- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Brandon Rios was all set to face former featherweight titlist Yuriorkis Gamboa for a vacant lightweight belt on April 14 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
It was a major HBO fight that had boxing fans buzzing. Rios and Gamboa were both slated to make by far their biggest paydays, while the winner would be poised to launch himself to stardom.
So on March 5, Rios, from Oxnard, Calif., excitedly showed up at a hotel in Miami -- Gamboa's hometown -- where Top Rank had scheduled a news conference to kick off its promotion for the fight. But Gamboa never showed up, ultimately pulled out of the fight and is now being sued by Top Rank for breach of contract.
Rios did, however, have a memorable confrontation at the news conference, even if it wasn't with the fighter he expected. Miami resident and Cuba native Richard Abril, who holds an interim lightweight belt, was on hand. Rios didn't know who he was, but Abril confronted him. It eventually led to a match between them.
Top Rank had no intention of canceling the card even after Gamboa bailed. Instead, it vowed to find Rios a new opponent. And when HBO decided not to air an alternative fight with Rios, Top Rank shifted the card to a Top Rank-produced, HBO-distributed pay-per-view show.
Instead of fighting Gamboa, Rios will face Abril on April 14 (9 p.m., $44.95) for the vacant belt that was stripped from Rios for failing to make weight for a Dec. 3 defense against John Murray, whom he wound up knocking out in the 11th round.
In Gamboa's absence, Rios and Abril kicked off their own promotion with the news conference confrontation, before they even knew they would be fighting.
"I went there because the press conference was supposed to be with Gamboa," Rios said. "All the sudden, this guy came in. I guessed he was a friend of Gamboa, [who] didn't show up, so I was already mad and heated up and everything. Abril started talking smack, so I assumed it was his friend. He came up to me and said, 'I want to fight you.'
"I said, 'Who are you? You look like an average guy on the street with a tuxedo on.' He kept running his mouth, saying, 'I am the champion and you are nothing.' I said, 'You are the champion and you want to fight me? There is my manager right there, Cameron Dunkin.' Then he told me to talk to him in Spanish because he didn't know what I was saying. I said, 'If you don't know what I'm saying, then get the f--- out of here.' Then we got face-to-face, and he pushed me. I will never forget that he pushed me. A man never forgets that."
And the fight was born. Soon after it was clear that Gamboa was out, Top Rank made a deal with Abril's promoter, Dream Team Promotions.
Rios said it was not hard for him to switch gears from focusing on Gamboa to Abril, even though neither the fight nor his purse is nearly as big.
"I am a fighter, I'm a warrior," Rios said. "It's my job, and I love my job. I love to fight. Whoever they put in front of me in the ring -- I don't care who it is -- I'll be ready. That is what I train for. If anything changes, I am ready. It doesn't matter to me. If it is Gamboa, Abril or Mike Tyson, it doesn't matter. I'll fight them."
But that doesn't mean Rios has forgotten that Gamboa stood him up, even though he said he isn't compelled to seek the fight in the future.
"It is not unfinished business, because we never fought," Rios said. "He called my name out. I showed up in Miami. I have nothing to prove. He didn't show up. I have nothing to prove to this guy. I didn't mention his name once. He said he wanted to fight me, Manny Pacquiao, this guy, that guy, and when it came down to it, he was nowhere to be found. He is a coward."
After Rios (29-0-1, 22 KOs) fights Abril (17-2-1, 8 KOs) in Las Vegas, the telecast will shift to the new Mexico City Arena, where Juan Manuel Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs), unable to land a fourth fight with welterweight titleholder Manny Pacquiao, will meet Sergey Fedchenko (30-1, 13 KOs) of Ukraine, for a vacant interim junior welterweight belt in the pay-per-view main event.
The other televised bouts will precede Rios-Abril in Las Vegas: junior welterweight contender Mike Alvarado (32-0, 23 KOs) against Mauricio Herrera (18-1, 7 KOs) and lightweight Mercito Gesta (24-0-1, 12 KOs) against Oscar Cuero (15-7, 12 KOs).
Bute-Froch on Epix in U.S.
Although the Lucian Bute-Carl Froch super middleweight title bout is one of the most significant fights on the boxing schedule, Showtime didn't want the fight and even allowed Bute, whom it has under contract, a one-fight out to take it elsewhere. Also showing no interest was HBO, which has a full spring schedule and wasn't particularly interested in helping build up Bute for Showtime.
