Boxing cognescenti have offered up Saturday’s Brandon Rios-Urbano Antillon clash as the antithesis of this past Saturday’s deeply disappointing heavyweight fight between champ Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye. It’s not a bad offering, that’s for sure. Rios and Antillon are two of the few boxers today who could be considered true pressure fighters, the kind of lightweights who want to get in your face and never stop punching you no matter what. No. Matter. What. Antillon was one half of the 2010 TQBR Fight of the Year, against Humberto Soto. Rios is one half of a leading 2011 Fight of the Year contender against Miguel Acosta.
Maybe it’s just my Klitschko-Haye hangover talking, but part of me is worried about a letdown. Most people thought Klitschko-Haye would feature can’t-miss action, like they think about Rios-Antillon. Rios and Antillon have grown to deeply dislike one another, just as Klitschko and Haye had. If there’s a difference, it’s that Klitschko and Haye had turned in boring performances before. Antillon and Rios never have. But there’s another reason I’m worried Saturday’s Showtime battle won’t deliver on its promise.
Rios has repeatedly mocked Antillon in the build-up to the fight for the way he talks. At 28, Antillon already worrisomely slurs. It might be the price of so many ring wars, including not just the Soto fight and his knockout loss to recent Rios foe Acosta, but also a history of going nuts in the gym with world-class punchers like Edwin Valero and Manny Pacquiao. Against Soto, Antillon later admitted that he thought about quitting the fight.
I don’t have any doubt that Antillon is going to bring it pretty hard early on in the fight. It’s going to create action. What happens after that is what might make this fight less than it seems to many.
Antillon really does come at his opponents like almost nobody else these days — he’s hungry to get on the inside and savage his opponent’s ribcage, and he’s pretty good at working his way to that point with footwork, the occasional jab and pure determination. Soto was obviously the better boxer of the two, but he simply couldn’t get away from Antillon despite his best laid plans. The way he comes in, with his head tilted forward, begs for an uppercut, and if there’s another area where he stands out compared to his peers it’s in the percentage of uppercuts thrown against him that land. It’s close to 100 percent. It got him wobbled a few times by Soto, and it got him knocked out by Acosta.
Antillon is clearly a good fighter, to be able to hang with Soto and give hard sparring to sensations like the since-deceased Valero and pound-for-pound king Pacquiao. He’s ranked #8 by Ring Magazine in a fairly deep division. If you look at his record, he’s lost to his two best opponents, though. His best win might be over a resurgent Tyrone Harris.
Rios, by comparison, has beaten as many as three opponents better than Harris. Jorge Luis Teron is borderline; Anthony Peterson and Acosta are unquestionable. It’s true that Acosta gave Rios trouble, but he was merely wobbled, not stopped like Antillon. He’s the #1-ranked lightweight. And he’s a big boy — he reportedly walks around at a much higher weight than Antillon, to the point that Rios is probably not staying at 135 pounds much longer.
When I look at Rios compared to Antillon, I see a fresher, bigger, stronger, more powerful man with a better resume and a more resilient chin. With neither of them possessing a lick of defense and neither interested in reverse gear, this is sure to be a high-contact affair. But this dynamic, to me, has strong potential to turn Rios-Antillon into the so-called “one-sided, entertaining fight,” maybe more than a Fight of the Year candidate. I like a good high-contact affair, but I’d rather have a competitive one than watch one guy get beaten down.
Antillon certainly could make a real war of it. He hits hard enough, and will be able to hit Rios often enough, that a knockout win for Antillon isn’t out of reach. I certainly hope that Antillon is competitive. He’s an admirable fighter, to consistently do battle in the fashion he does, same as Rios.
But I think Rios stops him in the middle rounds, no later than the 9th. It’s the fight I’d tune in to on Saturday night given a choice between this one and HBO’s card. But I think it’ll be a bit of a landslide, as badly as I want to be wrong.