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Rios was the weekend’s star

By Graham Houston

The star turn on Saturday’s Boxing After Dark wasn’t Yuriorkis Gambia, as many had anticipated, but Brandon Rios. The crowd-pleasing lightweight from Oxnard, CA, looked powerful and precise in breaking down and overwhelming Anthony Peterson in a meeting of undefeated rising stars. This had looked an even-money fight, with Peterson a slight favourite because he had won nearly every round of every fight while Rios had some struggles earlier in his career. Rios, however, had shown improvement in the past year and on Saturday night he stepped up to another level. Peterson’s disqualification at the end of the seventh round saved him from being knocked out.

As soon as I saw the fight-night weights, Rios 151 pounds, Peterson 139, I knew that the boxer from Washington DC was in trouble. Rios paced the ring during the introductions, ready to come out firing. Although Peterson won the opening round, I thought it was ominous the way Rios buckled his legs with a short right uppercut on the inside. Peterson was looking classy but Rios was already driving forward, gloves up, eager to get close and do damage. The first round clearly went to Peterson, but with 11 rounds to go I had the sense that the fight was already tilting Rios’s way.

The pace was just too fast for Peterson and Rios was too relentless. Some might say that Peterson should have continued to box, move, trigger off punches and slide away, as he had done in the first round.

It isn’t so easy to do that, though, when a boxer is putting what I call “fast pressure” on an opponent.

Against a methodical, mechanical type of fighter, a slick boxer can have a highly successful night. It is different, though, when the aggressor is coming in fast, staying on top of the so-called smarter boxer and not giving him room to maneuver. The stylist increasingly finds he is obliged to stand and fight — he really has no other choice. This is what happened with Peterson, and he was simply outgunned.

Peterson’s combinations to the body were flashy but Rios was doing the damage, especially with the left hooks underneath and the right uppercuts through the middle. Rios was also putting shots together — and he was jabbing more effectively than I have seen him do in the past. I wrote “Fight’s over” in my notebook in the second round, and when Rios’s left hook dropped Peterson in the fifth round the only question was whether the increasingly battered-looking fighter from the nation’s capital would make it to the final bell. Rios had an unstoppable forward momentum — it was like a Panzer division against the Polish cavalry.

I think that Rios was on course for stopping Peterson in nine or 10 rounds when the fight ended on a barrage of low blows at the end of the seventh. I wouldn’t say that Peterson was hitting Rios low deliberately. It was more a case of a hurt, confused fighter simply letting fly with everything he had in a last-ditch effort to slow down his man by hurting him to the body, and I think that Peterson was simply blasting away with survival uppermost in his mind, and no regard for accuracy, at this desperate stage of the proceedings.

I tended to agree with HBO analyst Max Kellerman that Yuriorkis Gamboa was a little disappointing in his unanimous decision win over Orlando Salido in their featherweight title fight on this show. Gamboa is fast and talented but he gives the impression that he could go up another gear or two. Harold Lederman made the point that Gamboa will literally step back and admire his work after landing his punches. It was an utterly predictable win by Gamboa but he is such a talented boxer that I think we may be guilty of having unrealistic expectations. Salido is a tough, game veteran and it isn’t so easy to blow away fighters such as this.

Gamboa almost threw it all away, though, when he blatantly hit Salido with a right hand on the back of the head after knocking down the defending champion in the last round. What on earth was Gamboa thinking? Referee Joe Cortez was in a difficult position because the fight was almost over, Gamboa was obviously far in front, but a clear foul had been committed — really, a double foul. In a similar situation, Cortez disqualified Humberto Soto for cuffing Francisco Lorenzo on the head when Lorenzo was on the canvas. Lorenzo was seconds away from being stopped but the crafty old campaigner stayed down — sensibly I might add. It has always seemed to me that it was an unbelievably wrong decision to DQ Soto in that bout. If Salido had stayed down, I believe that Cortez would have been obliged to disqualify him, too. Salido was too proud to quit, however. His guts and pride saved boxing from one of its periodic fiascos.

Steve Molitor overcame an uncertain start to dominate a game Jason Booth in their junior featherweight title fight in the northeast of England. Molitor’s body punching was affecting Booth in the later rounds and the Canadian southpaw simply looked the stronger, better fighter down the home straight. Judges from the U.K. and Poland had Molitor a clear winner, Booth, God bless him, had fought a gritty, capable fight, but the British veteran knew he had lost — yet Canadian judge Pasquale Procopio somehow had the fight a draw. I know that each and every one of us can see a fight “wrong” at times but some of these scores almost beggar belief.

Wladimir Klitschko did exactly what had been expected of him by wearing down Samuel Peter for a late-round win, the end coming after one minute, 22 seconds of the 10th. Why, though, did Peter’s corner not pull him out after, say, the eighth round? It was clear by this time that Peter had no chance. Peter’s clumsy swipes had lost any steam they may have had, and he was clearly bothered by a swollen and closing right eye— he kept pawing at it as if trying to clear his vision. I felt sympathy for Peter, who bravely accepted punishment in what had become a hopelessly lost cause when his body language was sending the message: “Please, get me out of here.” Peter was permitted to take a round and a half of unnecessary punishment and ended up on his back. With Peter softened up by Klitschko’s steady stream of jabs and right hands it was apparent that the towering Ukrainian was gradually getting ready to fire the cannon blasts that would close the show. Peter could and should have been spared getting knocked out — a knockout that increasingly looked inevitable.

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