Saturday night in San Antonio, Ronny Rios faces Murodjon Akhmadaliev for Akhmadaliev’s WBA and IBF super bantamweight titles. It’s a second chance at greatness, and one that Rios isn’t taking for granted.
Five years ago, Rios went twelve hard rounds against Rey Vargas for the WBC belt, losing by unanimous decision. Since then, he’s gone 5-1 with four consecutive wins, a run that put him in mandatory position for the WBA belt.
Rios spoke with Bad Left Hook about overcoming setbacks inside and outside of the ring, finding his “man strength,” and the other fights he’s looking forward to on an absolutely loaded show where his unified title fight is just fourth in the running order.
Our conversation, lightly edited for length and clarity, follows.
Saturday, finally, you get your WBA mandatory shot against Murodjon Akhmadaliev. This fight was originally scheduled almost a year ago, then he caught COVID, then you caught COVID. How relieved are you to finally have everyone healthy and ready to get in the ring?
I’m super relieved. But, more importantly, I’m excited. I’m excited that it’s finally here.
A lot of fighters only get one opportunity to fight for a world title. Thank goodness, this is my second opportunity. So, I’m here to make the most of it and go in with 100%.
It’s an amazing card. For a fight like yours to be third or fourth on the running order on any show seems ridiculous. But, this card is a very unusual collection of high level talent and excellent matchups. Other than your fight, anything you’d encourage people to watch on Saturday’s show?
Yeah, I want to see Bam [Rodriguez] fight, too. We’ve sparred a lot these last couple weeks. And I want to go out and support him, and see him be victorious, too. Which I think [he will].
Akhmadaliev is an Uzbek fighter, and we’ve seen a lot of talented guys come out of their developmental system. But, we’ve also seen some of those guys show similar flaws or potential weaknesses. Is there anything in particular you see in him that you think you can take advantage of?
I do see some flaws. But, I’m going to tell you what I told my coach. I’m not gonna go into this fight to try and pick at his flaws. I’m going to go in there and try to execute my strengths. That’s what I’m going to do.
Am I going to make him feel uncomfortable at times? Yes. But, I’m going to focus on my strengths.
Well, tell me about that. What do you want to go in and establish for yourself? What will you do to make this a Ronny Rios kind of fight?
I think the answer to that question is, WIN! [Laughs] But, I don’t just want to WIN! I want to win impressively, you know? I want to go out there and make a statement.
My body work is going to be a key factor. My jab is going to be a key factor. Because I am the taller fighter. I am the longer fighter. And I also think my conditioning is going to play a huge factor, too.
I think we’re more than ready. I’ve seen a lot of tape of him, by myself and with my team. All I can say is that I’m confident, I’m ready, and I’m relaxed.
We learn a lot about a fighter the first time they have to come back from a tough loss. It’s something I talked about with your brother [Alexis Rocha], who handled it like a champion, and it’s something I’m curious about with you.
It was almost eight years ago now, but can you talk about what helped you get past that Robinson Castellanos fight and back to the point where you’re fighting guys like Rey Vargas and now Akhmadaliev for world level belts?
It was very, very difficult. But, I think my support system really came in and helped me out. My coaches, my family, my close friends.
As a fighter, when you lose? People have been writing about you, talking about how you’ll be the next champ. Then, you lose, and you find out who your true friends are. Who your real friends and family are after you lose. They come through and they shock you. And I think a lot of that really helped me.
Because I was really, really down after that loss for a while. Even when I came back in my first fight after that, I wasn’t impressed with it. It wasn’t until I fought Jayson Velez that I felt like I finally had a focus.
Because I’m the type of fighter where if I have a tough job in front of me, I’m going to try and excel to the best of my ability. And it excites me. It keeps me up at night, in a good way. How can I improve? What can I do better? I wake up early, I wake up before my alarm. I do my roadwork. That really, really helped me out. And my support system, it was number one.
You’ve won four in a row, and your last fight was a dominant decision win against a very tough, very dangerous guy in Oscar Negrete. It seems like you’re doing some of the best work of your career. How do you see yourself these days compared to when you were younger and fighting heavier?
More relaxed. Much more relaxed. And a lot of people don’t know that when you’re relaxed, you can really listen to your corner and follow instructions better. I think I’m relaxed, I’m more mature now. Where before I was just throwing a lot of punches, now I’m still throwing a lot of punches, but I sit down on my punches more. I finally reached, I won’t say my peak, but we can say man strength.
Man strength, awesome. My boss loves that concept.
Relaxed is a really great word for it, because just in the few minutes that we’ve been talking, it comes across. I’ve gotten to talk to a few younger guys who are getting their first opportunity like this, and you can sort of tell that there’s a– I don’t want to say nervousness, but there’s definitely a tension, a sort of energy that’s going through them. But you don’t seem like someone that’s overwhelmed by this moment at all.
Thank you. Thank you. I’m having fun with it! I’ve been here before. I let it slip through my fingers, and that was very depressing. That was very hard for me to bounce back from, but I did.
And with the same team. A lot of fighters, they switch teams. But, I bounced back stronger than ever. And I’m here again. I’m here to try and collect these belts. That’s all I want to do. But, I do have to give it up to my team. Everyone that’s helped me out.
Like you said, a lot of people think that they have to go 100 miles per hour. But, they don’t. They just have to relax. Pay attention to your surroundings. Because everything has to come into effect.
Akhmadaliev is undefeated coming into this fight. But, you’ve given a couple of fighters their first loss over the course of your career. Psychologically, is there anything you try to do or stay aware of against a guy that’s never lost before?
No, not at all. I just try to be relaxed. Be confident, more than anything. Those are the key words to win a fight. Patience, and confidence. Nothing is more dangerous than a confident fighter.
And I want everyone to know I’m not just here to collect a payday. I’m not here just to try and win. I’m here to give it my best shot.
How about your approach to the opponent’s frame of mind? You can sometimes see in the middle of a fight where an undefeated guy is facing real difficulty for the first time. When they know it’s not going their way, their mentality and reaction to it can make things start to snowball and get worse.
Does the psychology of your opponent, the things that can happen for someone that hasn’t felt that adversity before, influence your training or your plan for the fight?
No, not at all. It’s about patience. My coach has been telling me since early on in camp. In order for us to win this fight, we have to be patient, and we have to be confident. Those are the two keys to victory.
Obviously, that’s what’s been on my mind for these whole 8 or 10 weeks. And that’s what I plan on taking into this fight. Like I’ve said, I’m confident. I’m relaxed. And there you go.
Well, I don’t think anyone that follows boxing will need much convincing to tune on on Saturday. But, any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share for readers of our site?
I just want people to know that I’m gonna go out there, and I want to give a dominant performance. And I want to bring those two belts back home.