Brandon Rios: One characteristic all great fighters must have is the ability to overcome adversity, to stare possible defeat in the face, persevere and ultimately triumph. Rios proved against Miguel Acosta on Saturday that he has that attribute. He was being outboxed by a superior technician to such a degree that he appeared to be in serious trouble in the fifth round. He took dozens of clean, hard punches and didn’t seem to have an answer to them. His solution? Stick with what works. Rios, who has superhuman resilience and indomitable determintion, continued to apply smothering pressure until he began to land heavily, broke his opponent down physically and mentally and finally scored a spectacular knockout in the 10th round to win his first major title. We’ve known for sometime that Rios was one of the most-entertaining fighters in the world. His breathtaking performance agaisnt Acosta proved beyond doubt that he also is one of the best.
Miguel Acosta: Imagine you dominate your opponent and nail him consistently with absolutely everything you have yet he continues to track you like a hungry animal does its prey. That’s what poor Miguel Acosta experienced Saturday. He had to ask himself: What can I do to slow this guy down? That answer, sadly for him, was nothing. The skillful Venezuelan looked like one of the best all-around fighters in the world for five rounds. He boxed beautifully, punched as if he meant it and was very difficult to catch cleanly – for five rounds. Then he simply fell victim to Rios’ power and will, which left him a broken fighter. Acosta proved even in such a disaster that he’s an extremely good fighter, though. I suspect he’ll bounce back from the setback and remain a viable contender for some time to come, even at 32.
Rios’: We marvel at one-punch knockouts, such as that of Nonito Donaire against Fernando Montiel on Feb. 19 and Sergio Martinez against Paul Williams last year. The stunning nature of sudden stoppages takes the breath away. However, the most-impressive knockouts are similar to the one we saw on Saturday because a compelling story line had been established. Rios, as determined as any fighter, had to battle back from early problems against a fine opponent to break him down with relentless pressure and ultimately take him out with a series of vicious shots in the corner. To me, the come-from-behind knockout is the most dramatic possible.
Robert Garcia: I covered Garcia when he was one of the top junior lightweights in the world. He was a hard-working fighter who got the most out of his ability in a solid career, which included a major title and a final record of 34-3 (25 knockouts). Now, as a young trainer, he is getting the most out of his fighters. Donaire, as gifted as any boxer, has thrived since hiring Garcia several fights ago. And Garcia, who once considered dropping Rios because of his wild life and undisciplined ways, has helped turn the new lightweight titleholder into a budding star. We’re only entering March, but Garcia is the clear frontrunner to win the Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year award.
BIGGEST WINNER II
Boxing: We’re lucky if we get one truly compelling performance in a year on national television. The fact we’ve had two in two weeks leaves me giddy. First, Donaire took out a prime and accomplished opponent in Montiel with one Pacquiao-esque shot on Feb. 19, which made the Filipino-born American the talk of the boxing world. Then, the following Saturday, Rios rallied from a slow start against another excellent boxer to score one of the most-spectacular knockouts in years. Now Rios has the sport abuzz. I’ve rarely seen boxing fans more energized. Next up is Saul “Canelo” Alvarez-Matthew Hatton and Daniel Ponce de Leon-Adrien Broner this Saturday on HBO. Let’s hope they’re inspired by the events of the past few weeks and keep this momentum going because it sure is fun to watch.
Losers on Fight Night Club card: I left Club Nokia on Thursday night more impressed with the losers than the winners. You gotta love Cristian Favela, a designated “opponent” for rising prospects who always comes to fight and gives even gifted opponents hell. That’s what happened against Jessie Vargas, who won a unanimous decision but had to work extremely hard to earn it. If Favela had the proper backing and, as Doug Fischer pointed out, more power, he could be a contender. Ramon Flores had no chance of beating Irish prospect Jamie Kavanagh but fought his heart out. Eddie Hunter was destined to be knocked senseless against Bastie Samir yet tried his damnedest to win. The point? Journeyman fighters who face insurmountable obstacles yet give everything they have are among the most-admirable figures in the sport.
MOST IN NEED OF A CHALLENGE
Danny Garcia: The hard-punching Philadelphian scored his seventh knockout in his last eight fights — against John Figueroa — on Friday night, a nice run for an exciting young prospect. It’s time for Garcia to graduate beyond the likes of Figueroa, though. Garcia (20-0, 14 KOs) is ranked in the Top 15 of two major sanctioning bodies. He passed his biggest test, barely outpointing Ashley Theophane in February of last year. We want to see what he can do against another opponent with the ability to give him a legitimate challenge. Then, if he wins, we’ll know we have star material. To be clear, stopping a guy like Figueroa tells us very little.
Erik Morales: Listen to the future Hall of Famer talk and you might come away thinking he actually has a chance to beat Marcos Maidana on April 9 in Las Vegas. He says difficulty making weight robbed him of a chance to perform effectively in the last several fights before his “retirement,” including two losses to Manny Pacquiao. One wants to believe him … but I don’t. Never did a fighter look more finished than Morales looked after he lost to David Diaz in 2007. And he hasn’t looked anything like the superb fighter of old in his three fights since returning from his hiatus, all against less-than-elite opponents. He says he’ll outbox Maidana. The old Morales probably would’ve done so. This Morales is likely to be overwhelmed by one of the most-vicious punchers in the world. I have to give Morales this, though: His decision to face Maidana was courageous. You have to respect that no matter what happens.
Brandon Rios, when asked what it means to him to have overcome personal difficulties to win a major title: “It means a lot. It means that if a kid like me, always in and out of trouble who almost had his career taken away, can come back and do an awesome performance and become a world champion, anyone out there can do it. Dreams are possible Just stick to your dreams.”
Top Photo / Naoki Fukuda; Other Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank