It’s not quite as monumental as Richard Nixon’s visit during the Cold War, but for local fans of the sweet science, Brandon “Bam Bam” Rios’ date with destiny this Saturday in China far outweighs Tricky Dick’s famed trip.
The foul-mouthed, granite-chinned slugger from Oxnard will be on boxing’s biggest stage when he assumes the role of the underdog against beloved international icon and arguably the greatest fighter of his generation, Manny Pacquiao.
Make no mistake about it, Rios is not the favorite but he’s a live dog, as the saying goes, and in a strange way he represents Oxnard more than possibly any athlete has since, well, ever.
Born in Texas but raised in Kansas, he was discovered as an amateur and brought to Oxnard by Robert Garcia, the first fighter from Oxnard ever to win a title and now one of professional boxing’s most famed trainers.
His early career was rife with personal drama. From arrests for assault to a well-publicized and long-running feud with fellow Kansas transplant Victor Ortiz, and even getting caught on camera mocking beloved trainer Freddie Roach’s Parkinson’s condition, despite piling up an impressive undefeated record, many thought the angry young man’s worst opponent would ultimately be himself.
After marrying a local girl, Victoria Lopez, and the birth of a new daughter, Rios seemed to begin to mature and take his career more seriously, which led to a world title win in 2011.
It was, however, his “Fight of the Year” in 2012 against Mike Alvarado that propelled him from a hard-core boxing fan favorite to an HBO television darling.
The fight, broadcast in primetime on the cable network, was a toe-to-toe battle, which was the perfect showcase for Rios’ take-two-to-land-one style.
The strange pleasure he seemed to derive from the punishment he took captivated the public’s imagination, and when the referee stepped in to save a battered Alvarado, a new star in the sport was born.
Despite losing a close decision to Alvarado in the rematch earlier this year, his first official loss, Rios’ style was considered a perfect fit for the legendary Pacquiao’s return to the ring after his shocking knockout loss to longtime rival Juan Manuel Marquez.
Promoters wisely figured the reckless, profane and joking antics of Rios would play well against the soft-spoken, super-religious Filipino congressman and make for good TV leading up to the fight.
They couldn’t have been more right, as the series, 24/7, which follows the two fighters as they prepare for the big night, has given Oxnard plenty of TV time as an always animated Rios spent episodes cruising the city’s streets in an exotic car, pumping Latin hip-hop songs and playing pranks on his fellow gym mates while conducting morning runs through scenic fields.
Perhaps the only downside for Rios is the fight with Pacquiao, which usually would take place in Las Vegas but is headed to Macao, the gambling capital of China. It’s a bizarre location but it was picked due to Pacquio’s desire to fight once more near his native islands and maybe more so to avoid the enormous taxes that come with fighting in the United States.
It’s also a major disadvantage for Rios whose Vegas fights usually turn out hundreds of supporters from Ventura County and thousands of Mexican American fans from around the country, not to mention the time-zone change that will have the two enter the ring at 9 a.m. Pacific time.
Not that that matters much to Rios, who will most likely earn the biggest payday of his career, making the brash fighter and father of five, who lives in a modest Oxnard neighborhood, a multimillionaire at the age of 27.
No matter what the end result is, Rios is already a winner when it comes to bringing the city of Oxnard international attention. If there’s one thing that fans can count on, though, it is that despite the fact he’ll be going head to head with a living legend, Rios will not back down, quit or go quietly into the night, characteristics that define him as much as the city itself.
Brandon Rios vs. Manny Pacquiao takes place on Saturday, Nov. 23, and is available on HBO Pay Per View on all major cable providers.