Career-defining fights between undefeated, in-their-prime champions rarely happen in boxing, but just one of those occasions seemed to materialize when it was announced featherweight champion Yuriorkis Gamboa would meet lightweight titlist Brandon Rios. The dream matchup evaporated, however, when Gamboa bailed out of the event, leaving Rios (29-0-1, 22 KOs) out in the cold. Enter Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8 KOs), an interim lightweight champ from Cuba fresh off his victory against Miguel Acosta, to earn a piece of the title held by Rios (which would later be declared vacant when Rios failed to make weight for a December defense against John Murray). Conveniently, a complicated scenario should be easily cleared up now that Gamboa has been replaced by Abril, matching him against Rios in Saturday's bout in Las Vegas for full WBA regular lightweight champion bragging rights.
After the downgrade in opponent, Rios chose to concentrate on his second-biggest goal: making 135 pounds once more to regain his crown before moving on to greater challenges -- ideally, a fight with Juan Manuel Marquez (with whom Rios and Abril will share the spotlight in a split-site pay-per-view event).
ESPN Deportes caught up with Rios during the last leg of his training camp to get his thoughts on Gamboa, Abril and more.
How was training for this fight?
Training has been great, everything's been going really well. I've been training for four months already. I am in good shape and ready to fight. Everything's going well, my conditioning and everything.
How is your weight situation these days? Did hiring a nutritionist work well for you?
I think it is the best decision I made in my career right now. The weight and everything is going perfectly. I am glad I made that smart move and have a nutritionist work for me. The nutrition is excellent. It's all great. I train hard, and at the end I still feel I have a lot of power left. It's all going very well.
Are you still going to try to reclaim your title at 135 and then move up to 140, as you've said?
That's the plan, and I think I am going to get my title and then I will move up. I am ready to take my title and I am ready to move up. I am ready for the big names up there.
What do you know about your opponent, Richard Abril?
Well, [my trainer] Robert [Garcia] is the one that has been studying him, because I've only seen a few videos on YouTube. And from what I see, he is more of a boxer -- he doesn't like to fight. He likes to stay on the outside, he likes to run. So I think he'll try to run all night. Robert has been directing me on this, because he has watched all the videos and is getting me ready for him, and I think everything's going to be great.
Did the little skirmish between you and Abril at Monday's Los Angeles press conference motivate you in any way?
It's just another day for me. I love what I do, and to me, the press conference thing was no big deal. All I can say to Richard Abril is that he better be ready, because if not, he is going to find himself in a lot of trouble.
Was it difficult to prepare for what seems to be a lesser opponent after getting ready to face Gamboa?
It doesn't take anything away from what I do. Like I said, I love my job. I don't care who I fight, I don't care about his name, I don't care what he is about, I don't care about what he can do. I am just ready to fight anybody. I love to fight and give the fans what they paid for. I am an exciting fighter and I just want to fight. If it isn't Gamboa, who cares? I am just ready to fight.
How upsetting was the cancellation of the Gamboa fight for you back when you realized it wasn't going to be made?
I didn't get too excited with the fight to begin with. At first, when they announced it, I said, 'Yeah, hell yeah, I want to fight Gamboa. He wants to fight me, so let's fight!' But after that, I thought, 'Don't get too excited, because he is moving way up in weight to a new weight class to fight me.' I had a doubt in my mind that he wasn't going to fight me. Because he is a small guy, he ain't gonna do nothing to me, and he knows that. That's why he got cold feet and he got second thoughts about fighting me. He got scared, he got cold feet, and there's nothing that we can say or nothing that we can do about it.
In any case, you may not have much of a break, because Marquez could be next in line for you. What are your thoughts about him?
Well, first of all, that would be great if him and me were able to fight. It would be great because I want to show the world that I am ready for the big names out there. But first of all, we have to take care of Richard Abril, and I look forward to this fight first before I think about any other fights. But yes, I would love that fight, and I think I can show the world that I am ready. We need to get ready for Richard Abril on [Saturday]. Marquez has a tough fight on [Saturday], too, so we have to be prepared.
Danny Garcia just defeated Erik Morales. Perhaps you'll be the next upstart to pull off an upset against a legend. Do you see a new generation of Mexican or Latino stars in boxing taking over for the old generation?
I think I am the next rising Latino fighter out there. I think I can take over the legends, all the Mexican and Mexican-American legends out there. I am ready to do my job -- that's why I fight. Danny Garcia won, he defeated an old Erik Morales, but I think he was done already. I am ready to take over and show the world I am the next [great] Latino fighter out there.
Appearing on the same card with Marquez, comparisons are almost sure to arise. What other fighter do you compare yourself to, Mexican or otherwise?
I would compare myself to Diego Corrales, and also Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. and [Jose Luis] Castillo. Those are the guys I compare myself to, and those are the guys I look up to, because I have the same style as them.
Finally, how do you envision the fight against Abril playing out?
You know, I will be ready for whatever. I know that in the first rounds, he's going to be running. I like to see what my opponent brings, and I like to take my time. I want to look for the momentum and see how each round goes. As the rounds go, I get better and I get stronger. So in the first few rounds, you never know what could happen. But I am ready for Abril, and hopefully he is ready 100 percent, because I am ready 100 percent and I am ready to show the world that he ain't nothing to me, and he ain't gonna be nothing after this fight.
Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.