Brandon Rios is looking to get his mojo back, which might not be so easy, considering his opponent.
For a guy who has lost two bouts in a row and hasn't fought for eight months, the former lightweight titlist is in tough against dangerous former interim welterweight titlist Diego Chaves in the 10-round welterweight main event of a split-site tripleheader on Saturday night (HBO, 9:45 ET/PT) at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.
"I feel like the layoff was good for me," Rios said. "It helped me rejuvenate myself. I had never really had a break. So I had one and now I am ready. I feel good now. I'm back and hungry again. I'm ready to fight. I'm not done yet. I have a lot of gas left in the tank.
"They tell me Chaves is real rough and strong, that he can punch hard. That's OK with me. I want to come back, and against a strong, tough fighter. The old 'Bam Bam' -- the one who everyone knows -- will be back in the ring on [Saturday]."
It's been downhill since for Rios. Seventeen months ago, he faced Alvarado in a rematch that was every bit as sensational as their first encounter, but he lost a close decision.
Despite the loss, Rios hit the lottery for his next fight, moving up to welterweight and going to Macau, China, for a career-high $4 million payday for the opportunity to face superstar Manny Pacquiao.
But Rios (31-2-1, 23 KOs), 28, of Oxnard, California, was not remotely competitive, losing a virtual shutout decision. Usually, when a fighter loses two in a row, especially at a high level, many write him off. But Robert Garcia, Rios' trainer, has a different take.
"I don't really see it that way," he said. "He lost to Alvarado in a very close fight, and Brandon had knocked out Alvarado out before that and then he loses to Pacquiao. There's nothing to be ashamed of losing to Pacquiao, who couldn't hurt him, couldn't knock him down. Pacquiao beat Miguel Cotto, Oscar [De La Hoya], Shane Mosley, [Ricky] Hatton. Who would think Brandon would do better than them? So it wasn't a bad year even with the two losses. Brandon made millions of dollars. The way I see it, it was a good year.
"He has still never been knocked out or taken a bad beating. He takes punches, but he has always taken punches. I think Brandon is ready to come back strong."
If Rios' performance against Pacquiao wasn't bad enough, he failed his postfight drug test, which came up dirty for a banned stimulant. Rios' punishment, however, had no teeth to it because he was not fined and was only suspended for five months, a period of time in which he was not going to fight anyway.
Rios, who had passed previous random tests leading up to the fight, maintains that he didn't take anything illegal, instead blaming the procedures used in collecting his sample. He said he had to use a dirty glass to urinate in, and that the collector did not have a proper collection kit, although the testing agency disputes that.
"The testing happened how it happened. We're not a dirty fighter," Rios said. "It happened the way it did. I didn't take anything. A lot of things that went wrong that day in China. It was a bunch of bull----. But it's in the past. I'm ready for the future.
"It happened. I lost to Manny Pacquiao, one of the best fighters in the world. With Manny, I was physically ready, but I don't think I was mentally ready. It was my first big rodeo, and I got thrown off the bull. What else can I say? Manny is a unique fighter, and I see why fighters have problems with him. He gave me awkward angles and he got me."
Rios is trying to put the two losses in a row and the dark cloud of the failed test behind him with the fight against Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs), 28, a rough brawler from Argentina, whose lone defeat came 13 months ago in San Antonio, where he lost his interim belt by 10th-round knockout to Keith Thurman in a competitive fight.
"He's a really good fighter," Rios said. "I saw the fight with Thurman. He did a tremendous job even though he lost. He's very strong, he's skillful and he does hit hard. That's what we'll be ready for. I'm ready and expecting whatever he's bringing. If he's ready, it will be an excellent fight. If he's not, it will be a short fight. Either way, the fans will get what they want."
In the opening bout, junior welterweight titlist Jessie Vargas (24-0, 9 KOs), of Las Vegas, will make the first defense of his secondary belt when he faces Russian southpaw Anton Novikov (29-0, 10 KOs) on the Las Vegas portion of the show.
For the middle bout of the telecast, the action will shift to the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where fierce-punching light heavyweight titlist Sergey Kovalev (24-0-1, 22 KOs), of Russia, will make his third defense against little-known Australian southpaw Blake Caparello (19-0-1, 6 KOs).
Rios almost wound up with a different opponent because Chaves was stuck in Argentina due to a United States visa-processing problem that has impacted hundreds of thousands of travelers in recent weeks.
Promoter Top Rank and HBO were making plans for Rios to possibly face a new opponent, but Chaves' visa came through and he arrived in Las Vegas on Thursday morning after a 15-hour trip. He was whisked away to complete his medicals and rather than attend the final news conference on Thursday afternoon, he was sleeping in his hotel room.
Rios knew about the visa issues Chaves was facing, but said that he was never concerned about the possibility of getting a new opponent at the last minute.
"We didn't really worry about it. I just kept training hard," he said. "We're happy he's here but if they had to change opponents, they change opponents. We were good. We just drove in [from training camp in Oxnard, California] thinking we're fighting Chaves. We figured Top Rank would take care of it and they took care of it, and now we're going to fight."
Said trainer Robert Garcia, "We were both aware of Chaves' situation, but it was not a distraction. I always said they'll get him here. If he couldn't, they were working on other names. We were ready."
While Rios aims for the victory against Chaves, his longer-term goal is not necessarily to win another world title at welterweight.
"Right now I have Diego Chaves to take care of, but I still want to do what I have always wanted to do -- to be recognized like an Arturo Gatti-type fighter," Rios said of the late Hall of Fame action star. "He was a warrior. I am a warrior. Of course, I'd like to win another world title. Why not? But I want to make sure people remember 'Bam Bam' Rios."
Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said to get future big fights, Rios has to win.
"I think it's a significant fight for him because there comes a time where all the accomplishments fade into the past, and he's got to one again prove himself in the current situation," Arum said. "This is a very, very big fight for him against a very tough guy. Brandon Rios knows what's at stake."
Arum said there are a plethora of fan-friendly fights he can make for Rios if he does his part.
He mentioned Timothy Bradley Jr., Miguel Cotto, Ruslan Provodnikov, Juan Manuel Marquez and, of course, a rubber match with Mike Alvarado, a fight that will be there regardless of what happens Saturday.
"They're all in play," Arum said. "We'll sit and talk about it after Saturday. They're all exciting fights, all fights I'd like to see."
Said Garcia, "If we get the win, because the fight's not easy and Chaves is a real guy, it would be a huge win for Brandon and put him on top again. There are so many guys in the division who could mean a lot for Brandon. It doesn't have to be for a title. Marquez and Bradley are not champions right now. Provodnikov is not a champion now. A third fight with Alvarado. None are champions, but all of them make sense. The third fight with Alvarado has to happen. We could do it before the end of the year or early next year. It makes a lot of sense and a lot of money. There's even a possibility of a Cotto fight. But we have to beat Chaves first."
Rios understands the significance of Saturday's fight, but said he isn't putting too much pressure on himself to recapture his past form. "I know this is a do-or-die fight for me, so I'm going to make it a 'do' instead of a 'die,' and the fans are going to see the old 'Bam Bam' back," Rios said. "I'm not desperate for the victory. I'm ready for the victory. You'll see me go balls to the wall. That's what you'll see. We're ready for the first bell, and it's on."