The lightweight division is the home of a great champion and many entertaining contenders but the often-overlooked weight class has lacked a fighter with star potential since Manny Pacquiao made a pit stop there.
Brandon Rios injected some much-needed charisma into the 135-pound division with a thrilling 10th-round knckout of Miguel Acosta on Saturday in Las Vegas.
RING champ Juan Manuel Marquez, Michael Katsidis, Humberto Soto, Urbano Antillon and Juan Diaz have taken part in more than a few fight-of-the-year candidates in recent years, but they’re all rather dull outside of the ring. And that’s OK. The sport needs as many friendly, humble, well-spoken athletes that it can get.
However, it also needs a few bad boys to stir things up and attract the attention of casual fans. That’s where Rios, who won the WBA title from Acosta, comes in. The 24-year-old contender has a polarizing personality that entices fans to tune into his fights.
And when they do, they generally get a good fight.
Rios (27-0-1, 20 knockouts) is not the most-gifted athlete or polished technician, but he’s a gutsy pressure fighter who can take and deliver a hell of a shot. He proved his mettle against Acosta (28-4-2, 22 KOs), a superbly talented titleholder from Venezuela, who outclassed the younger man with beautiful lateral movement and pin-point combinations during the first four rounds of Saturday’s bout.
Rios, who makes his home in Oxnard, Calif., looked like he didn’t belong in the ring with the 32-year-old veteran during a one-sided fourth round, but the former juvenile delinquent was undeterred by the shellacking he took.
Rios stepped up his pressure in the fifth and connected with a hook to the neck followed by a stiff jab that put Acosta down in the sixth round. The valiant Venezuelan got up and fought back on even terms during the rest of the round as well as the seventh, but it was clear that the tide has turned in favor of Rios, who scored another knockdown in the eighth.
The two lightweights punched non-stop during the ninth, an early round-of-the-year candidate. Acosta outlanded Rios, but the budding attraction connected with the heavier punches — hard shots that finally took their toll on the soon-to-be former beltholder in the 10th round.
It was a hard-fought victory for Rios, who has had to gut out more than a few grueling fights during his 6½-year career. However, now he’s beating world-class fighters.
Rios did it when his punishing pressure forced undefeated contender Anthony Peterson to disqualify himself during an HBO-televised bout last September. He did it Saturday against Acosta, THE RING’s No. 1-rated lightweight going into the Showtime-televised fight.
Rios was so impressive in both nationally televised fights it’s hard to believe he was held to a draw by 12-4 journeyman Manuel Perez in 2008. What changed?
Rios, who was tossed in jail so often for rowdy behavior that he was close to being dropped by his promoter, simply grew up. He credits his newlywed wife Vicky and their 2½-month old daughter Mia for helping him mature outside of the ring and he’s finally training the way a professional boxer should.
“If a kid like me, (who was) always in and out of trouble and almost had his career taken away, can (succeed) anyone can do it,” Rios said during his post-fight interview.
Some fans will root for Rios because of the way he’s turned his life around. Others will root against him because he can still be a jerk.
Rios outraged fans by making fun of respected trainer Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s disease, along with his trainer Robert Garcia and stablemate Antonio Margarito, on video prior to the Pacquiao-Margarito fight last November. Even his wife was upset with the tasteless display. She also cringes at the often-vulgar comments her husband makes about fellow fighters, particularly former stablemate Victor Ortiz.
Rios can be crude, crass and classless, which is in direct contrast to card-carrying nice guys such as Marquez, Katsidis and Antillon, and that’s not a bad thing. Any old-school promoter will tell you that the best promotions involve a good guy and a bad guy.
And Rios, who can wear the white hat or the black hat, happens to have an old-school promoter.
“A star was born tonight,” Bob Arum, Rios’ promoter, said after the Acosta fight. “This young man is going to be a superstar.
Top Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank; Second Photo / Naoki Fukuda