Star-in-waiting Rios wants second chance to make first impression
Brandon Rios is looking to regain a lightweight title he lost on the scale last year
Rios was caught on tape mocking Freddie Roach's Parkinson's disease in 2010
The regrettable joke hurt Rios' public image in a way it's yet to recover from
Brandon Rios, like many athletes, is involved in charity work. Recently Rios was named an Ambassador of Hope for PADRES, an organization that seeks to improve the quality of life for Latino children and their families. He is sponsoring a 5K fundraising run in June and when he fights will wear a PADRES patch on his trunks to help raise awareness.
It's admirable work. For Rios, it's also necessary.
Flash back to November 2010. Rios, a stablemate of Antonio Margarito, was fighting on the undercard of Margarito's showdown with Manny Pacquiao. Days before the fight a video leaked of Margarito and Rios mocking the tremors Pacquiao's trainer Freddie Roach suffers from as a result of his Parkinson's disease. Both Margarito and Rios were publicly condemned for their behavior and though both apologized, the damage was already done.
It was bad for Margarito, who was already dealing with accusations that he fought with loaded gloves. But for Rios, it was worse. At the time, Rios was a relative unknown. The video created a first impression that Rios has still been unable to shake.
"It was a really, really stupid thing to do," Rios said in a telephone interview. "It was one of those things that happened in camp that I didn't think was going to get leaked. I still get a lot of criticism for it. It's something that has stuck to me."
Over the past two years, Rios's career has taken off. He took a piece of the lightweight title with a knockout of Miguel Acosta in 2011 and defended it once before being stripped for failing to make weight for his fight with John Murray last December. On Saturday, Rios will try to regain that 135-pound title when he takes on Richard Abril (17-2-1) in Las Vegas (9 p.m. ET, HBO PPV).
Yet while Rios's success and crowd-pleasing style has made him a favorite of the networks, his popularity with fans is still a work in progress. His past indiscretions -- the drinking, the street fights (one of which landed Rios in a Kansas jail for two months), the late-night partying -- have become public fodder as Rios' profile has grown. Toss in the Roach video and Rios has a history that, he said, "some people never let me forget."
To be clear, Rios has no intention of changing the brash, cocky fighter he comes off as at press conferences. He doesn't avoid confrontation; he charges towards it. At an event that was supposed to promote Rios's fight with Yuri Gamboa (who later pulled out), Rios got into it with Abril on the dais. They scuffled again at a press conference in Los Angeles on Monday. Tensions are so high that Top Rank refused to pose the fighters together at the final press event on Wednesday, fearing another brawl might break out.
Rios makes no apologies for his behavior. To him, it's just part of boxing.
"I genuinely dislike my opponents," Rios said. "It's not an act. It's not part of a promotion. Promoting isn't my job. Abril, I had no idea who he was until he came at me in Miami. He's a guy trying to show heart when he has none. He's talking like he's not scared, but deep down you know he is. He's trying to man up, talking about breaking my jaw. I'm going to bust him up."
At 25, Rios has a bright future. He is co-headlining Saturday's card with Juan Manuel Marquez, the veteran lion who is coming off a controversial points loss to Pacquiao in November. Promoter Bob Arum would like to match Rios and Marquez against each other in a show at Cowboys Stadium in July. If not Marquez, the 140-pound division -- to which Rios is likely to move up after Saturday night -- is loaded with high profile opponents.
"I'm ready for my coming-out party," Rios said. "Fighting Abril is, well, whatever. I'll be ready but I want a big fight."
When it does come, the tough-talking, foul-mouthed Rios will be there. He will continue to be that character in the ring, just as he will continue doing everything he can to erase the image many have of the villain out of it.