With Groves vs Eubank dominating the consciousness of fight fans this side of the pond let's not forget the great action that also awaits this weekend in boxing’s Vegas heartland. Topping the bill at the Mandalay Bay is a potentially explosive matchup between Danny Garcia (33-1) and Brandon Rios (34-3-1).
In an eliminator for a shot at the WBC belt, one that Garcia surrendered in a unification match with Keith Thurman back in March last year, defeat will not be an option for either fighter. Garcia has been out of the ring for 11 months and the ever-popular “Bam Bam” Rios has been seen only once since his ninth round stoppage defeat to Timothy Bradley in late 2015.
Garcia will start a heavy favourite against the man from Buddy Holly’s old hometown of Lubbock, Texas. However, Rios’ big hearted warrior style has won him countless admirers over the years and there will be many at home and ringside that will be urging him to success.
Danny Garcia vs Brandon Rios for the WBC world welterweight title eliminator
Where: Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, Events Center, Las Vegas
When: Saturday 17h February – 10pm ET / 3am UK time
TV: USA Showtime
Brandon Rios may still be only 31 but one wonders how much is still left in the tank for “Bam Bam.” He has largely been inactive following his decision to retire post the loss to Bradley. However, after deciding to resume his career last year he has fought just once in a fairly routine victory against Aaron Herrera last summer. This coming on the back of his 18-month retirement induced layoff.
His come forward –one shot for every three- style does not typically lend itself to longevity, and the uncharitable could suggest that he is already beginning to demonstrate some of the familiar battle scars. Rios, has had his share of success including a WBA title at lightweight to go with memorable if unsuccessful challenges at both light welter (Mike Alvarado) and welterweight (Timothy Bradley). Rios is not necessarily a natural at 147 lbs where he maintains a less than impressive 3-2 record, albeit those defeats coming against the aforementioned Bradley and the legendary Manny Pacquiao.
However, Rios should still not be taken lightly as his intimidating punching power and his past ability to walk through punishment present an obvious danger to any opponent. He will look to be active from the first bell and operate up close in his familiar pressure fighter style.
29-year-old Garcia lost his belt, unbeaten record and a substantial slab of pride in last year’s split decision loss to Thurman. In a strategic and technical battle “One Time” outfoxed and outworked him over the championship distance. Garcia, known as “Swift” needs to return to winning ways on Saturday if he is to deliver on his aim of a rematch with the divisional number one.
Prediction: Garcia by TKO rounds 4-6
Garcia, a former two weight world champion, still looks to have more to give in the squared circle. He has a burning desire to avenge his earlier defeat to Thurman and at 29 still has time very much on his side. He has taken flack in the past for the quality of some of his opposition and for coming out on the fortunate side of narrow verdicts. He is therefore fighting for his reputation in the immediate future.
Conversely, Rios has already walked into the sunset once. Despite, a similar number of contests and being just two years older, the wars and lifestyle appear to have taken their toll. The earlier inside the distance loss to the far from big punching Bradley intimate that “Bam Bam” may have turned an invisible corner. It is also difficult to see how his style can be successful against the defensively tight and iron chinned Garcia.
Expect “Bam Bam” to move forward into well-timed combinations as he attempts unsuccessfully to land the money shot. It is simply a question of how much is still left in the legs of Rios as to when the end comes. Several observers are predicting that Rios will take this one the distance but I would find that personally surprising. More likely is that Garcia will punch Rios into retirement around the 4-6 round mark.
This feels like one final payday for “Bam Bam” and fittingly he should go out on his feet, albeit regrettably with some help from the referee.
Top of the food chain comes David Benavidez (19-0) vs Ronald Gavril (18-2) in a rematch for the WBC super middleweight strap. Benavidez collected the vacant title via a September split decision win, down the strip at the Hard Rock Hotel. Despite winning the verdict he had to climb off the canvas in the 12th. This promises to be another evenly contested matchup. With the infamous Adalaide Byrd in the chair there may be an added impetus for the combatants to resolve this one inside the distance.
Elsewhere, twice beaten Ray Robinson (24-2) –who goes by the literally correct if perhaps delusional epithet of “The new Ray Robinson”- takes on Cuban Yordenis Ugas (20-3) in an IBF welterweight eliminator.
How do you see Saturday's fight panning out? Comment below...