The most anticipated event of the weekend has to be the lightweight grudge-clash between cocky, outspoken Brandon Rios and Urbano Antillon, a man of a certain stoic nobility. I don't use "cocky" and "noble" as a way of branding this a matchup of good vs. evil. In the promotional world of boxing, these are simply the roles these two fighters have fallen into.
Rios is famous, or infamous, for his mocking of Freddie Roach's Parkinson's symptoms as well as his affiliation with noted villain Antonio Margarito. Meanwhile, Antillon is a humble, come-forward brawler, hard-working and courageous (as is Rios, for the record) who speaks with an endearing lisp (which Rios has pounced on and ridiculed, of course).
If there's a line to cross when it comes to vicious insults, it's on matters of which the victim has no control...obviously race being a good example. Attacking someone's disease or speech is equally distasteful. Rios has no problem crossing that line as part of the pre-fight psychological warfare. In his defense, when this great fight ends, he'll be the first to credit Urbano—if Rios wins. I'm afraid to say that I could see Bam-Bam being less than a graceful loser, not because he's actually a bad guy, but because he's one of the most fiery competitors in the sport. To his credit, he hasn't lost yet.
The styles are similar, with Rios a bit more polished and efficient in the ring, Antillon generally taking a wilder, more free-swinging approach. You don't have to worry about one of these guys deciding to outbox the other guy and playing cautious non-offense all night.
If someone has to play the boxer, it will be Rios, but that won't last very long. For one, Rios isn't a strict boxer...far from it. He likes to get inside and get busy and go for the kill. Secondly, Antillon's style is so awkward and aggressive, it takes people off guard and kind of forces them to fight back. Humberto Soto, more of a boxer, chose to brawl with him. Rios, a brawler at heart, will likely do the same.
This fight reminds me of another intended rant. The lightweight division is about to enter a serious drought. Think about it. Marquez will have to vacate, as his next two fights are at junior-welter or higher. When he returns post-Pacquiao, he'll find most of the lucrative fights won't be at lightweight. Guerrero's moving up, Soto's moving up, Katsidis...four of the top 10 guys at LW (including champ, No. 2 and No. 3) will be out of the division in their next fight. If Rios beats Antillon, he stays a No. 1 contender, while Marquez vacates the championship. Then who?
Well, the John Murray-Kevin Mitchell fight will play a big role. Murray is actually the next-highest ranked lightweight, behind Rios and all the guys leaving. Who knows who will take that one? Mitchell's been in bigger fights against tougher competition. Of course, one of those was the brutal knockout he suffered his last time out against Katsidis.
Murray hasn't fought anyone of note. Behind Murray in the current rankings, you'll find Rios' previous victim Miguel Acosta, Antillon and Paulus Moses. The only interesting fight I see for Rios is a guy who I think is cruelly underrated, IBF lightweight champ Miguel Vazquez. Rios/Vazquez would be a classic boxer vs. puncher fight with multiple belts on the line.
Beyond that, unless Marquez were to come back in the spring and fight Rios to re-unify the division, Brandon will find himself in the same boat as Guerrero and Soto. 140 lbs will be loaded and it's a weight Bam-Bam can definitely compete at. If Marquez stays at 140, by next year Rios will be there too. And we can start salivating over fights like Rios vs. Guerrero or Maidana. The lightweight division will be in tatters, which might be exactly the type of scene that a Yuriorkis Gamboa or JuanMa Lopez can exploit late next year in a changing of the guard. Maybe Nonito can meet them there in 2013?
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