By Sean Crose
Admit it, Brandon Rios looked great last January when he beat arch foil Mike Alvarado into submission. Sure, Alvarado was a mess, but that didn’t take away from how sharp the lean, mean and determined Rios appeared. Where, one may well have asked, had this Rios been? For Rios on that evening in Colorado did a good job cutting off the ring, engaged in impressive in-fighting, employed decent movement and fired sharp, crisp punches. There was simply no two ways about it – the guy had improved as a fighter. Rios had always had will power, but now he was accompanying that will with some serious skills.
Will those skills be enough to beat the master chess player known as Timothy Bradley when the two men meet this Saturday night in Las Vegas, however? Analysts don’t seem to think so, and with good reason. For Bradley, the most under-the-radar great of this generation, is a maestro. There’s a reason that only the iconic Manny Pacquiao has been able to beat him. And Rios, as he himself found out the hard way in 2013, is no Pacquiao. He’s just not on that level, nor will he ever be, despite his improved skill set. Can he rise to the occasion against Bradley, though?
There’s always a chance, of course. Bradley, for instance, loves taking unnecessary risks. And Rios, as everyone knows, can hit. If he’s able to land shots on Desert Storm the way he landed them on Alvarado last winter, things could get extremely interesting. There’s also the question of Bradley perhaps being a bit long in the tooth as far as his own skill level is concerned. He’s only 32, but the guy’s had a long, hard history in the ring.
Indeed, it’s been mentioned that Bradley isn’t as active in bouts as he used to be, that he’s slowing down a bit. Whatever one can say about Rios, one wants to be in top form when facing him. Now that Bradley is with trainer Teddy Atlas, however, perhaps he could be expected to fight in a more cerebral style than he often employs.
Yes, Atlas is known as one of boxing’s great hardcases, but he’s also smart. Word’s out that he’s trying to keep Bradley completely focused. One might suspect Atlas wants his fighter to resist the temptation to get into an unnecessary brawl when he faces Rios, to stay focused on the task at hand. It’s hard to imagine Rios beating the cerebral Bradley who bested Juan Manuel Marquez a few years back, after all.
In a sense, then, the entire fight on Saturday depends on Bradley. If he decides to brawl, then Rios has as good a chance as anyone (though Bradley would still have the edge). If, however, Bradley does what he was clearly born to do, which is to box, it’s hard to imagine Rios pulling off the upset barring a Sunday punch that shocks the boxing world to its core.
What then to make of Rios? It’s simply hard to picture the guy ever rising to the top of the red hot welterweight division, if rising to the top means beating every top competitor out there. Keith Thurman, Bradley, Shawn Porter, these are men who look to be all wrong for the gutsy Californian (by way of the Midwest). What of some of the other big names, though?
A while back Rios seemed to be on his way to facing Englishman Kell Brook for Brook’s IBF portion of the welterweight title pie. That particular bout fell through but I always felt that Rios at his best would present unique challenges to Brook, to his strength and ability to be the more effective puncher. This may have been all misguided thinking on my part, but there’s other big names out there Rios could arguably give trouble to, as well.
Danny Garcia, for instance, has either been in a rut lately, or is simply being exposed as a very good, but not great, fighter who has gone about as far as he can skill-wise. Would anyone write off Rios if he and Garcia actually battled? Boxing politics would prevent such a match from probably ever happening, but its interesting think about. What a fight that might be.
And what about Amir Khan? Sure the man is blindingly fast and would most likely consider Rios a step down from the competition he feels worthy of right now, but that glass chin of Khan’s has been shattered on more than one occasion. All it might take from Rios, provided he looked like he did against Alvarez last January, is one clean shot.
One of the fascinating things about boxing is that it takes conventional thinking and throws it out the window. The term “styles make fights” rings true over and over again. Brook beat Porter, but might have trouble with Rios, who Porter might have a better chance at defeating. That kind of upside down logic holds up well in this sport – which is why, when all is said and done, Rios may indeed find a place for himself at the table with his division’s top players.