Brandon Rios ready to move up, looks for Pacquiao

Brandon Rios tipped his blue Royals cap back on his head and

beamed at the big cluster of fans waiting for him Saturday night.

After traveling a perilous road from Garden City, Kan., to

California, he had finally arrived at the forefront of the

lightweight division.

His next step is likely to take him up into boxing’s most

competitive weight class along a path that leads to Manny

Pacquiao.

Rios (28-0-1, 21 KOs) battered Urbano Antillon with power and

authority at Home Depot Center, finishing off the elite contender

with two third-round knockdowns before the bout was stopped with 11

seconds left. Rios’ resilience and aggression were no surprise, but

his flair is what really draws the boxing world’s attention to the

135-pound champion who wears leopard-print trunks in a nod to his

nickname: Bam Bam.

”Any champions looking for a fight, I’m right here,” said

Rios, who survived numerous scrapes with the law back home in

Kansas before moving to Southern California. ”There’s Amir Khan,

there’s Marcos Maidana, but I want the toughest guys at 140. I want

to fight everybody.”

And Rios doesn’t shy away from the prospect of taking on

pound-for-pound champion Pacquiao, who shares Rios’ instinctive

love for a good brawl. Beyond a high-risk, high-reward style that

always makes for compelling fights, Rios also has a huge advantage

in landing a bout with Pacquiao: They’re both promoted by Top

Rank.

It won’t happen right away, but every Pacquiao fan should become

acquainted with Rios.

”In a year or two, I would put him in with Manny Pacquiao,”

Top Rank chief Bob Arum said. ”I think he’s a guy that can match

Manny’s speed and power. He has the heart. He has the strength. I

think it would be very competitive.”

Most of Rios’ recent fights haven’t been as competitive as his

opponents hoped. Rios is just too relentless, with trainer Robert

Garcia channeling his brawling instincts into game plans that have

broken down every challenger.

”He says he’s a street fighter, but he’s grown up a lot,”

manager Cameron Dunkin said. ”He’s now saying to us, `Gosh, I’m

pretty good. I didn’t know if I was before, but now I know.”’

Rios has stopped nine of his last 10 opponents, with seven

knockouts before the sixth round. Only Anthony Peterson avoided

being stopped, but he was on his way to a one-sided loss last

September when he was disqualified for repeated low blows.

Rios brawled in the first two rounds with Antillon, who landed

several shots that would have staggered most opponents. Rios shook

them off and kept coming forward – and he finally broke down

Antillon with a left hook to the top of his head, resulting in the

first knockdown and eventually leaving Antillon woozy on his feet

before the bout was halted with 11 seconds left in the third

round.

”I knew he’s a good puncher, so I thought it was going to be

tougher than it was,” Rios said. ”He’s a warrior, but the younger

and tougher fighter won.”

Rios has remarkable strength for a 135-pounder, and he would be

a compelling opponent for two-belt lightweight champion Juan Manuel

Marquez. But Rios knows the biggest names and toughest fights are

all at 140 pounds: Khan, Maidana, Timothy Bradley, Robert Guerrero,

Zab Judah and Devon Alexander.

That’s why Dunkin believes they’re ready to step up to junior

welterweight, possibly for Rios’ next bout after the division

shakes out over the summer. Khan fights Judah in Las Vegas in two

weeks, while Guerrero moves up to 140 pounds to take on Maidana

next month in San Jose.

”I think at 140, he’s going to be a monster,” Dunkin said.

”He can do more strength training and really use his body. I think

he could be unstoppable, and then we’ll see where to go from

there.”

Rios would provide a welcome change in style for Pacquiao, who

has slogged through his most recent fights with little of his usual

flair. Pacquiao’s last three bouts have ended in plodding decisions

over bigger, slower foes, although the Filipino congressman should

get a bit more action in November in his third fight against

Marquez.

Pacquiao isn’t likely to drop too far below welterweight, so

Rios knows he’ll have to move up past 140 pounds to get the

megafight that everybody wants. With more than a year of

preparation and maturity, Rios believes he can contend with the

world’s best fighter.

”If Bob Arum thinks I can fight Pacquiao, well, he knows the

business better than anybody,” Rios said. ”He knows what he’s

talking about, and I’ll be ready. The performances are only going

to get better.”