Sunday, November 8, 2015

Opinions and Observations: Bradley-Rios

Brush aside the significant talent disparity between Tim Bradley and Brandon Rios for a second to consider one other key point about Saturday's fight: Bradley gave himself the best chance to win the fight and Rios did not. Bradley, one of boxing's true ring professionals, came into the match on weight; Rios once again struggled on the scales and somehow blew up from 147 lbs. at the weigh-in to 171 lbs. on fight night. Unlike his magician-like performances in the past where he could overcome a debilitating training camp to conjure a winning performance, on Saturday, Rios physically had little to offer. By the fourth round, one of the best pressure fighters in the business was voluntarily accepting clinches instead of working in his preferred area of the ring, not a good indication of his stamina or physical agility. 

However, let's not dismiss Bradley's win even if his opponent was diminished. Unlike previous bouts against lesser foes, Bradley never let Rios into the fight. He maintained his poise and focus. He stuck with the game plan throughout the match. Much of this improvement could be attributed to his working relationship with new trainer Teddy Atlas, who offered both strategic suggestions and emotional pleadings in the corner. (For instance, Atlas insisted that Bradley get out quickly after exchanges and more than once lashed into his charge about a potential drift in concentration.) In summing up Bradley's performance, this was his best effort in the ring since his win against Juan Manuel Marquez. He made this fight easy whereas in the past he let other considerations (ego, playing to the fans) get the best of him. 

Technically, Bradley kept turning Rios all night. His left hand was wonderful. His jab was sharp and accurate. He threw various combinations just with his left, including hooking off his jab and throwing a scintillating left hook to the body/left uppercut combo. Bradley's movement and punch volume didn't allow Rios to plant his feet and get off with punches with any kind of consistency. On defense, Bradley was more than adequate at getting under Rios' shots, letting most of them roll off his shoulders or back. 

With the exception of Bradley himself on occasion, no one has ever confused him with a power puncher (his 13 KOs speak to this). However, one has to be impressed with the way that he finished Rios in the ninth round. After forcing Rios to take a knee from a vicious body shot, Bradley continued to rip thudding blows to Rios' midsection. Rios then went down to the canvas a second time and he decided to call it a day. In the past, after Bradley would hurt an opponent, he would look to land that one, big knockout blow. This approach derailed his early success in the Manny Pacquiao rematch and led to a more competitive fight against Diego Chaves than it should've been. On Saturday, after Rios was hurt, Bradley just went back to work. He let the knockout come. It was a disciplined response and one that finally led to a stoppage. 

Prior to this bout, Bradley decided to switch trainers. It was no secret that Bradley and his former coach, Joel Diaz, weren't always in synch during fights and there were also a few personal issues between the two. His selection of Atlas was curious in that Teddy hadn't trained a fighter in years and had a significantly different style than Diaz's. Nevertheless, watching Bradley on Saturday, he seemed to buy into Atlas' approach. He didn't remain in front of Rios for too long. He mostly stayed on the move and, more often than not, he wisely clinched instead of slugging it out on the inside. Bradley looked rejuvenated in the ring. After the fight, it was clear how much satisfaction that he had with his training camp and performance in the bout. Finally winning an easy one can bring a lot of smiles. 

As for Rios, he had gone to the well too many times in his career. A bad combination of too many wars and weight problems has that uncanny ability to hasten Father Time in the ring. Not even 30 yet, Rios looked and fought like an old man on Saturday. He pushed his punches. He could hardly be bothered to throw combinations. Furthermore, and perhaps most damning, he no longer could cut the ring off with any kind of consistency, the death knell for a pressure fighter. 

Unlike Bradley, Rios was never a real student of boxing. He fought in a particular style because that's the only way he had found success. He abused his body both in and out of the ring. Perhaps the greatest enemy of Rios was himself. Camp after camp, he desperately tried to cut off dozens of pounds. It's possible that having a too chummy relationship with trainer and father-figure Robert Garcia didn't always help him either; Rios' lack of discipline led to much of his undoing.

After Saturday's fight, Rios announced his retirement. If he stays true to his word, I applaud him for his decision; however, I am skeptical that he will remain out of the ring. This is not to disparage Rios in particular but to acknowledge that many fighters have "retired" only to come back a year or 18 months later. Rios is still relatively young and he could collect decent paydays against guys like Ruslan Provodnikov or Victor Ortiz. 

If this is Rios' end in the ring, let me conclude with a few reflections on his career. As a lightweight, he was a force of nature. His 2011 fight against titleholder Miguel Acosta was my fight of the year. He destroyed Urbano Antillon and John Murray. He forced Anthony Peterson to foul his way out of their match. At 140 lbs., his first bout against Mike Alvarado in 2012 was the best live fight that I've seen. 

Let me expound on that some: Rios-Alvarado I was a matchup so enticing that I had to travel across the country to witness it in person. I'll never forget that the Carson crowd was giving a standing ovation to both fighters after just the first round! Staged in an arena built for tennis, the crowd "oohed and aahed" after each fighter hit and returned fire. They reacted as if they were watching an epic Sampras-Agassi rally, but one deliciously spiked with boxing's concoctions of blood and guts. Alvarado lands an enormous lead right hand (oooh). Rios follows with a left uppercut that snaps Alvarado's head back (aah). Alvarado returns with a menacing left hook (ooh). Rios digs two shots to the body (aah). The crowd's elation grew with each successive salvo. The fight was ludicrous, and by that I mean, truly bananas. How could these guys be doing this to each other? How are they staying on their feet? What a special night! 

But perhaps the fight that will define Rios in my eyes was his battle with Acosta. In the first four rounds, Acosta seemed to have every single advantage. He was rangy, athletic, had good power with both hands and elusive. Acosta literally hit Rios with everything that he had. Yet Rios kept trudging forward. Eating shot after shot, Rios made Acosta work so hard to avoid prolonged exchanges. By the sixth round, he had corralled Acosta. Firing short right hands, left hooks and some sizzling body shots, Acosta hit the canvas for the first time in that round. By the 10th, he folded up on the mat like an accordion. For textbook examples of pressure fighting and self-belief, watch Rios-Acosta again. Despite being battered early in the fight, Rios never stopped forging ahead, knowing that, eventually, his time would come. 

Many liked to dismiss Rios as a punching bag and while his defense certainly was poor throughout his career, ask Acosta or Peterson or Murray about their Rios experiences. Those fighters never recovered from "An Evening with Brandon." 

Against truly elite fighters, Rios was outgunned but facing a B+ or an A- guy, he could be as game as they come. So I will never forget that night in Carson or how good he was against Acosta. Yes, Rios failed to live up to his potential and his peak was all too brief but ultimately, he provided some truly transcendent moments in the ring. And that is more than most fighters will ever accomplish. Godspeed, Brandon.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
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