Brandon Rios has been arguably the sport's most reliable all-action, high-profile fighter over the last five years, as he's gone from iron-chinned lightweight volume bruiser to, well, iron-chinned welterweight volume bruiser. Rios, now 29, has really never been in a truly bad fight, and combining his incredible desire to brawl with his frankly limited defensive repertoire has made for a fighter who may not be Arturo Gatti, but is as close as we've seen since Gatti's retirement in 2007.
This Saturday night on HBO, Rios (33-2-1, 24 KO) faces Tim Bradley Jr (32-1-1, 12 KO) in what is on paper a Fight of the Year contender. Bradley, 32, isn't the sort of puncher that gives opponents much pause, but he doesn't fight like anything but a shrunken version of Mike Tyson. Bradley has terrific skills and is a very good boxer, but he's always been keen to get into a firefight, for better or worse. Rios is exactly the sort of opponent who can encourage that, no matter what new trainer Teddy Atlas tries to instill in Bradley during camp. Fighters are who they are deep down, and even if Bradley could conceivably leave his "bad" habits behind, Rios is going to do his damnedest to make Bradley hunker down and trade shots.
It was September 11, 2010 when many fans got their first look at Rios, then a 24-year-old, unbeaten fighter whose only pro blemish had been a 10-round draw in 2008, and he fought the same guy (Manuel Perez) in 2009, beating him via seventh round TKO. Anthony Peterson, the brother of Lamont, was also an unbeaten prospect. Two guys looking to make their marks. Rios made his early and often.
Here, Rios lets both hands fly with the uppercuts that have become his calling card, mixing in a left hook and a right hand, and then a left hook that rocks Peterson:
Peterson had huge trouble dealing with the power and relentlessness of Rios, and responded mostly with punches to the groin. I didn't want to make GIFs of Peterson's numerous nut shots, they were real, and eventually got him disqualified in round seven. Instead of ball bag battering, here's Rios dropping Peterson in the fifth round on a beautiful shot that comes as Rios eats power punches, returning fire with a single blow that puts Peterson on the canvas:
Following a relatively easy short-notice PPV undercard win over Omri Lowther in November 2010, Rios took his talents to Showtime to start 2011, facing WBA lightweight titleholder Miguel Acosta. Acosta's skill and counter ability gave Rios trouble early, but like we'd already seen, it was near impossible to hurt Rios or even get him to back down a smidge. Once Rios had taken everything Acosta could throw at him, he dropped the titleholder in round six:
It wasn't a big shot, really, that put Acosta down -- a little left hook that hurt him, and a jab that dropped him after -- just that Rios could weather Acosta's storm, but Acosta was broken down by the harder punches of Rios, and had also expended a lot of energy trying to hurt the challenger.
After a sensational ninth round, Acosta was spent, and Rios just kept coming. Round 10 saw Rios pummel Acosta in the corner, the Venezuelan crumbling to the canvas to end the bout:
Acosta has not won a significant fight since then, going 1-4 overall. Five months after the win over Acosta, Rios made his first (and ultimately only) title defense at 135, taking on fellow brawler Urbano Antillon of Mexico. It was a highly-anticipated summer matchup at the Home Depot Center, and though it didn't last long, the action lived up to the hype.
Antillon did what he knew how to do: stand, trade, and go to war until someone fell over or the fight ended. Unfortunately for Antillon, he was the one to fall over. Seven months after a 2010 Fight of the Year contender with Humberto Soto, where Antillon lost a close and spirited decision, Rios tore through him in three rounds, and flattened him with this right hand:
Rios missed weight for a title defense on the Cotto-Margarito II undercard in December 2011, but his fight with like-minded British warrior John Murray went ahead anyway. Though sluggish in the early going, Murray's style was not exactly taxing for Rios, who didn't have to move around or use his legs much. Once he got into the swing of things, Rios' power proved too much for Murray, whose face was busted all to hell and leaking blood from the vaunted Rios uppercuts:
Here, Rios throws and mostly lands a six-punch combination. All uppercuts. Both hands firing:
After Yuriorkis Gamboa bailed on a scheduled fight with Rios and left Top Rank, leading to his own career destruction, Rios came back in April 2012 against another Cuban, Richar Abril. Despite missing weight against Murray, Rios was scheduled for another title fight at lightweight, with the vacant WBA title that had been stripped from him up for grabs, co-headlining a Top Rank-produced pay-per-view with Juan Manuel Marquez's tune-up return against Serhiy Fedchenko in a split site broadcast from Las Vegas and Mexico.
That fight is not worth giving the GIF treatment, because it's as close to bad as a Rios fight gets. There were moments, but Rios missed weight by a full two pounds for that fight and looked like a skeleton on the scales. It was quite clear that he just could not make 135 pounds anymore. The fight went on again, once more the title only on the line for the other fighter. Abril outboxed Rios pretty handily over 12 rounds, neutralizing his offense with ugly but effective work. Abril was then robbed by two of three judges, and Brandon Rios' momentum had stalled.
There was only one cure for Bam Bam's ills, and one surefire way to get him back into fans' good graces: a fight at 140 with a fellow slugger. Something that was a couldn't-miss action fight.
