Like Soto, Acosta was a relative unknown on a roll, thought to be a good next step up the ladder. Like that fight, the next step knocked the prospect back down the ladder and continued what had been to that point his own quiet ascent.

What's really troublesome from the Rios side is that Acosta has seen and dealt with his style very effectively already. Antillon and Rios are very similar fighters. Rios is a couple inches taller than Antillon, but that's the only major difference. The thought right now would probably be for most to say that Rios is tougher than Antillon, but is he? Antillon withstood 12 rounds of action and his own exhaustive pace to lose a close one in December to Humberto Soto, so it's not like that fight "exposed" Antillon as some ham-and-egger, he just lost to a better fighter. The scores were close at the time, but keep in mind they really weren't supposed to be.

However, Rios has some things in his favor here. He's younger than Acosta. And Acosta has not kept an active schedule. He beat Antillon in July 2009, then beat Moses in May 2010. Since then, he's fought just once, in a two-minute knockout at the WBA convention in November, against noted knockaround guy Armando Cordoba. Realistically, he hasn't fought since Moses, and just once in the last 18 months. That could factor in.

Style-wise, I would hate this fight for Rios if I were his trainer or manager or promoter. Acosta is a mover, but not a runner. He uses the ring wonderfully, and is a great disruptor of rhythm. Rios is a plodding, straightforward brawler who really only has one speed. It's a good speed to have if you're just going to have one, but there are no tricks with Rios, and nothing he'll do should be unexpected. Acosta showed against Antillon that he has brains, good accuracy, a strong jab, good feet, and power behind his punches.

It's a question of whether Rios is a good enough pressure fighter to slow Acosta down, because if he can't, he doesn't have much hope of winning this fight. But the inactivity gives me pretty big pause, plus the fact that I know Rios isn't going to stop. He'll get knocked out before he gives up chasing Acosta. I like Acosta, but just mildly. If Acosta were more active recently, I'd like him a lot bigger. I think Rios, like Gatti and Ward and Katsidis, will generally be overwhelmed against the better boxers he faces in his career, and on the surface this fight is just that. But the ingredients are there for Rios to win this fight. Acosta TKO-10

Co(rn)-Feature: Antonio DeMarco Invades Nebraska

The co-feature bout from the Heartland Events Center in Grand Island, Nebraska (Nebraska has islands?) isn't nearly as interesting, but could be a very fun fight. Antonio DeMarco (24-2-1, 18 KO) returns to Showtime for the first time since his loss to Edwin Valero a year ago, facing Reyes Sanchez (20-3-1, 11 KO) in another lightweight bout. Given that DeMarco is a Showtime favorite, the idea is probably somewhere for DeMarco to face the winner of the main event later in the year.

DeMarco is a tough guy. He took some big punishment from Valero before retiring after the ninth round, hanging in a lot longer than most did against Valero. Sanchez is coming off of a split decision win over fellow Mexican Daniel Estrada, who seems to always make good fights. Two of his losses came early in his career (one to Miguel Vazquez) and he lost to Ricardo Dominguez (KO-2) in '09. Aside from Estrada, Sanchez has wins over familiar names such as Ali Chebah and Ivan Valle.

Long story short, I think you have to favor DeMarco here, but don't count out Sanchez by any means. He's 25 and turned pro eight years ago. Mexican fighters who take to the pro rings early in life are often quite a bit more dangerous than they appear at first glance. DeMarco better be ready to fight. The good news for him is that he generally is, and he's faced a higher level of competition more consistently. DeMarco UD-12

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