The ref had disqualified his opponent and ended the fight, but Brandon Rios still wasn’t happy. He charged into Diego Chaves’ corner intent on shouting the Argentine down with words direct and vulgar enough to survive any translation. The confusion in the ring that occurred at the hands of an overwhelmed referee when the fight was called almost erupted into an unsanctioned extra inning of boxing that most of the fans would have liked to see.
But I had already seen enough. There is no joy in watching a case of dementia pugilistica being cultivated before your eyes. I take no joy in saying that if Rios isn’t already officially a “shot” fighter, he should consider becoming one.
Newer research on concussions and brain injury points to a boxer like Rios, who never succumbs to the G-forces of punches enough to hit the canvas, as being just as at risk for long-term consequences as a fighter who suffers more dramatically. Accumulated subconcussive trauma should supplant “Bam-Bam” as Brandon Rios’ nickname.
Never blessed with the greatest set of reflexes, Rios made his buttered his bread as an action fighter willing to serve his own face on a platter in order to land more decisive blows in return. The blood and sweat spilled in his two fights with his soulmate Mike Alvarado earned comparisons to the last incredible rivalry between B-level sluggers at 140 pounds: Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. To recall, Ward got out with his health relatively intact, while Gatti fought beyond his trainer Buddy McGirt’s suggestion to retire only to get knocked out by Alfonso Gomez. We might never know what really happened and why with Arturo Gatti, he was found dead in Brazil in 2009.
As the fight advanced into the middle rounds against Chaves, Rios couldn’t help but remind me of Gatti in his fight against Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather, like Chaves, lacked the one-punch power to end the fight. In the case of Gatti and Rios, you could argue no one has enough power to make them stop coming forward. Men like those are simply too insanely stubborn, too tough for their own good. Both would rather accept a death by a thousand cuts than a guillotine.
Diego Chaves was not Mayweather on Saturday night, but he was taking over the fight. In between rounds you could hear Robert Garcia in Rios’ corner command him to jab coming in and stay in the kitchen. Rios had no difficulty walking through Chaves’ fire with his head down, banging on the abdominal brains. But Chaves was resolved to making life on the inside uncomfortable. With Rios’ head constantly pushing against the Argentine’s throat, Chaves held, he rabbit-punched, he did everything he could to frustrate Rios, perhaps including a little thumb-in-the-eye action.
The fight resembled what it almost became after the DQ stoppage, a no-holds-barred street fight. Referee Vic Drakulich tried to keep order, but his measures of deducting points from both fighters for fouls and threatening disqualification only seemed to inflame Chaves’ confused brand of consternation and Rios’ self-righteous rage. Drakulich was like an overworked single parent in the ring with two petulant children, once he made the threat, he would have to follow through on it so they would know who was boss. In between their mutually inflicted fouls, Chaves and Rios politicked repeatedly for more deductions from the third man, with Rios becoming exceptionally vehement in his remonstrations in proportion to the punishment he was receiving.
Drakulich’s prominent role in the fight sucked the life out of a strong performance for Chaves, who was scoring cleaner and stronger as the fight progressed; punches that made the 28-year-old Rios show every bit of his career’s 193 rounds of wear. After the 8th round, Rios protested theatrically that the Argentine, who almost didn’t make it to Las Vegas due to visa issues, had either raked his eyes with the laces of his glove or thumbed him.
Hurt and exhausted, Rios added unnerved to his list of adjectives when Chaves performed a WWE-inspired headlock takedown of Rios into the ropes in the ninth round of the ten scheduled. Drakulich didn’t know what to make of it either, when Rios finally got back to his feet he simply ordered them to keep boxing, but it had to influence the questionable disqualification that came moments after. The fighters clinched yet again, when Rios began appealing to Drakulich and everyone watching, that Chaves was a motherf*cker who was going after his eyes.
At the moment, with Rios seething in rage and completely unable to harness it in his boxing, Drakulich panicked and inexplicably waved the fight off, succumbing to the American with a bigger name. Knowing what we know now as sport fans about the symptoms of brain injury, it was impossible not to go to dark places wondering about Rios’ mental state as he exploded in the fight’s final moments.
Pro athletes can be quite adept at hiding dirty play from the cameras, so the fact that we have yet to see video evidence of Chaves doing anything to Rios’ eyes needs to be taken with a grain of salt. Coupled with the other fact, however, that we never saw any signs that Rios’ eyes had been hurt (redness, cuts, watering, etc.) leads us to the possibility that Rios had the feeling he was getting beat and had to do something about it. Unfortunately in this case, that something invoked the politics of the ring to intervene on his behalf.
Compared to other brawlers with rugged ring mileage, Rios has fared far better than most fighters economically. His two fights with Alvarado and his sacrificial lamb showing against Manny Pacquiao have made him millions of dollars. Even if he suffers ill effects from his career, he’ll still be one of the lucky ones. Though I imagine he’ll be as amazingly stubborn with his career as he is while boxing, Brandon Rios needs to face the music: he’ll never be a top 140-pounder, even if he suffers 140 poundings. Sure, Arturo Gatti beat long odds to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but he wasn’t alive to enjoy it.