Rios rallies, knocks out Acosta

LAS VEGAS – Brandon Rios lost the first four rounds on two of the three judges’ scorecards and dropped three of the first four on the other. He was hurt badly by a body shot from World Boxing Association lightweight champion Miguel Acosta in the third round and was allowing Acosta to circle and pop his jab without much difficulty.

But Rios isn’t the kind to give up. He didn’t quit when he was run over by a truck that mangled his right leg when he was five years old. He didn’t give up when he failed to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2004 and he didn’t give up on Saturday in the Pearl at the Palms when he fell behind badly early in his first bid for a world championship.

At the urging of his trainer, Robert Garcia, Rios got on top of the champion from Venezuela and fought the fight at close quarters. That turned the fight around and carried Rios to a 10th-round stoppage in a sensational fight. All three judges had Rios ahead 86-83 at the time of the stoppage. Yahoo! Sports had it 87-82 for Rios.

Brandon Rios celebrates his WBA lightweight title win over Miguel Acosta on Saturday night.
Chris Farina photo

Rios’ nickname is “Bam Bam” and he’s rarely in anything but a Pier Six brawl. But he showed plenty of smarts on Saturday by making an adjustment that turned the tide of the bout and brought the lightweight championship home with him to Oxnard, Calif.

“I got hurt early with body shots, and I was hurt real bad, but I never quit,” Rios said. “I stuck in there. Coach told me to get close to him. When he had distance, he was dangerous. He’s a very powerful fighter.”

So, too, is Rios, who scored knockdowns in the sixth, the eighth and the 10th. After a knockdown following a combination in Acosta’s corner, Acosta’s trainer, Manny Siaca, climbed the ropes and hugged Acosta to protect him from more damage. Referee Joe Cortez waved it off and it seemed like half of Oxnard poured into the ring to celebrate with Rios.

“He amazes me, because each time he gets into the ring, he gets better,” Top Rank president Todd DuBoef said. “His performance (in September) against Anthony Peterson shocked me. Peterson, I thought, had a far better pedigree. But the kid keeps coming and coming and he’s very tough. He’s maturing every fight.

“He’s still a baby. This is a fresh face for boxing. He reminds me of (former world champion) Johnny Tapia (in appearance), but he fights like (ex-champion) Arturo Gatti.”

If the 24-year-old Rios, now 27-0-1, has a career half as long and half as successful as those two, he’ll make a lot of money and win a lot of fights.

And more than that, he’ll thrill a lot of fans. Rios has a can’t-miss style that left the crowd on its feet roaring throughout and had Top Rank chairman Bob Arum giddy after the fight.

“I didn’t really think he had much chance after the third round, to be honest with you,” Arum said. “But the kid has a huge heart and he comes to fight. You heard how these people were going crazy in here? They like people who get in there and fight and that’s what this kid does.”

He didn’t just fight when he was ahead, which was a big difference in the fight. He hung in there and tried to pressure Acosta even when the fight was going Acosta’s way. Acosta was landing straight rights and powerful uppercuts with regularity in the early rounds as Rios trudged forward.

After the second round, trainer Robert Garcia gave Rios an ultimatum: Close the distance or forget about winning the bout.

“Acosta landed some good body shots, but I told Brandon to cut the ring, stay close to him and throw three, four punches at a time,” Garcia said. “Acosta was hurting him with body shots when he had the space, but once Brandon got on him, it was a different kind of fight.”

There are a lot of good opponents for Rios on the horizon. Top Rank is going to offer the first shot to veteran Marco Antonio Barrera, who used to employ Rios as a sparring partner. If Barrera wants the fight – and if he watched closely on Saturday, he’d be wise to think about it carefully – Arum will make that match.

If not, there are opponents such as World Boxing Council lightweight champion Humberto Soto or World Boxing Organization champion Juan Manuel Marquez who would make sense for him.

Rios, though, was thinking big. Really big.

And in the euphoria of his win, he was talking about going after some of the top super lightweights or welterweights.

“Man, I’ll fight anyone,” Rios said, beaming. “I don’t care. I will fight them all. If I can’t get the fights I want (at lightweight), I’m a big guy, too, and I will go fight those big guys, no problem. I’ll fight anyone. I don’t care.”

He had few concerns on Saturday after the performance of his lifetime. He was perceived by many as little more than a high-quality club fighter for the early part of his career. But he opened many eyes with his performance in wins over Peterson, Jorge Teron and Omri Lowther.

He’s not the prettiest fighter and he’s not the slickest, but he comes to fight. The style may not win over those who prefer the sweet science to a gritty, tough, hard-nosed brawl, but it was difficult to find many people in the Palms on Saturday who weren’t eager to see him again.

“He’s a tough kid but he wants to be great so badly,” Garcia said. “He works and puts everything he has into it and that’s why he won this. He wanted it so much and he wasn’t going to quit. He just had to find out the right plan. When he got it, it was his fight.”

Kevin Iole covers boxing and mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Kevin a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Sunday, Feb 27, 2011