Preview: Bradley vs. Rios, FOTY potential? Saturday, HBO 9:30 p.m. ET

Two tough competitors with plenty of heart step into the ring in Las Vegas in a possible 2015 FOTY flying under the boxing radar.

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Timothy Bradley and Bradley Rios with trainers Teddy Atlas and Robert Garcia. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank
Timothy Bradley and Bradley Rios with trainers Teddy Atlas and Robert Garcia. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank

SAN DIEGO, November 6, 2015 – The first fight of the trilogy between Brandon Rios and Mike Alvarado was a thrilling brawl and the 2012 Fight of the Year on many lists. The second fight was nearly as good in 2013. It might have been the 2013 Fight of the Year, except for the fight at the top of the list.

Taking the honors in 2013 was the wild showdown between Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov at the StubHub Center, the kind of fight fans dream about.

Since then, both men had losses to Manny Pacquiao. Both then started their roads back victories over Diego Chaves. Rios boosted his fortunes with a surprisingly lopsided victory in his trilogy with an unprepared Alvarado. Bradley barely avoided a last minute knockout loss to undefeated Jessie Vargas.

These roads now cross at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas for a bout between Bradley (32-1-1, 12 KOs) and Rios (33-2-1, 23 KOs), airing on HBO at 9:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. PT.

Brandon Rios says he's still got a lot left in the tank, shown here during a media day workout with trainer Robert Garcia. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank
Brandon Rios says he’s still got a lot left in the tank, shown here during a media day workout with trainer Robert Garcia. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank

Rios’s stock rose after the Alvarado victory earlier this year. Rios is ever entertaining, he seems to have matured a bit, and he’s fighting with a happy heart. Still, he perceives a loss of respect, though he says in his characteristic blunt way “I don’t give a sh!t” what the critics say about him.

Bradley’s stock is shaky and needs the boost a victory over Rios would give him. He admittedly took way more of a beating from Provodnikov than he should have allowed, ignoring a concussion in the second round to carry on. He scored a split decision win over Juan Manuel Marquez, but badly lost his rematch with Pacquiao and barely got the victory over Chaves and Vargas, perhaps aided by a premature end to the fight when referee Pat Russell misheard the timekeeper’s signals over crowd noise at the StubHub Center.

Bradley then made a surprising change, leaving longtime trainer Joel Diaz for veteran trainer and ESPN color commentator Teddy Atlas. Atlas is best known for training American heavyweight Michael Moorer; his last client was Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin. Bradley is the first boxer Atlas has trained since 2011. But the more the idea of Bradley working with Atlas soaks in, the more it makes sense. Bradley doesn’t need someone to get him in better shape; he is one of the most fit individuals in boxing, with a tremendous work ethic. What Bradley needs a is change in his mental discipline and his motivation. This is where Atlas shines. He is a keen observer of habits and patterns, and a teacher rather than a trainer.

Bradley called Atlas personally to ask him if he would return to training. Atlas said he was leaning toward saying no, but his son and daughter encouraged him to go for the challenge and help Bradley. Atlas says he didn’t know Bradley well personally, but he liked his reputation as a clean living family man and a person with good character.

Bradley says Atlas has helped him identify bad habits and limit his mistakes in the ring, like the one that led to taking a near-knockout punch from Jessie Vargas. Atlas calls Bradley “coachable” and “excited,” a word which hasn’t been used to describe Bradley in several years.

Timothy Bradley Jr. has his first new trainer in his 11 year professional career, veteran Teddy Atlas. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank
Timothy Bradley Jr. has his first new trainer in his 11 year professional career, veteran Teddy Atlas. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank

This match-up comes at the perfect time for both men. Each needs to make himself relevant with a solid victory to revive their careers. It seems ridiculous to write this; Bradley only has the one loss to Pacquiao, Rios one of his own plus the loss in the Alvaradio trilogy. Bradley is 32, Rios just 29. Admittedly both have taken serious punishment at times. Neither can afford to be at the receiving end of a beatdown, even a fan friendly mutual beatdown.

Both can box; yes, even Rios has shown he’s capable of holding himself in check. Exercising discipline married with enough patience to wait for the right time to launch a limited strike with power punches that will hit their mark is the right approach for both men. They cannot let eager fans egg them on, and they cannot respond to a direct hit by getting into a firefight. This an still be an entertaining fight with plenty of excitement if there’s a little tension in the air while we watch them measure each other and gauge the right time to come forward.

Bradley isn’t particularly a knockout artist, and if Rios doesn’t throw caution to the wind, he isn’t likely to score one either. If Teddy Atlas has done his job and Bradley pays attention to him, including during the fight, he will likely get a decision win. Bradley acknowledges this. “You’ve seen how tough I am, I can take a punch, I bounce back from any situation in the ring, I get the job done any way I can possible get it,” said Bradley. “But now I have a new motto, Smart Monster. That monster will still be in the ring, but he will be a smart monster.”

Brandon Rios needed two attempts to make the 147 pound welterweight limit on Friday. Photo: Top Rank via Twitter
Brandon Rios needed two attempts to make the 147 pound welterweight limit on Friday. Photo: Top Rank via Twitter

At Friday’s weigh-in, Bradley was a pound under the limit at 146 pounds. Rios stripped down completely but was over the 147 pound weight limit at 147.2 pounds. He was given an hour to make weight, and 45 minutes later made it on the nose at 147 pounds. We have a fight Saturday.

Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko is a star of his division despite his minimal professional record. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank
Featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko is a star of his division despite his minimal professional record. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank

The undercard features a showcase fight for exciting WBO featherweight champion Vasyl Lomachenko (4-1-1, 2 KOs) of Ukraine against Romulo Koasicha (25-4-0, 15 KOs) of Mexico. If you don’t know much about Lomachenko, don’t let the thin professional record fool you. Lomachenko enjoyed an extensive successful amateur career including an Olympic gold medal. He is a southpaw with power and all the skills you want in a champion: speed, ring generalship, balance, and aggression balanced with patience.

Koasicha is a typical Mexican workhorse, ranked number 24 worldwide, whose most notable fight was a lopsided unanimous decision loss to Lee Selby of Great Britain in 2014. He is meant to keep Loma busy and keep him in front of fans who will benefit from getting to know him before he tackles big name opponents like Selby, Abner Mares, Leo Santa Cruz, or the one on our list for Boxing Head Santa in 2016, Nicholas Walters.

Vasyl Lomachenko (left) and Romulo Koasicha made the featherweight limit with ease Friday. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank
Vasyl Lomachenko (left) and Romulo Koasicha made the featherweight limit with ease Friday. Photo: Chris Farina, Top Rank

Both the featherweights made the weight limit easily on Friday, both at 125.6 pounds.

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, APR, is President/Owner of the Falcon Valley Group in San Diego, California. She is also a serious boxing fan covering the Sweet Science for Communities. Read more Ringside Seat in Communities Digital News. Follow Gayle on Facebook and on Twitter @PRProSanDiego.

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