By Nat Gottlieb
Timothy Bradley and Brandon Rios, two longtime champions and warriors, will square off in a fight that will almost certainly determine the future course of their careers. With both boxers on the edge of big picture relevance, this fight on Nov. 7 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas on HBO World Championship Boxing at 9:30 pm ET/PT promises to be as impactful as it will be entertaining.
On one side of the welterweight bout, you have the 32-year-old Bradley, a non-stop dynamo who has won world titles in two divisions and been an elite fighter for the past eight years. On the other is the 29-year-old Rios, a former lightweight champion with a granite chin who is built to take punches and keep on coming.
One man with a unique insight into this fight is Cameron Dunkin, who has managed 33 world champions, including both Bradley and Rios. Dunkin and Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs) parted ways after he beat Juan Manuel Marquez in 2013, but having been with the boxer for three years, the manager knows how difficult it will be for Rios (33-2-1, 24 KOs) to beat him.
According to Dunkin, there are really two Tim Bradleys that could appear in the ring – one a superb boxer, the other an unlikely brawler. Dunkin feels the style Bradley chooses could well determine the outcome of this fight.
“If he just boxes like he did against Marquez, it’s going to be real rough for us,” says Dunkin, who currently manages Rios as well as unbeaten champion Terence Crawford. “But that’s the Bradley we prepared for, the guy who bobs side to side and moves around the ring. We know Bradley’s deal is he likes to come in and get two or three quick shots off and get out. That would force Rios to try and counter while he’s getting out. If Rios allows that to happen, he’s going to be dead. He has to get his shots off first and go right at him.”
Dunkin was still Bradley’s manager when the boxer got into a sensational war with Ruslan Provodnikov, a bout that was named the 2013 Fight of the Year. “We’re hoping to get Bradley to revert to being a warrior and get in a dogfight,” the manager says. “Bradley has been saying he’s going to go into a war with Rios, but I don’t believe that for a minute.”
War is Rios’ comfort zone.
When he steps into the ring, there are no surprises. His opponents know he’s going to keep coming at them, eating their punches to get inside and bang away. That being said, there might be one surprise Rios has in store for Bradley.
Rios has long had a reputation as a fighter doesn't always train all that hard and is likely to come into a fight heavier than he should be. But it appears that Rios, knowing many think he’s over the hill, has buckled down and is training harder than ever. A week before this 147-pound title fight, Dunkin says Rios’s weight “was already down to 150 and he looks in superb shape. He’s going 12 rounds hitting the mitts and not breathing hard at all.”
Rios is determined to silence his critics in this fight. “Everyone thinks I’m done,” he says. “That I’m a shot fighter. Well I’m not and I’m going to show it.”
The brawler’s renewed commitment follows his narrow defeat of Diego Chaves last year, a fight he won on a 9th round disqualification when he was behind on two of the three scorecards.
“The Chaves fight taught him a lesson,” Dunkin says. “He knows he was lucky to escape. Everyone really dumped on him after that fight. They called him an over-the-hill fighter who was never that good to begin with, a ruffian with no skills and was slow. That really hurt him.”
Team Rios decided to read the riot act to him. “We got together with him after that fight and we told him if you’re going to fight, then you’re going to have to get serious. You have to stop coming into fights soft and flabby and overweight, just a guy there to collect a check. He also knows if he loses to Bradley, his time is over and he’ll just be used as an opponent. After that talk he said to me, ‘I’m going to get really serious about my career and train hard.’”
In Rios’ next fight against fellow brawler, Mike Alvardo in January, Dunkin says his boxer was in superb condition. “He really wanted to put on a performance against Alvardo, but Alvarado was a shell of himself.”
Rios knocked Alvardo down in the third round, and was beating on him so badly that the 35-year-old quit on his stool after the round. “Rios said to me afterwards, ‘This was the first fight of my second career. Bradley will be the second.’”
Bradley is also aware that he has something to prove. In a June fight against unbeaten but light-hitting Jessie Vargas, Bradley was well in command of the bout in the 12th round when Vargas staggered him with a perfect right to the head in the closing moments. Bradley didn’t go down, but he appeared to be out on his feet. Oddly enough, when a ringside official slammed together the clapper to signal 10 seconds were left in the round, referee Pat Russell mistook that for the final bell, stepped in between Bradley and Vargas, and signaled that the fight was over.
It was not the first time Bradley has been saved by the bell recently. In the 12th round against Provodnikov, the Russian repeatedly rocked him and sent him staggering into the ropes. With seconds left in the fight, Bradley wisely took out a knee and the clock ran out, enabling him to win a razor thin, unanimous decision.
Was the Vargas fight a sign that Bradley was vulnerable to a knockout at this stage of his career? Has all the punishment Bradley’s absorbed in wars with fighters like Manny Pacquiao, Provodnikov, and Marquez taken its toll? Bradley doesn’t think so and sounds supremely confident he can dispose of Rios. “Rios can bring on the pressure all night and we will deal with it,” he says. “I know Rios is a tough guy. But I’m tough, too. And smarter.”
In the co-feature, spectacular featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (4-1, 2 KOs) will be making his third title defense against little known Mexican Romulo Koasicha (25-4, 15 KOs). Koasicha has won four in a row, but none of his opponents were top-flight competition. The only fighter of distinction he has faced was Lee Selby, a current featherweight champion. In that bout, held last year on Selby’s home turf in Wales, Koasicha dropped a unanimous decision by wide margins on the scorecards.
Lomachenko, the legendary amateur and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is so good that he’s apparently scaring away the best featherweights. Still, the Ukrainian southpaw is such an exciting, perfect boxing machine that his mere presence in a ring is must-watch TV.