All Photographs: Chris Farina/Top Rank
On Saturday, April 14, Cuban lightweight Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8ko) appeared on course for an unlikely victory at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino only to have it snatched away from him due to contentious scoring. Abril was the ring general against a sluggish Brandon Rios (30-0-1, 22ko), boxed at his own tempo, marked Bam Bam’s eye and even frustrated Rios as he kept Brandon at a comfortable distance. When the judges scorecards were unveiled – 117-111 for Abril (fair), 115-113 for Rios (bad) and 116-112 for Rios (worse) – the Las Vegas crowd were stunned as a decision that Abril regarded to be ‘disgraceful’ went against him despite seemingly owning the majority of rounds.
Robert Delgado – Los Angeles
Undefeated Oxnard power-hitter Brandon Rios failed to make weight on Friday, April 13 as he scaled in at 137lbs – two pounds heavier than the mandatory 135lb lightweight limit – and will consequently be denied a shot at the WBA‘s interim belt and the $50,000 bonus that promotional giants Top Rank had earmarked for the victor in the Rios versus Richard Abril bout on Saturday evening at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, Las Vegas.
It is not the first time Rios (29-0-0, 22ko) has struggled to make weight as, in his most recent fight, he lost his world title on the scales when he recorded a 135.5lb weight for his voluntary defence against England’s slugger; John Murray. Despite claiming a late knockout victory, Rios lacked the crushing vigour that had typified his championship performances against Miguel Acosta and Urbano Antillon.
Remaining unbeaten but losing his belt inspired Rios to enlist the services of a nutritionist/conditioner, Cecilio Flores, who altered Bam Bam’s dietary plan and exercising: “It was the best decision I ever made,” Rios explained at a press conference this week, adding: “I feel so much more energetic and powerful and I’m not missing meals.” However, the moves were not enough to keep Rios at lightweight and a move north, to super lightweight (140lbs) must now be imminent.
The show, though, will still go on with only Abril (17-2-1, 8ko) eligible for the belt and the Benjamins yet the prickly rivalry between the pair has provided Brandon with ample motivation: “I’m not letting this unknown come in and ruin eight years of hard work I put into building my professional boxing career,” the 25-year-old said recently.
The Abril – Rios showdown is to be broadcast on HBO who are offering a split-site pay-per-view with Mexican ring legend Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39ko) and Serhiy Fedchenko competing for the interim WBO junior welterweight world championship in the main event.
Marquez, 38, will – in an act that belies his veteran years – be an active boxer in 2012 as he also has July 14 date ready for a dust-up with a yet to be determined opponent at the impressive Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Rios is regarded to be a prime candidate to challenge Marquez should he, as expected, oversee Abril.
“Juan Manuel Márquez and I have a lot of options in 2012 and a lot of opportunities,” he commented. “I think this could be a career year for either of us. One of us could end up as the Fighter of the Year.”
Promising a fan-friendly fight, Rios made the proclamation that his fisticuffs with Abril will be “an action fight.”
He concluded: “I will make absolutely sure Abril sees some real action. April stepped up when he put his hands on me at the Miami press conference. Now after our fight he will return to the dark shadows where he really belongs.”
Robert Delgado – Los Angeles
Defending interim WBA lightweight world champion Richard Abril is talking big ahead of his Saturday, April 14 examination against heavy-hitting Oxnard brawler Brandon Rios. Abril, who cites his precision as his tactical edge, is promising a victory that will see him “break Brandon’s mouth” and even claimed Rios will achieve great fame despite defeat at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas.
“This is a great opportunity for Rios to lose to a great champion,” said Abril (17-2-0, 8ko). “He’ll become more famous because he lost to me.”
Unlike the unbeaten Rios, Abril has already amassed two losses: a split decision to Henry Lundy in 2010 and a slim points defeat to Breidis Prescott in 2008, both of whom were undefeated at the time. However, he achieved his most significant win in his most recent outing as he overcame technically-astute Venezuelan Miguel Acosta in October, last year, dropping the former world champion in round four and twice in the tenth.
Acosta is a common opponent on both Abril and Rios’ record, however, it is the former who believes his triumph to be the more convincing. He said: “When I beat Acosta to win the interim world title, I knocked him down three times during the fight. I had a more dominant performance against Acosta than Rios.”
