Looking back at the long weekend of Las Vegas fights several prizefighters emerged to take the next step in their careers.
This is what we saw:
Saul “Canelo” Alvarez defeated Miguel Cotto in a fight much closer than the scores indicated, Ronny Rios has a lot more left in his tank, Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura had the Fight of the Year, and Saul “Neno” Rodriguez is ready for prime time.
Neno, as his family and friends call him, trains in Riverside under Robert Garcia or more precisely the entire Garcia family. It’s a dynamic that includes brothers Mikey, Robert, Robert Jr. and father Eduardo Garcia. Together they’ve honed a lightweight contender capable of ending a fight at any moment.
For example, last Friday at the Cosmopolitan the slender lightweight was matched with San Antonio’s Ivan “Bam, Bam” Najera a good fighter who had gone the distance against Puerto Rico’s banging Felix Verdejo.
Rodriguez had sparred with the real “Bam, Bam” Brandon Rios and also with Mikey Garcia to prepare for the fight. You can’t get better preparation than that.
During the weigh-in, Najera was 2.6 pounds overweight and did not try to lose the weight. Rodriguez took the fight any way. He wasn’t going to miss out on a television opportunity with the nation watching. Basically, Najera had the advantage of weight and did not starve himself like Rodriguez to make weight. He went in at full-power.
Ever since Rodriguez turned professional, the Garcias have been molding him to be a more defensive-minded fighter. As an amateur the Riverside lightweight would come in with guns blazing and it was kill or be killed. Mostly he collected scalps but did not make the elite amateur squads. But fans loved to watch him in amateur tournaments. When the bell rang Rodriguez would blast out of his corner and obliterate most opposition.
Fans love knockouts.
If you’ve followed Rodriguez you know that knockouts are still a central part of his plans. But professional boxing has its latitudes and each time a fighter climbs another rung it gets tougher to achieve knockouts. That’s where the Garcias have added another layer to his arsenal; one that includes strategy and defense.
Against Najera the entire arsenal was on display as Rodriguez analyzed, dissected and obliterated the Texans in less than a round. The Riverside prizefighter has graduated to another level and just might be the next emerging star.
Ironically, or maybe not, junior welterweight champion Terence Crawford watched intently as Rodriguez dispatched Najera with left hooks and check right hands. Puerto Rican contender Verdejo was there too.
“I took a photo with Felix Verdejo,” said Rodriguez after the fight. “He’s a nice guy.”
Rodriguez and Verdejo could be the next Mexican-Puerto Rican war down the line. And whoever is successful could be matched with the very talented Crawford in two or three years. But for right now, Rodriguez will probably be graduating to HBO level fights very soon.
A contingent of HBO executives were in attendance and were impressed with Rodriguez’s firepower. Everybody loves knockouts.
Fight of the Year
Even before the fight took place one had to know that matching WBC junior lightweight titlist Takashi Miura of Japan against Mexico’s Francisco “El Bandido” Vargas was putting gasoline with fire.
Two years ago I witnessed Miura fight Sergio “Yeyo” Thompson in a similar match up. It was a filthy hot and humid bull ring in Cancun, Mexico during the summer of 2013. That night each fighter hit the deck and clobbered each other for 12 rounds. Miura emerged the victor but collapsed in his dressing room and was carted away to a local hospital. The temperature inside the enclosed bull ring was well above 100 degrees that night. Miura proved to be ok. He just did not have any more fluids in his body. I voted it Fight of the Year for 2013 but many did not see the fight on the Golden Boy card.
Miura showed me then he was one heck of a warrior.
Vargas started kind of late as a professional at age 25. Now 30, he’s been on the fast-track and in five years has fought and defeated talented opposition such as Jerry Belmontes, Abner Cotto, and Will Tomlinson. He’s not afraid to trade blows with anyone. He showed that against Juanma Lopez back in 2014 when he got into a firefight with the hard-hitting Boricua and ended the fight in three rounds. Of course, many said Lopez was past his prime and that may or not be true, but Vargas did take some shots. He survived.
