LAS VEGAS — Brandon Rios is a guy who never projected anything but the utmost confidence. He may not have been the most gifted boxer or talented athlete, but Rios always came across as the ultimate tough guy.
A smirk would frequently cross his face, as if he dared you to cross him.
The one thing he never portrayed was self doubt.
Rios is trying to keep up the familiar facade, but it's not as convincing. He faces tough Diego Chaves Saturday at the Cosmopolitan in a welterweight bout that will headline a split-site tripleheader on HBO.
Rios grins devilishly when it's mentioned that the fight with Chaves should be highly entertaining.
"Just like I love it," Rios said.
But longtime Rios watchers would agree, it's a very different demeanor he's displaying.
Gone from his camp is conditioning coach Alex Ariza. New to the team is sports psychologist Raudel Flores, who has a Master's degree in clinical psychology.
Rios understands the importance of Saturday's bout – it's hard to be a headliner and make the big bucks coming off three consecutive losses – but insists he's not dwelling on the losing streak.
"I'm more relaxed and ready, even though I know this is a do-or-die fight for me," Rios said. "I don't put pressure on myself. I'm ready to go out and do what I do best. I've trained right. I've been disciplined in camp. I've been doing everything [trainer] Robert [Garcia] has been telling me to do. I'm following all of his instructions.
"So, I'm ready. I'm ready. I'm more disciplined this time and my diet has been better. My diet has been a big thing. I've hired a cook. I'm on weight already. I feel comfortable."
Complicating matters for Rios is that he's coming off a suspension after testing for the performance-enhancing drug dimenthylamylamine (DMAA) following his loss to Manny Pacquiao in November in Macau, China.
Rios again denied taking the banned substance and, as he did in this Yahoo Sports report in December, again questioned the procedures in the collection of his sample. He said the collector forgot his kit and had Rios urinate into a cup he'd been using when brushing his teeth.
Rios wouldn't address Ariza's departure from his camp, saying repeatedly, "I've got nothing bad to say about anyone and I'm not going to point a finger at anyone."
But Rios shook his head affirmatively when Garcia said they received little support from promoter Top Rank or manager Cameron Dunkin after news of the positive test was announced.
"Brandon doesn't take that [expletive] but no one was really paying attention to us when that happened," Garcia said of the positive test report. "Top Rank didn't give us support. [Nor did] Cameron. All they wanted to know was, 'Are you going to get rid of Ariza? Are you going to get rid of Ariza?'
DMAA is a stimulant, but if Rios indeed did take it prior to the fight, it didn't help him in his bout against Pacquiao.
Rios said he wasn't able to perform the way he thought he could, even though he was supremely confident beforehand.
"What can I tell you?" Rios said of the Pacquiao fight. "It was my first rodeo in terms of having a really big fight. Sometimes, you perform well in your first rodeo but this time, I didn't. It is what it is. I've moved on from it and I'm looking ahead, not past.
"I got in the ring and I believed 100 percent I would beat that guy. But then I was in there and saw him, and the moment kind of got to me. It was like, '[Expletive] this [expletive] is real. I'm fighting Manny Pacquiao.' And I got nervous. I was physically ready, but mentally I wasn't ready."
Rios fought as if he wasn't ready. No one was shocked that he lost, since Pacquiao was heavily favored and is one of the great fighters in the world. The shock came in the way that Rios approached the fight.
Rios, who was coming off a loss to Mike Alvarado, didn't have the snarl or the aggressive edge that has defined him throughout his career. He followed Pacquiao around the ring, but he didn't throw punches like he normally did, and certainly not with the kind of vicious intent that he'd delivered so often in the past.
So he hired Flores to help him through the mental aspects and said he feels far more positive.
Rios believes he's back to where he was several years ago when he was rolling through the lightweight division and earning a reputation as one of the game's most entertaining prospects.
"This is an important fight for me and I recognize that and I've done the things I need to do to be ready for it," he said. "I feel like I did back when I fought at 135 and I had no problem making the weights. I feel great and I just want to get in there and let it go."