Photos: Will Hart
By Kieran Mulvaney
What a difference ten months can make. In January, Brandon Rios, frequently criticized for his lackluster conditioning, whipped himself into shape and annihilated Mike Alvarado inside three rounds, only for most of the postfight commentary to focus on Alvarado’s own desultory approach to training. On Saturday night in Las Vegas, Rios was the one who entered the ring demonstrably out of shape, having failed to make weight at his first attempt on Friday and then adding fully 23 pounds by fight night; as a consequence, he was utterly powerless to resist the onslaught of Tim Bradley, who tore into him from the opening bell and landed combinations at will before dropping and stopping Rios in the ninth round.
As bad as Rios (33-3-1, 24 KOs) looked, Bradley appeared sensational. He had said repeatedly during fight week that he needed to be a “smart monster” against Rios – to be aggressive without falling into a brawl that would suit his opponent – and so he was. He sped across the ring toward Rios at the opening bell, launching spearing jabs and following them up with scorching four-and-five-punch combinations that bounced off the easy target that was Rios' head. In the second, Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs) allowed himself to fall into his punches a little too easily, smothering his own work and giving Rios the opportunity to maul him and land a few blows of his own; but by the third, he was back in the groove, and he remained there for the duration of the contest.
Rios attempted to walk down Bradley and trap him against the ropes, but on those occasions when he was able to get his opponent at the distance he wanted, he was unable to pull the trigger. At times, when Bradley wandered too close, Rios might swat him with a right hand or two, but otherwise his fighting style was mostly reminiscent of Boris Karloff in The Mummy: marching slowly forward and relying on his victim to fall prey to his spell.
Bradley showed no inclination of doing anything of the sort, however, as he continued to move and pivot and rake Rios with blistering combinations. A terrific overhand right in the fifth swiveled Rios’ head, while in the sixth Bradley focused on left hooks, at one point landing a four-punch combination that consisted entirely of left hands. By the eighth, Bradley had stepped up his assault to another level, tearing into Rios with hard punches as his opponent looked increasingly bereft of ideas.
The end came in the ninth, when a ripping left to the body clearly hurt Rios, who winced and took a few steps backward. Another left to the solar plexus landed, and Rios took another step back and went down to one knee: the first time in his career that he had hit the canvas. Referee Tony Weeks had to instruct Bradley – who last scored a stoppage in 2011, against Joel Casamayor, and was presumably rusty on the protocol – to walk to a neutral corner, from where he returned to the attack after Rios beat the count. Another flurry of punches put Rios down again, this time in his own corner, and Weeks waved the contest to a halt.
Afterward, Rios hinted that he might retire from the ring.
“He hit me with a perfect body shot up the middle and followed up with an equally good shot up the side,” he said. “The better man won. It is what it is. Maybe eight months of inactivity played a part. But I’m making no excuses. I’m done.”
“The plan was to take a piece every round,” said Bradley’s new trainer Teddy Atlas, working with his new charge for the first time. “Don’t be greedy. Be like a piranha.”
CompuBox stats showed just how many bites Bradley took. In total, he connected with 254 of 570 punches, for a 45 percent connect rate; he landed 33 percent of his jabs and 54 percent of the 325 power punches he threw. Rios, in contrast, landed just 81 punches all night: 18 percent of those he threw.
Afterward, Bradley’s promoter Bob Arum was ecstatic.
“That’s the best Bradley I’ve ever seen,” he enthused – and suddenly, the prospect of a possible third fight with Manny Pacquiao didn’t seem quite as improbable as it had barely an hour earlier.