Boxing watchers tend to see too much of one side or the other when a fighter looks good and his opponent looks bad. Both sides were in exhibition in roughly even — and extreme — measure Saturday on HBO when a nimble, disciplined Timothy Bradley, newly under the tutelage of Teddy Atlas, surprisingly stopped the previously unstopped Brandon Rios, who was so out of it he retired in the ring afterward.
Basically, Bradley (above left) looked the best he’s looked in a long, long time, like Atlas had lit a spark under him both emotionally and intellectually in the ring. Rios (right), who struggled to make weight, talked beforehand about losing his fire and fought like it. In theory, Rios was likely to make Bradley look good even if he was motivated, given that Bradley is an athletic boxer and Rios is a slow slugger. But given Bradley’s tendency to get wobbled, given his tendency to get sucked into a brawl, and given Rios’ tendency to overachieve, it had a chance on paper of being an excellent fight.
None of those factors came into play. Bradley in the 2nd round did briefly get sucked into an exchange up close with Rios, a round Rios arguably won. Most of the rest of the time, Bradley was in full command. He moved more than usual. He defended better. Atlas emphasized concentration every round, emphasized beating Rios to the punch, emphasized stepping around and firing. Bradley commanded every round other than the 2nd by absorbing those lessons.
Rios, meanwhile, started slow, heated up a little in the 2nd round, and by the 5th appeared out of gas already. He couldn’t find Bradley and didn’t seem even to want to. He ballooned up to 170 for fight night, and Bradley made that soft body pay. It was a combo of body shots that dropped Rios in the 9th, and he struggled to rise before 10. Another series of body shots dropped him again, and the ref waived it off. It was odd to see any “give” in Rios because he’s been hit by the best and stayed where he was — right in his opponent’s face. But in a post-fight interview, he complained of a long layoff, said he’d had some long wars and “My body’s not the same no more… I think it’s time to hang it up. I’m done.”
If it’s the end for Rios, nobody should be surprised. His was a fighting style that wasn’t meant to last very long — to burn brightly, to make memorable wars, and then snuff out in short order. That looks exactly like what has happened.
On the other side, 31-year-old Timothy Bradley is on course for a late-career resurgence. Atlas’ rhetorical excess isn’t for everybody, nor are his unhinged rants. They actually seem to motivate Bradley — the sequence where Atlas was shouting things that were like parodies of Atas (“We’re firemen! Flames don’t intimidate us!”) was followed by Bradley going out even harder in the very next round. And Atlas haters can act like the man doesn’t see the sport well, but he definitely does. He’s had fighters who tuned him out, but in Bradley he might have the ideal boxer with whom he can match, as HBO’s Max Kellerman pointed out.
But let’s not get carried away, as HBO’s Jim Lampley seemingly did afterward, by suggesting Bradley could be competitive with Canelo Alvarez at 154. Bradley at welterweight is stretching how high he can compete already.
Speaking of getting carried away: Sheesh, you might’ve thought on the undercard that Lampley, Kellerman and Roy Jones were about to fight to the death to see who could get the honor, mid-fight, of giving a hummer to Vasyl Lomachenko. Look, he’s a nice fighter, everybody knows it. But the featherweight wasted everybody’s time but his with his Foregone Conclusion — oops, I mean Win — against Romulo Koasicha. At one point Kellerman tried to convince us that Koasicha was “regular world class” and Lomachenko was “special world class,” as if those distinctions made any sense verbally let alone could even be used to describe Koasicha. He’s not world class in any way. Show me on his record anything he did to earn that designation. All the while, the broadcast team was comparing Lomachenko to every great, past and present, who graced the ring. And naturally they talked him up as a guy who might be pound-for-pound #1, when, at best, the guy is sniffing the top 20. And naturally all the other guys they listed as p4p #1 contenders were HBO fighters.
Get Lomachenko in against a viable opponent, or let’s move him off TV. He’s taken three nothing fights in a row. We can make a thing about the lack of opponents at featherweight who aren’t affiliated with rival promoters, but glance at the division and those around it and tell me you can’t find people much, much better than he’s been facing since that hot start of his.