Enter Mike Alvarado, who faced Rios at the Home Depot Center in October 2012. That wasn't the night's main event, as Nonito Donaire faced Toshiaki Nishioka in the final fight of the evening, but Rios-Alvarado was the fight that had more people talking in the build-up. There was just no way that Rios and Alvarado could avoid a slugfest.
True to form, they came out throwing bombs right away:
It was a fight where both guys were determined to prove they were the premier badass in the weight class, even though Rios had just arrived. For a while, it seemed like the longer Alvarado might have the upper hand, as he was able to blast Rios with hard shots at range, not always finding himself trapped on the inside, as Rios found it a bit tougher to deter a bigger opponent.
But in the seventh round, Rios hurt Alvarado badly, putting the Denver native out on his feet. Referee Pat Russell took a close look, and decided that it was in Alvarado's best interests for the fight to be stopped. It was controversial at the time, but on replay looks like a pretty compassionate decision.
Five months later, the two met again, this time in Las Vegas. Rios hurt Alvarado early and sent him into dance with a weird, jumping jab:
But Alvarado adjusted, having learned from the first fight and knowing that he could dictate the terms if he could keep distance. With that in his mind, and clearly what he'd trained to do, he used right hands from range to keep himself out of the pocket, battering Rios while keeping him at bay:
This had been a story told in different ways in a few fights already, with Acosta having some success early against Rios, and Abril able to frustrate Rios throughout their fight. Alvarado, too, had his best moments when he became a boxer-puncher instead of a brawler in their first bout. And the second time around, he had sharpened up his game, while Rios looked like the exact same fighter, a caveman type trying to wade into the pocket and hammer away at close range. Alvarado didn't let him do that nearly as effectively in the rematch, and Rios suffered his first official defeat, losing the 12-round decision.
Though there were calls for an immediate rubber match between the two, Top Rank instead chose to put the two of them into separate fall bouts. Alvarado was sent out for a hometown title defense against Ruslan Provodnikov, which proved disastrous as Provodnikov beat an exhausted-looking Alvarado into submission after 10 rounds. And Rios was sent to Macau, where he would be the opponent for Manny Pacquiao's return fight, 11 months after Pacquiao was knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez.
The move to welterweight meant that Rios would again likely be sacrificing some of his punishing power, but on the other hand, Pacquiao was a small welterweight, and nobody knew for sure where Manny was going to be mentally going into the fight. Pacquiao was the big favorite for obvious reasons -- Rios had just lost, and Manny Pacquiao was Manny Pacquiao, and Rios was not Marquez -- and the fight wound up not exactly moving the needle in public interest.
The fight can be boiled down to one thing: Pacquiao, fighting cautiously but not scared, was far too talented and fast for Rios. Manny's speed and dual-handed attack, his creativity with angles, and his ability to get out before Rios could even unload, made for a one-sided decision in the Filipino's favor. Here's a sampling of the fight, just for kicks:
Following the landslide loss to an icon, Rios took an extended break from the ring himself, returning nine months later to face rugged Argentine welterweight Diego Chaves. The fight had good action at points, such as this:
Mostly, however, the fight devolved into a black comedy of fouls and play acting, mostly from Chaves, who was acquitting himself pretty well in the moments he wasn't busy blatantly holding Rios' arm and throwing punches, complaining to referee Vic Drakulich that no, no, he wasn't doing anything wrong, or humorously falling over to try and milk sympathy:
There was also this blown DDT spot where the two workers clearly miscommunicated:
Chaves was disqualified halfway into the ninth round, with an enraged Rios then approaching the entire Chaves corner to fight him before security held him back.
Rios' lone fight in 2015 was a rubber match against Alvarado in January. Alvarado was coming off of a decision loss to Juan Manuel Marquez, and hadn't won a fight since beating Rios in 2013. One of the more disappointing nights in recent memory, Rios-Alvarado III smelt of the fourth Vazquez-Marquez fight, where Israel Vazquez had an eye so damaged that an early cut stoppage was more a depressing inevitability than a mere risk.
Alvarado had no bad eye or serious nagging injury, but he did have something of a broken spirit, and had also had more run-ins with the law prior to the fight, something that has plagued him throughout his career. Over the three rounds that the fight lasted, it was quite clear: Rios was still a good fighter. Alvarado was not.
Beyond merely taking punishment, here you can see that Alvarado, even when he tried to return on offense, was just too slow both physically and mentally to even land, and it's not like Rios suddenly became a defensive whiz or master of positioning:
No more furious exchanges, no more two-way action. Just one guy beating the shit out of another. Their storied history barely even mattered in the context of this fight, which wound up a colossal mismatch, as Alvarado just didn't have it anymore, and certainly couldn't deal with a Rios who was still in the same form as when they met in 2012.
There's a good chance that with about a nine month break, we could see Rios energized and fresh for his fight with Bradley, and it might also not help Bradley to be working with a new, infamously demanding trainer before this bout. While it would be smart to not do the same Tim Bradley stuff against Brandon Rios, it's going to be hard to convince Bradley not to be himself once the action is flowing. Rios may not have been the best first opponent for a new pairing, not because he's such a great fighter, but because is one that seems a great bet to bait Bradley into his most dangerous habits, which also give Rios his greatest chance at success.
If nothing else, remember this: UPPERCUT UPPERCUT UPPERCUT UPPERCUT