LAS VEGAS – A fight against legendary champion Juan Manuel Marquez was Brandon Rios' to lose going into Saturday. And despite a win, Rios may have lost it.
Still drained after a losing battle to make the lightweight limit of 135 pounds, Rios fought an uninspired bout and didn't do anything to increase his position for a July 14 match against the highly regarded Mexican champion Marquez.
There wasn't a lot of outrage in the Mandalay Bay Events Center when the scores favoring Rios were announced, but social media networks blew up in protest. The ringside media overwhelmingly favored Abril – Yahoo! Sports had Abril, 116-112 – but that meant little. Judge Jerry Roth had it 116-112 for Rios, while Glenn Trowbridge favored Rios, 115-113. The third judge, Adalaide Byrd, had Abril, 117-111.
The problem from Rios' standpoint was that he didn't have the fire and spark that he usually brings to the ring. He landed few punches of significance and complained later that Abril was continually holding.
Marquez, who routed Sergey Fedchenko on Saturday in Mexico City in the main event of the split-site pay-per-view, will fight at Cowboys Stadium on July 14.
The opponent, though, is a mystery. Top Rank's plan was to have it be Rios, and it's probably fair to say that Rios is still the leader in the clubhouse, but the combination of Rios' lackluster performance and Mike Alvarado's sensational effort closed the gap.
"We'll sit down and talk with Marquez and see what he wants to do," said promoter Bob Arum, who had Rios winning 115-113.
Alvarado made a case for himself earlier on Saturday's card, winning a unanimous decision over Mauricio Herrera in an exciting fight that had the crowd in the arena roaring its approval.
"I want Marquez, I deserve Marquez and I'm ready for Marquez," Alvarado said. "I have no weight issues. I've paid my dues."
Alvarado, who is 33-0 with 23 knockouts, isn't as high-profile. Top Rank president Todd duBoef said he's not sure if Alvarado has big-enough name recognition to headline a pay-per-view with Marquez.
If he didn't have the name recognition before, he should after back-to-back rousing bouts. In November, Alvarado stopped Breidis Prescott in the final round of a bout he was losing badly, turning Arum euphoric and comparing it to a "Rocky!" movie.
Rios said much of his problems Saturday were from a misguided effort to make weight. He lost his WBA lightweight title on the scale in December when he missed weight by 1.6 pounds.
He agreed to try it again at Top Rank's urging for Saturday's bout, but weighed 137 on Friday. He was fined $45,000, 10 percent of his $450,000 purse.
"It wasn't my best performance, yeah, because I did try to make 135," Rios said, defiantly. "I did try to kill myself to make 135 … because I wanted my title back. It's not like I didn't try. I did [expletive] try. There are all these critics over here talking [expletive] about me and saying [expletive] about me, but half of these [expletive] are fat and heavy and they don't even do it for their health.
"I'm doing it to because I tried to win my title back. I did lose money and it's [expletive] up, but it is what it is. You know what? It happens. I did try. It's not like I didn't try. That's why I'm going to 140."
A Rios-Alvarado fight would be a sensational one, which Rios' manager Cameron Dunkin conceded. But Dunkin said there wouldn't be much money in it and there wouldn't be a world title, so it's likely not going to happen.
Marquez, who is gunning for a fall bout against Manny Pacquiao, will have to decide whether he wants to take on either Rios or Alvarado or go against someone lesser. With a Pacquiao fight potentially his for the taking in November, Marquez may opt for a less demanding fight than one against either Rios or Alvarado.
"That Alvarado is a tough, tough guy," Arum said. "When we were talking to Barry Hunter, who [is the manager of WBA/IBF 140-pound champion] Lamont Peterson, we asked him about Lamont fighting Alvarado and he said, 'No way. That guy is tough.' So, people know about how good this kid is."
Arum wasn't thrilled with Rios' performance, but he blamed much of it on referee Vic Drakulich. He said Drakulich lost control of the fight and allowed Abril to constantly hold.
That, more than anything, Arum said, contributed to Rios' less-than-stellar effort.
"If the referee gets in there and takes a point and doesn't let [Abril] hold like he did, you're looking at a totally different fight," Arum said. "How the hell was Rios going to punch when, every time they got close, Abril grabbed his arms and locked them up?"
While Dunkin wasn't particularly thrilled with Rios' effort, he agreed with Arum.
"Let's be honest: He didn't look very good at all," Dunkin said. "But he was in there with a guy who was holding all night. He should have had at least a point or two taken away. Had those points been taken away, Abril fights differently. He wouldn't have been holding and he'd have had to change. Would that have made Brandon better? I don't know, but it wouldn't have made him worse, I promise you that. He wasn't good tonight. I know that. He wasn't, but we'll put him at 140, where he belongs and, yes, we want to fight Marquez."
It's now in Arum's hands, but with limited options, it's a good bet Rios gets it. But if he doesn't, Rios only has himself to blame.
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