Manny Pacquiao’s near heroic invasion of the featherweight division to defeat the Mexican triumvirate of Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez and Erik Morales led boxing writers to tab him Fighter of the Decade for the period 2000 until 2009.
But what travails did Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios endure?
Raised in Garden City, Kansas, Rios along with Victor Ortiz was discovered during the amateur fire fights in the early 2000s by trainer Robert Garcia. Both were eventually brought to the rich soiled lands of Oxnard in Ventura County in California.
Rios (pictured above, in Macao, in Chris Farina-Top Rank photo) was always a bruising fighter who seemed to have a love for conflict that few prizefighters possessed. The first six opponents he faced, the Oxnard-transplant squashed them within three rounds. It was clear he wielded heavy hands and a solid jaw plus decent hand-speed. It wasn’t until he faced a veteran Angel Mata at Stevens Steakhouse in Commerce, a place more famous for salsa than prizefights, that he was extended to a win by decision.
That night proved to Rios that not all fights can be settled with a knockout.
Later, Rios would spar with Vicente Escobedo, who had recently represented Team USA in the 2004 Olympics. The speedy boxer gave him a clinic in moving and hitting that had him confused at Azteca Gym. Trainer Garcia sat him down and told him what he had to do against boxers like Escobedo because they would be his greatest problem.
Now, Rios (31-1-1, 23 Kos) faces the deadly combination threat of Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 Kos) who can both box and fire bombs on Saturday Nov. 23, at Cotai Arena in Macao. No title will be at stake but an entire world will be watching on HBO pay-per-view and in China.
Bad boy Rios
Back in 2006, Rios was still trying to find inner discipline. When journalists would visit La Colonia Boxing Club the entire crew would be present except Rios. Garcia would complain that Rios was out all night and proving to be a handful. Ortiz was the good son while Rios was the bad boy.
At the Maywood Activity Center, smack in the middle of the small industrial town south of East L.A., the undisciplined Rios found himself in a knockdown war against Joel Ortega, a rugged southpaw from Mexico. Both would hit the deck multiple times and Rios emerged the winner in the fifth round. But Top Rank’s people began murmuring that maybe he wasn’t worth the time and money. One of them asked a couple of us what we thought of Rios. My answer was “he got up and won. Others would have quit.”
Rios fought two more times at Maywood, including a slugfest with an equally tough fighter in Juan Alfonso Figueroa, who had endured a six round war with a fighter named Hector Leyva. Anybody who lasted six rounds with Leyva was ultra-tough. In April 2006, Leyva would be killed in Mexico. Top Rank had their eyes on Leyva too, but lost him to the streets.
The win over Figueroa showed Top Rank that Rios had the talent and the guts to stand up against fellow pounders and the persistence to stay on top of runners. For the next three years the Kansas born pugilist embarked on a tour of the Mid-West and began knocking out opponents throughout the heartland.
In 2009 things seemed to change when Victor Ortiz cut ties with trainer Robert Garcia and opted for his brother Danny Garcia. It caused a deep rift between not only the Garcia family, but between fighters. Ortiz and Rios seemed to become enemies over the split. Suddenly, Rios was the star of the camp now that Ortiz departed for nearby Ventura.
Maybe it’s coincidental, but the rift seemed to spark Rios, who seemed more focused and determined. Despite a draw against Carlos Guevara in Denver, the Oxnard lightweight simply seemed unbeatable. Against every opponent Rios seemed stronger and bigger.
When Rios was matched against Mexico’s Oscar Meza, more than a few felt an upset was in the making. They were wrong. Rios belted Meza around the ring. Three more knockouts followed suit, then Rios faced Jorge Luis Teron. Again experts felt an upset was in the making and again Rios belted him out of there. Experts were very slow in admitting that maybe Rios was the real thing.
It was on September 2010 when matched against Anthony Peterson that finally the boxing world realized what Rios could do. Even before the fight several Top Rank people secretly told me that Peterson would win. I laughed inside. They still didn’t believe in Rios and he displayed his strength by dominating a good fighter in Peterson.
A win against Miguel Acosta grabbed the WBA lightweight world title for Rios. That was followed by a win over tough Urbano Antillon in July 2011. Victories over England’s John Murray, and Cuba’s Richar Abril came in succession. The big moment for Rios was the confrontation with fellow bad boy Mike Alvarado of Denver, Colorado.
“I respect him but I’m not afraid of him,” said Rios, who expected trench warfare like in a previous fight against Antillon.
Alvarado and Rios met on October 2012 at the Home Depot Center in Carson. The outdoor venue was nearly filled and the echoes of the blows delivered by the two Mexican-American bombers resonated in the air. It was both vicious and electrifying and left the crowd in a stunned stupor. Rios stopped Alvarado in seven rounds and pretty much showed that a move to a heavier weight division was beneficial to him.
Alvarado was victorious in the rematch on March 2013, but did sustain some serious punishment. More than a few felt Rios lost the fight, but emerged in physically better condition than the victor.
Ever since Rios fought Antillon there was suspicion that Top Rank was looking for a Mexican or Mexican-American counterpart for their money guy Pacquiao. The Filipino superstar had beaten every good Mexican and was forced to fight Marquez a fourth time much to his own demise. Rios fit the bill despite losing to Alvarado because of his fighting style: a semblance of bull tenacity and M-1 Abrams Tank – full of firepower.
Experts again doubt the ability of Rios to match boxing skills against Pacquiao. Many say that Pacman has too much speed for Rios. No one doubts that Pacman is the faster and more nimble fighter. But can he outlast the never tiring legs of Bam Bam Rios?
“We have a plan for Pacquiao,” said Rios, who has trained for the first time under Eduardo Garcia, who only trains Mikey Garcia and Saul Rodriguez. Both Eduardo and Robert Garcia have devised a fight plan for the demolition of one of the boxing game’s greatest fighters of all time. “I love that I’m fighting Manny Pacquiao.”
The secret plan has not been revealed, nor will it be, claims Team Rios.
“If he sticks to the plan we have no doubt Brandon can defeat Pacquiao,” said Robert Garcia. “Anybody can be beat.”
Rios has been very calm and very comfortable during this training process. Currently he’s in Macao and though there was a physical brush between the two fight teams, Rios remains calm and almost jovial about the happenings.
“You know I never thought I would ever fight Pacquiao. It never crossed my mind,” said Rios before he left for Asia. “But I’m here now and I can’t wait.”