Brandon Rios' title defense will set tone for 2012
The newly crowned world lightweight champion heard his opponent, England's John Murray, say something about the possibility that Rios was looking past him to greater challenges. "He thinks I'm overlooking him?... You're ... going down," Rios told Murray at a news conference, interjecting some swear words to underline his point.
"I'm right in front of you," Rios continued. "If you don't come prepared, it's going to be an early night. If you come prepared, you're still going down early."
Rios will fight immediately before Saturday's Madison Square Garden main event pitting junior-middleweight champion Miguel Cotto against Tijuana's Antonio Margarito. The card, televised by HBO pay-per-view, is an 18,000-seat sellout at MSG.
For Rios, the title represents a launching pad for what is expected to be a year that could propel him to the 140-pound division, and stardom. "People want to see fighting from boxers, not a lot of posturing, and Brandon Rios epitomizes that," promoter Bob Arum said.
Rios grasps what's at hand in this fight, and his brash ways have impressed HBO, which has showcased him in training with Margarito on the reality "24/7" series. The network could show as many as three of his fights in 2012.
"I'm not cocky, I speak the truth," Rios said. He is actually looking to the future, hopeful a Murray victory lands him a fight next year against Argentina's brawler Marcos Maidana or Mexico's Juan Manuel Marquez. Those close to Rios said he's agonized making 135 pounds for this fight, and is well aware of the star power at 140 pounds. "I'm looking for my war," Rios said. "I want to challenge and prove myself. I need to move up to do that."
Before that, he has to deal with Murray. He already started at Thursday's news conference, avoiding a handshake after Arum had cheerfully welcomed the Brit to the U.S. "I've seen fear, that's what I love," Rios said. "I'm not his friend. Its battle time. You hate your opponent right now."
The undercard also features a rematch of a possible fight of the year matching Pawel Wolak against Delvin Rodriguez. Wolak is a union worker who does asphalt roofing on city buildings, such as schools, around Queens, the Bronx and Harlem.
"We're better prepared now," said Wolak, who was previously denied a shot at middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. when the Mexican fighter fell ill.
"My aggression is still going to be there. I just need to be smarter about his counter-punching. We'll get through this." Also, unbeaten Philadelphia welterweight Mike Jones fights Sebastian Lujan in an International Boxing Federation title qualifier.
--Lance Pugmire in New York
Photo: Brandon Rios drinks water as he breaks from a workout at Kingsway Boxing Gym in New York on Monday. Credit: Bebeto Matthews / Associated Press