Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
In almost every conceivable way, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Brandon Rios are a study in contrasts.
Inside the ring, Bradley can be a brawler – and when he is, it is not always to his advantage, as Ruslan Provodnikov showed during their epic 2013 battle – but at his best is a first-rate boxer-puncher, using swift footwork and hand speed and excellent combinations to outwork and frequently outclass his opponents. Rios, in contrast, while professing a readiness to box when needed, acknowledges that his is a body perpetually stuck in forward motion. As Bradley trainer Teddy Atlas says, Rios “starts coming forward during the national anthems.” It is not to denigrate Rios’ skill to accept that there is little especially unpredictable about his approach, that he seeks to suck his foes into a brawl and that when he does so, he almost invariably comes out on top.
Outside the ring, too, the two men could barely appear more different. Bradley, who dresses for public events in smart casual except when he ditches the casual, proffers well-rounded thoughts in articulated sentences, his brows occasionally furrowing as he works his way mentally through what he wants to say; Rios, whose idea of dressing up is to don his cleanest Kansas City Royals cap, speaks freely and easily, sharing whatever thought is on the tip of his tongue and garnishing it with plenty of words beginning with f and s.
Rios is a man who appears to enjoy joking his way through life, unencumbered by doubt or torment, joking constantly with reporters, producers and videographers and doing so with a deadpan delivery that can leave them off guard. Bradley appears insistent on carrying not just a chip on his shoulder but a log, forever seeking a sense of insult and slight to motivate him. In a long soliloquy at Thursday’s press conference at the Wynn Las Vegas, he defended himself against media criticism of his business decisions and pointed out that everything in his life - from houses, cars, and his young children’s future education – was fully paid for, prompting one observer to point out afterward that, “I’ve never heard anyone sound so angry about having taken care of their kids’ college tuition.”
And yet, there are similarities, and not just in the sense that they are highly accomplished prize fighters. They are bound in particular by a desire for rebirth, even after a pair of careers littered with accomplishments. Bradley has jettisoned longtime trainer Joel Diaz in favor of Atlas following a succession of outings in which he did not enthrall fans and, more importantly, failed to impress himself. Rios, having by his own admission allowed himself to become too comfortable after being awarded a multi-million-dollar payday against Manny Pacquiao in 2013, claimed at the press conference to have rediscovered a fire he thought had long been extinguished, and insisted he would be entering the ring as, in his words “a new Rios.”
Words are one thing, however, and actions are another, and the Rios who showed up at Friday’s weigh-in looked every inch and ounce the old one, the one whose championship caliber performances have been interspersed with struggles with the scale. In doing so, he highlighted one more, potentially crucial, difference between the two: whereas Bradley is a fitness fanatic, a man who pushes himself so hard that Atlas had to instruct him to take days off during training camp, Rios has not always shown exceptional dedication to his craft. And whereas Bradley looked ripped as ever in weighing 146 pounds, one pound inside the welterweight limit, Rios seemed flabby and soft as he stripped off his tracksuit. He didn’t stop there, either: fully aware that making weight was going to be a struggle, he stepped on to the scales fully nude behind a large towel. It wasn’t enough to prevent him from weighing in two ounces over; he took every minute of the hour allotted to him to lose the extra baggage, before returning to tip the scale at 147 pounds on the dot.
We have a fight. But the lean Bradley will have eyed his portly foe and doubtless felt that his rehabilitation project is the one most likely to end successfully on Saturday night.