Facing Miura, the first round had barely begun when Vargas tagged the Japanese warrior early with a left hook and had him wobbling around the ring. Unlike many others, I had seen Miura before and knew he would survive. He did. Slowly but surely Miura began mounting an attack and began battering the Mexican fighter around the ring. The momentum shifted and the champion was in full control and floored Vargas with a perfect right jab, left cross combination. Down went Vargas. He got up and battled like I knew he would. Four rounds later, Miura seemed to have the Mexican fighter in bad trouble in the corner, but time ran out.
In the ninth round Vargas stormed out of his corner and caught Miura with an overhand right and down went the champion. The entire arena was in shock. They expected the Japanese to end the fight and instead saw Vargas whack out Miura with a barrage of blows that forced referee Tony Weeks to stop the fight.
Could Miura have continued?
That could spell a rematch between the two warriors. It’s definitely the Fight of the Year.
Santa Ana’s Ronny Rios had one victory since being blasted out by Robinson Castellanos a year ago at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio. It was a one-sided beating that could have taken the heart out of any fighter. Rios was taken by ambulance to a local hospital after that fight in October 2014.
Rios has never been a big puncher. The featherweight instead relies on good boxing fundamentals and constant pressure. He’s proof that if you know your craft you can succeed even in a knockout driven sport.
The featherweight contender returned to the boxing ring last March and seemed tentative in his return. But as the rounds mounted you could see the confidence build. After 10 rounds he looked back to normal. But that was against a good fighter, but not a contender.
Puerto Rico’s Jayson Velez fought on a Golden Boy fight card in downtown L.A. this past June and had prepared at the Wild Card Gym in Hollywood. He showed sharpness, power and most of all he was very strong.
When Golden Boy announced the match between Velez and Rios it was clear it was a do or die moment for Rios.
Rios, 25, is a fighter of Mexican-American descent managed by Frank Espinoza. Most of his fighters have serious firepower. But there’s something about the Orange County fighter that makes you like him. He loves to fight. He’s smart and people simply are drawn to him.
But you can’t take fans into the ring with you. Though a large contingent of fans were in attendance at the Mandalay Bay for Rios, he was facing Puerto Rico’s Velez who also had a large contingent of Puerto Rican fans shouting for him. It was Mexico versus Puerto Rico all over again.
From the first round it was obvious that Rios planned to target the body and was doing a great job. But referee Jay Nady once again declared the blows were low. Nady has done this many times in the past including his horrible work officiating John Molina’s fight with Humberto Soto. In that fight he took points away from Molina that led to a defeat for the Covina fighter. Here he was again taking a point away from Rios for a blow that landed on the belt.
Nady is simply too tall to referee fighters below welterweight. He takes away use of body shots that can change the outcome of a fight. The Nevada State Athletic Commission needs to evaluate his performances more closely. Body shots are legal and he’s penalizing fighters who attack the body. It’s costing boxers their livelihood.
Rios was battling Velez and the referee throughout the fight but somehow managed to control the fight. Velez tried mightily but it just wasn’t his night. The Puerto Rican fighter is very talented and his style wasn’t suited for Rios constant attack.
Fans waited for the verdict and when it was announced Rios had won they burst into near tears. Not only was Rios back but he looked stronger than ever.
“He looked very good,” said Espinoza after the fights. “I was very impressed by Ronny.”
Fans watching on television were also impressed.
After 12 rounds between Mexico’s Saul “Canelo” Alvarez and Puerto Rico’s Miguel Cotto it was obvious that the redhead belongs in the upper tier. Cotto had consecutive knockouts against former world champions but could not put a dent on Canelo.
The fight appeared to be a lot closer than the judges scored it. Many on press row had the fight a draw. It was one of those fights that saw one guy (Canelo) landing much harder blows and the other scoring with jabs and combinations.
Alvarez was declared the winner so what’s next?
The Mexican redhead has three options: 1) a rematch with Cotto. 2) defend the title against David Lemieux. 3) meet Gennady Golovkin in a unification bout.
Of course the world would love to see the third option. So would I. In my opinion Alvarez showed he’s very strong and could go toe-to-toe with Golovkin. Not many fighters can, but I think the Mexican from Guadalajara showed he has a chin and strength to withstand Golovkin’s assaults at least in the early going.
It’s all up to Golden Boy and Canelo.