But premium network Epix was interested from the start, and this week it landed exclusive U.S. broadcast rights to the May 26 bout that will take place in Nottingham, England, Froch's hometown. Epix will televise the fight live and offer a live stream on EpixHD.com. As has become custom, Epix also will simulcast the fight on the jumbotron in New York's Times Square.
Bute (30-0, 24 KOs), a native of Romania who has fought mostly in his adopted hometown of Montreal, recently became a Canadian citizen. For his first bout since -- his 10th title defense -- Bute, who has been criticized in some quarters for defending his title only in Quebec, is leaving the comforts of home to fight in Froch's hometown.
"I am very pleased that boxing fans in the United States won't miss this war between Carl Froch and me," Bute said.
Froch (28-2, 20 KOs), a former two-time super middleweight titlist, will be facing Bute in his first fight since losing a decision to Andre Ward in a title-unification bout in Showtime's Super Six World Boxing Classic final in December.
Said Froch: "I'm thrilled that Epix has taken on my fight with Lucian. I have a lot of fans across the pond, and it is important that they get to see this fight live. It's going to be a great atmosphere in my hometown on the night because it's been so long since I've boxed there, and I think people will be impressed at the noise and passion my fans show when they turn out in force. Along with the class inside the ring on the night, it's going to be a must-see event."
Cleverly wants shot at Hopkins
Light heavyweight titlist Nathan Cleverly of Wales will defend his belt against Robin Krasniqi on April 28 in London. On the same night, champion Bernard Hopkins will defend the lineal title against Chad Dawson in their rematch in Atlantic City, N.J.
Cleverly would like a crack at Hopkins should they both win, and promoters Frank Warren (Cleverly) and Richard Schaefer (Hopkins) recently discussed a possible fight. Schaefer was in England recently to announce Golden Boy's output deal with BoxNation, the all-boxing subscription network in England that Warren is heavily involved in.
"I've talked to Bernard about Nathan, and he said, 'Look, I'm used to fighting younger guys. Just keep bringing them on.' I went with Frank through some numbers. Now I'll have to go to Bernard and we'll go through some numbers.
"If the numbers which Frank has outlined to me hold true, I think there's a good chance the fight could take place in the U.K., absolutely. We don't want to jinx anything. Bernard has a very difficult fight ahead of him against Chad Dawson, who's a young, hungry fighter, so let's see what happens. But definitely, if everything goes well, I would very much like to make that fight."
Cleverly, who is 25 -- meaning he's 22 years younger than Hopkins -- has wanted the fight since Hopkins defeated Jean Pascal last May in their rematch to become the oldest fighter in boxing history to win a title.
"I leave all the business down to [Warren]," Cleverly said. "I'll fight anyone he puts in front of me, and it's my job to keep winning. It would be a dream to get Hopkins, and I'm really buzzing with all the talk about fighting him. But the reality is, I'm fighting Krasniqi first, which is a very tough fight, and if anything goes wrong, then a fight against Hopkins will be out of the window. It's a crucial title defense for me, and I've got to be at my best on the night against Krasniqi. I've got to win and win it in style to prove that I'm ready to challenge a great like Hopkins."
Taylor training to continue comeback
As former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor prepares for the second fight of his comeback from a layoff of nearly two years, trainer Pat Burns likes what he sees from his pupil.
"I couldn't be happier with the way Jermain has been looking," Burns said. "He hardly took any time off after the last fight -- only about a week -- and he showed up in camp at 170 pounds. He was already in shape, so we didn't have to kill ourselves to make the weight; we were able to spend our time just focusing on his training and fine-tuning some things. We are three weeks out from the fight, and Jermain is already in tremendous shape -- as good, if not better than when I had him fighting [and beating Bernard] Hopkins [in 2005]."
In October 2009, Taylor (29-4-1, 18 KOs) suffered a head injury in a 12th-round knockout loss to Arthur Abraham in the Super Six World Boxing Classic. He then stepped away from boxing for a long rest. But on Dec. 30, he launched his comeback by stopping Jessie Nicklow in the eighth round. On April 20, he will face Caleb Truax (18-0-1, 10 KOs) in a 10-round middleweight bout at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Miss.