It is the victory over Acosta that has given Abril confidence he can emulate that performance and inflict a career-first blemish onto Bam Bam’s resume: “I don’t like Rios,” he revealed. “Rios is a good fighter. He has a Mexican fighting style but he has a big mouth [and] Saturday is going to be the end for him.
“My best weapon is my precision. That is my advantage over Rios. I’m going to break Rios’ mouth when we fight. He’s said a lot of sh*t,” the 29-year-old finished.
Robert Delgado – Los Angeles
HBO have pulled the lightweight duel between undefeated duo Brandon Rios and Yuriorkis Gamboa from their World Championship Boxing broadcasting schedule. The rival prizefighters were set to clash in the main event bout at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on April 14, however, despite Gamboa’s well-publicised absence from the promotion, Rios and the Top Rank undercard will remain in action next month with television rights still to be arranged.
The 135lb tussle, that would have decided the fate of the WBA lightweight world championship belt, had generated huge interest as it pitted two of the pound-for-pound most fan-friendly, exciting headhunters against each other yet fears the match-up would fall through originated earlier this month as Gamboa twice no-showed press conferences in his native Miami (bizarrely, an event that was his own request) and latterly, in Los Angeles.
Speculation began to build as to whom could fill in should Gamboa be axed from the card, with undercard slugger Mike Alvarado (32-0-0, 23ko) linked with Rios (29-0-1, 22ko) in a super lightweight tie but such a fight has been quashed as Alvarado’s contest with Mauricio Herrera will provide the chief support to Rios versus TBA in April.
Cameron Dunkin, the prominent manager who represents Rios, was reported to have told ESPN that the leading candidate to fill in for Gamboa would be Richard Abril who, like Yuriorkis, is a Cuban-born, Miami resident. Abril (17-2-1, 8ko) is an interim titlist with the WBA at lightweight and, in his most recent fight, overcame Miguel Acosta – who Rios teekayoed last year – by way of unanimous decision.
It has also been claimed that Top Rank, who guided the ascendancy of Gamboa to the upper echelons of the featherweight ranks, will pursue legal action over a fighter they claim has been advised by a rival promoter or promoters to withdraw from the April 14 contest.
As well as Rios and Alvarado versus Herrera, Filipino prospect Mercito Gesta will square off against Luis Antonio Arceo and super bantamweight Jesse Magdaleno will take on Nick Fast.
Robert Delgado – Los Angeles
Should the WBA maintain their stringent – and harsh – policy of stripping titlists of their championship status in the event they fail to defend against a mandatory challenger within 18 months, like the situation former ‘Super’ WBA lightweight champion Juan Manuel Marquez currently finds himself the victim of, then the main beneficiaries could be 135lb rivals Richard Abril, of Cuba, and Venezuelan ace Jorge Linares, who are speculated to compete for the vacant strap.
A pound-for-pound mainstay, Marquez’s technical finesse and boxing ability throughout the featherweight and super featherweight divisions translated instantly when he made the trip north to box at lightweight in 2008, trumping Joel Casamayor by way of 11th round technical knockout to pick up The Ring magazine’s title.
In early 2009, he was awarded two alphabet belts – WBA and the WBO – for his ninth round stoppage of Juan Diaz. The reason the WBA stripped Marquez (53-6-1, 39ko) of their championship was because they claim the Mexican, 38, has not obliged his mandatory challenger since that date, despite a successful defence against game slugger Michael Katsidis in a fight of the year nominee in 2010.
During JuanMa’s reign atop the 135lb weight class, he also beat Diaz in a rematch, as well as testing himself against two of the greatest boxers of the last decade in their own natural weight class, welterweight: Floyd Mayweather in 2009 and Manny Pacquiao in 2011.
The latest rankings by the WBA even have Marquez unlisted. The effective counter-puncher has been linked with a permanent occupation within the confines of either super lightweight or welterweight, yet he still holds the WBO and The Ring belts.
Abril heads the WBA’s top ten list of contenders, with Linares (31-2-0, 20ko) slotted in at second despite his defeat to Antonio DeMarco, Brandon Rios holds down third place, Yuriorkis Gamboa is fourth even though he has never boxed in the division and Paulus Moses is fifth.
What is Marquez’s loss, though, could turn in to Abril (17-2-1, 8ko) and Linares’ gain as the pair are believed to be the leading candidates in the WBA’s next sanctioned world title fight.