Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 2 a.m.
In one quick year, boxer Brandon Rios has gone from fighting to defend his championship belt to fighting to remain relevant in the sport.
Rios, who has lost his past two fights, headlines an HBO card Saturday inside the Chelsea Ballroom at the Cosmopolitan, taking on Argentina’s Diego Chaves in a 10-round welterweight fight.
If the 28-year-old Rios (31-2-1) falls again, his appeal for being the main attraction on a card — especially one televised by HBO or other major networks — would be slim. You could easily argue it’s a make-or-break fight for his career.
But that’s something Rios isn’t concerning himself with. He’s focused on having a good training camp, knowing that if he’s prepared to fight, the rest will take care of itself.
“I am just going out there to get the win. I’m not worried about more big fights,” Rios said. “Right now, I am back to my old self again. I am going to concentrate on Chaves. If the big fight comes, it comes. I understand, I lost my last two fights, so I climbed down the (ladder) a little bit. I have to work my way back up.”
Rios lost by decision to Mike Alvarado in March 2013 for the WBO light welterweight title and again by decision eight months later to Manny Pacquiao in Macau. Pacquiao appeared to be at the end of his legendary career until he squared off with Rios, winning by a convincing decision to snap a two-fight skid.
“What went wrong was not boxing or our team doing something wrong,” said Robert Garcia, Rios’ trainer. “It’s just his head was full of so many things. He had so much stuff going on. That’s why he had to make the changes.”
Rios says he’s in the best shape of his career, following diet and training plans set by his handlers. They are simplifying his training, returning to some of the basics that helped him win his initial 31 fights and become a champion. He also stopped using a strength and conditioning coach, saying it drained his body.
In past camps, he admits straying from his diet and training schedule. There’s no room for error this time. He has rededicated himself to the sport and plans on taking another run at becoming a champion.
“I got too comfortable too quick making all of this money ... so it’s back to myself again,” Rios said. “Now I have rejuvenated myself. I am ready. At a young age, I got caught up with making all this money. I forgot what it takes to be a champion.”
The first televised fight will feature Palo Verde High graduate and Las Vegas resident Jessie Vargas (24-0) taking on Russia’s Anton Novikov in defense of his WBA light welterweight title. In May, Vargas upset Khabib Allakhverdiev to win the WBA and IBO 140-pound championships on the undercard of a Pacquiao fight at the MGM.
“The big thing is that we are fighting in (my) hometown. I am very excited about that,” Vargas said. “... They now call me ‘The Pride of Las Vegas.’ It means a lot to me.”