Richard Abril Looks To Avoid Becoming A Punchline

There was a collective sigh heard across the boxing community when it became evident that Yuriorkis Gamboa would not be fighting Brandon Rios in a legitimate dream fight on April 14 at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas.

Some even held out a little hope that, somehow, Gamboa would show up at the scheduled presser in Los Angeles after ducking the first one in the Cuban’s adopted home of Miami.

That didn’t happen. Top Rank president Todd Duboef didn’t offer up replacement names, as though Gamboa was just running late in L.A. traffic and was en route.

Though the air was let out of the promotion’s sails and HBO backed off broadcasting the Gamboa-less main event on their regular airwaves, a new possible opponent emerged due to a melee that occurred at the Miami presser.

135-pound titlist Richard Abril was in attendance as Miami served as his home territory as well. Abril (at right) and Rios (at left) got into each other’s faces at the conclusion of the presser during where Rios was addressing questions from the media. Blows were quickly exchanged and from the scuffle it became clear how Top Rank would attempt to move forward.

There is some question as to whether othe Rios-Abril brouhaha was merely a result of emotion or was something that could have been planned all along. Was Top Rank plainly pulling a bait-and-switch and substituting one Miami-based Cuban for another?

Regardless, most of the buzz surrounding the fight has been due to their admitted dislike for one another. There is a much deeper storyline in play other than the one that sprouted a few weeks ago.

The two share a win over Venezuela’s Miguel Acosta last year. In February, Rios overcame an early deficit to grind Acosta down on the way to a tenth-round stoppage victory to earn his first major title. It was an early contender for the best fight of 2011, though it was knocked down a few pegs as the year progressed. It still helped establish Rios as one of the most exciting young fighters to watch.

In October, a noticeably more slowed Acosta was dropped three times in Panama by Abril, earning the lightly regarded fighter the interim version of the title held by Rios.

When Rios couldn’t make weight against John Murray in December underneath the rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito, Abril’s status was upgraded to full “champion” as Rios was able to keep Murray from snatching the belt, earning an 11th-round stoppage.

Abril is being given slim odds to win because his lack of a pedigree. He does have two blemishes on his record, both questionable. He lost a disputed split decision to a then-unbeaten Breidis Prescott in June 2008 and also dropped Henry Lundy in a January 2010 fight in which he also lost a split verdict.

Abril has shown a solid chin thus far in his professional career, and with Rios expected to struggle to make the 135-pound limit, his chances of winning are much better than he is being given credit for. Rios struggled early on with both Acosta and Murray; if Abril can get off to a good start, he could put pressure on a drained Rios to come on strong down the stretch.

Abril will have to overcome the role of underdog and possibly having the deck stacked against him. If Rios emerges victorious like he is expected to, a possible showdown with Juan Manuel Marquez could take place July 14 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Marquez fights Serhiy Fedchenko in Mexico City in the headlining fight of this split-site independent pay-per-view that is being distributed by HBO. Marquez could earn an interim 140-pound belt with the win.

The first battle that will take place is Friday between Rios and the scales, a fight he is coming off a loss in. Rios and his team have indicated that the hiring of a nutritionist has proven all the difference in preparing for this fight versus the Murray one. Abril wants to see Rios come in under 135 so as to avoid any excuses in the case he pulls off the upset.

Rios is no stranger to heated pre-fight banter with opponents. Last July, Rios and Urbano Antillon exchanged unpleasantries prior to Rios stopping him early in their fight. Rios is definitely a good talker, which could prove to raise his value as he climbs up the ladder. For that to matter, he will have to look spectacular against an opponent very few are giving a chance to give him a difficult time.

Will the additional pressure heaped on Rios’ back tip the scales in favor of his opponent? Will Rios underestimate his opponent? The real scales Friday will be our first clue as to the answers to these questions.

Abril will be handling a different kind of pressure. It will be his first major main event. Though the Marquez fight tops the televised bill, Abril will be headlining a major venue in Las Vegas after fighting mostly on smaller cards throughout his career. Rios has gotten a good taste of the big time, though this will also be his first fight atop a big bill in Vegas. Rios has been showcased on a few Manny Pacquiao undercards to this point, so it would be difficult to expect him to be heavily affected. Abril has shown himself to be a pretty composed guy in all the build-up, though the actual fight itself is flying under the radar a bit more than you would expect.

Saturday night, Richard Abril hopes to become more than a punchline to the boxing trivia question, “What fighter punched his way into a big fight with Brandon Rios in April 2012 by forcing a melee at a press conference?” If Abril can turn the tables, it would serve as one of the bigger upsets of the year.

Mark Ortega can be reached via e-mail at and followed via Twitter at Mark also contributes to renowned boxing publications RING Magazine and Boxing Monthly and is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).