LOS ANGELES — Bob Arum began the kick-off press conference for the Brandon Rios-Urbano Antillon lightweight title bout by declaring that the July 9 showdown would either be the fight of the year or a fight-of-the-year candidate.
That kind of bold prediction is usually promotional hyperbole, but not in the case of this fight, which will be televised on Showtime. Arum doesn’t have to B.S. the public about the entertainment value of Rios-Antillon as he did with the Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley event.
This fight, which takes place at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., will deliver all of the action Arum promises.
“Brandon and Urbano only know how to give crowd-pleasing fights,” said Arum, who promotes both fighters.
All one has to do is watch the previous bouts of both combatants to know that the hall-of-fame promoter is telling the truth.
Rios (27-0-1, 19 knockouts), of Oxnard, Calif., won the WBA 135-pound belt with a dramatic come-from-behind 10th-round stoppage of Miguel Acosta on Feb. 26 in a fight of the year candidate.
Antillon (28-2, 20 KOs), of Maywood, Calif., pressed WBC titleholder Humberto Soto for 36 thrilling minutes en route to a close unanimous decision loss on Dec. 4 that both Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com hailed as the fight of the year for 2010.
Rios and Antillon are big, strong, young, forward-marching lightweight sluggers who have climbed the rankings by brutally breaking down their opposition.
Add Rios’ antagonistic personality and the genuine dislike the lightweights have for each other to their combustible physical/style matchup and fans are all but guaranteed a back-and-forth slugfest on July 9.
The two almost went at it at the press conference, which took place at the Wilshire Grand Hotel on Tuesday.
Rios, who has gained internet notoriety for his occasional vulgar, profanity laced tirades, began sniping (off microphone) at Antillon and his opponent’s trainer, Abel Sanchez, as soon as they approached the dais.
Sanchez was cool and collected when it was his turn in front of the podium. The veteran trainer said he was glad the fight is happening now instead of its original date last year because the stakes are higher and both fighters have matured into real contenders.
The fight was supposed to be part of a small pay-per-view undercard in Mexico last May, but was scrapped when Rios suffered a cut in sparring.
However, when Rios continued to chatter in the background, Sanchez remarked:
“I hope Brandon gets into the best shape of his life and I hope he brings more to the ring than he talks because on July 9, Brandon will be knocked out.”
Rios stopped smiling after that comment but he didn’t stop talking.
Antillon, whose only other loss was a ninth-round TKO to Acosta in a 2009 title bout, tried to express that he was grateful for third shot at a major belt after his proposed May rematch with Soto fell out. However, Antillon was continually interrupted by Rios, who chanted “Nobody can understand you” as he tried to talk up the fight.
The shot at the soft-spoken contender’s pronounced lisp ruffled his feathers. Antillon, who is normally polite and respectful, tried to jab back at Rios.
“We were supposed to fight back in May but luckily for him he got cut a week before the fight,” Antillon said.
“Luckily?” Rios replied. “I was going to knock your ass out back then.”
“Just practice your defense, bro, and don’t get cut again,” Antillon shot back.
“Don’t worry about my defense, you need a translator in here,” Rios said, once again needling Antillon about his speech.
“Practice your f___ing defense,” Antillon said. “Maybe you understand that better.”
“That‘s f___ing better,” Rios said as the smile retunred to his face.
“That’s all you understand, so f___, f___, f___,” Antillon said.
Rios didn’t drop any more F-bombs when it was his turn at the podium, but he maintained his verbal attack on Antillon.
“Supposedly this guy’s going to take me out,” he said. “This is his third time fighting for the title but that’s not going to happen again. On July 9, I’m going to knock him out.
“I’m going to show the world why I’m the best at 135 pounds, why I’m the man. That’s why I became the champ,” Rios said turning to face Antillon. “That’s why I defeated Acosta. That’s why I didn’t get knocked out by Acosta.
“It’s going to happen to you, too. July 9, you’re going to get more than knocked out. Your career is going to be over. You’re never going to fight for a title again. That’s a promise and I don’t break my promises.”
“You talk to much,” a vocal friend of Antillon’s called out from the audience.
“And it’s all good,” Rios said. “I’ll keep talking. I love talking. Champions get to talk. Challengers eat s__t and that’s all.”
Rios didn’t lighten up when it was time for the customary stare down for the photographers.
“Ladies first,” he told Antillon as Top Rank publicist Lee Samuels directed them to the front of the stage.
The two traded insults (even Rios’ normally mellow trainer, Robert Garcia, got into it) until they eventually had to be separated as Arum carefully made his way to the podium microphone to conclude the media event.
“You don’t get paid for fighting here, fellas,” he said. “You can go ahead and fight now if you want but you won’t get s__t for it.”
Rios and Antillon will earn whatever they’re getting paid for this fight. Fans will definitely get their money worth.
No mercy for Mercito: Mercito “No Mercy” Gesta, an unbeaten lightweight prospect who recently signed with Top Rank, did not receive the warmest welcome to the promotional family from Rios during Tuesday’s press conference.
“He told me ‘I don’t like you and I’ll knock you out on the same night that I knock (Antillon) out,’” said Gesta, who was added to the Rios-Antillon undercard and will be part of the international broadcast.
The 23-year-old native of Cebu, Philippines, said he was in awe of the heated proceedings.
“That was crazy,” said Gesta, who has made Sand Diego his home for the past four years. “I’ve only seen that kind of stuff on TV, never in real life.”
The speedy southpaw puncher doesn’t mind being on Rios’ hit list. He says he’s got the surly WBA beltholder in his sights, too.
“I signed with Top Rank because I want to fight the best lightweights in the world,” he said. “They have the two best, Rios and (IBF titleholder) Miguel Vazquez. I have to look good in my next fight, but hopefully I do and I can get the winner of Rios-Antillon or Vazquez.”
Gesta (21-0-1, 11 KOs) should be in great condition for his Top Rank debut. The former amateur Muy Thai fighter will help Amir Khan prepare for Zab Judah as one of the 140-pound titleholder’s sparring partners at the Wild Card Boxing Club.
Fight info: The Rios-Antillon fight will take place at the outdoor tennis arena of The Home Depot center, which can hold around 7,500 fans.
Former welterweight titleholder Kermit Cintron (32-3-1, 28 KOs) will face Carlos Molina (18-4-2, 6 KOs) in a 10-round junior middleweight co-feature that will be part of Showtime’s broadcast, which begins at 10 p.m. ET/PT (delayed on the West Coast).
Gesta and light heavyweight prospect Mike Lee are scheduled to appear on the non-televised (in the U.S.) undercard.
Tickets, priced at $125, $75, $50, and $25, are on sale and available at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at Ticketaster.com, as well as the Home Depot Center box office.
Photo by Chris Farina-Top Rank.