by Kieran Mulvaney
Brandon Rios looked slightly nervous.
Not of his opponent – Rios, more than most boxers, is the kind of fighter who gives the impression he would walk through a hail of bullets to land a few blows on an opponent’s jaw – but of his own body. Having struggled to make weight for a lightweight title defense against John Murray in New York in December 2011 (a struggle memorably captured on HBO’s 2 Days – Portrait of a Fighter), he failed to make the 135 lb weight limit altogether in his next outing, losing the belt on the scale and putting forth a lethargic effort in a controversial split decision win over Richar Abril.
He looked rejuvenated in his subsequent bout, his first in the junior welterweight division, when he stopped Mike Alvarado in the seventh round to end the Colorado fighter’s unbeaten record in a battle that, until Juan Manuel Marquez left Manny Pacquiao face-down and unconscious in Las Vegas last December, was the clubhouse leader for 2012’s Fight of the Year.
But already, on the eve of Saturday’s rematch with Alvarado, the proverbial word on the street was that Rios was now fighting a losing battle to stay within the 140 lb confines of his new weight division, and that a trip to welterweight – the domain of Pacquiao, Marquez and Timothy Bradley – awaited. And indeed, as Rios stepped on the scale at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Friday afternoon, it was with a look of apprehension on his face, a look that appeared justified when his weight was read out.
140.5 pounds. Half a pound over the limit. He would have to go away and lose the extra seven ounces, unless …
Rios stripped off his underwear and took his place on the scale again, his modesty protected by a towel and members of his entourage. Apparently, boxer briefs are made of serious material in Oxnard, because in an instant he was on weight and looking relaxed and ready.
Fighters who go to war in a ring can end up despising each other or greatly liking and admiring each other for what they have been through together; if the reaction of Rios and Alvarado after both made weight was anything to go by, the two men clearly fall into the latter camp. They joked around, they smiled, they shook hands, they hugged, and they mugged for the fans – theirs and their opponent’s.
“303! 303!” chanted Alvarado’s supporters, shouting the Denver area code that precedes his (and, presumably, most of their) seven-digit phone number.
Rios, leading a cry in response of “805! 805!”, because showing area code pride is the thing the kids do these days, displayed his middle finger to the Alvarado fans– but he did so with a smile because “I love it when they f*** with me.”
“Is the rematch going to be another war?” he is asked.
“Of course it’s going to be a war,” he replied, before slightly changing his tune. “I don’t give a f***. Fight, box, whatever.”
Alvarado, who gave almost as good as he got before finally succumbing in their first contest, has made it plain which strategy he prefers.
“I’ll box 100 rounds if I have to,” he said before leaving the stage.
He managed to box (and brawl) for six and a half rounds before the freight train that is Brandon Rios finally ran him over in October. Unless he is the one who finds a way to finish the night early on Saturday, he’ll need to find another five and a half rounds from somewhere, which won’t be easy: whether or not this is already the last time we’ll see Rios at 140 lbs., rest assured he’ll be out to make it as memorable as the first.