"Jermain is pretty close to where he needs to be," Burns said. "We are very focused going into this fight, as we know how important a fight this is for him. I am looking for Jermain to pick up where he left off in the later rounds of his last fight, and go out there and put on an impressive performance. We are not underestimating this kid by any means. There is no sense in looking down the road until we take care of the challenge that is standing right in front of us. That being said, the things Jermain has been doing in this camp are absolutely unbelievable, and I know he is going to impress a lot of people on April 20."
Taylor said he came back because he wants to win another world title.
"This fight is another step toward regaining my championship," Taylor said. "My body feels great. I know what it takes and what I have to do to become champion again, but first I need to take this kid's zero. I was praying the other day and God told me to go in there and kick this kid's butt, and that's exactly what I plan on doing."
Lundy wants DeMarco
Philadelphia lightweight contender Hank Lundy (22-1-1, 11 KOs) dominated Dannie Williams in an entertaining bout on last week's "Friday Night Fights." The next night, Jorge Linares got dropped and stopped on a cut in the second round of a shocking upset loss to Sergio Thompson in what was supposed to be a tuneup fight.
With a win, Linares would have been set to challenge lightweight titlist Antonio DeMarco (27-2-1, 20 KOs) in a July 7 Showtime main event. But Linares lost and blew the fight, and now Lundy wants to step in.
"He's tailor-made for me," Lundy said of Mexico's DeMarco. "I need that fight. I want that fight. He stands right in front of you and makes a lot of mistakes. I'm not going to run my mouth, but that's the fight I want."
The victory was Lundy's fourth in a row, and many believe he deserves a title shot now.
"Everybody's talking about all these other guys fighting for the title, but I should be fighting for it," he said. "I'm next in line. I've put in more work than anybody. They should make these champions start fighting the top contenders or else strip them of their titles. I've never run from any fighter. I think the champs should do the same. Fight me! At the end of the day, it's going to be an ass whupping."
• Former unified junior welterweight titlist Devon Alexander (23-1, 13 KOs), who made a smashing welterweight debut with a virtual shutout decision against Marcos Maidana on Feb. 25, will return Aug. 18 in a Showtime main event, Golden Boy's Richard Schaefer told ESPN.com. The opponent and venue have not yet been determined.
"We're working on that and discussing some names, but I have nothing to report," Schaefer said. "We have narrowed down a list of opponents with Showtime and people in mind we are discussing. [Showtime Sports boss] Stephen [Espinoza] is very interested in the 147-pound weight class, and they were interested in getting Devon Alexander a fight on Showtime. He is one of the best-known names in the division."
There was talk about Alexander facing English contender Kell Brook (27-0, 18 KOs). Brook's camp asked whether Alexander would come to England to fight Brook on July 7, when he is scheduled to fight in his hometown of Sheffield. Alexander's camp countered by asking whether Brook would come to the United States to fight Alexander on Aug. 18. Neither side was interested in switching dates.
• The rematch between former welterweight titleholders Victor Ortiz (29-3-2, 22 KOs) and Andre Berto (28-1, 22 KOs), originally scheduled for Feb. 11 but postponed to June 23 because of Berto's torn left biceps, will be at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Schaefer told ESPN.com.
"We have the site set now, and we are working on the date for the press conference and the on-sale date for tickets," he said.
The fight was originally slated to be in Las Vegas, but when the date changed Schaefer said he wanted to move the fight -- a rematch of one of 2011's most action-packed bouts -- because of the heavy boxing schedule in Las Vegas in the late spring and early summer.
Schaefer said that AEG, which owns Staples Center and a minority stake in Golden Boy, has agreed to promote the fight in Los Angeles. That includes billboards advertising the fight and promotional materials being used at Lakers and Clippers games and during events at the Nokia Theater and at the Regal movie theaters at the L.A. Live complex that sits across the street from Staples Center.
"I think that's important to market the fight," Schaefer said. "You have those assets, and it's important to put them in play."
In the opening bout of the telecast on Showtime, junior welterweight contenders Humberto Soto (57-7-2, 34 KOs) and Lucas Matthysse (30-2, 28 KOs) will meet, assuming Soto makes it through a tuneup fight on Saturday.
• Soto, a former junior lightweight and junior lightweight titlist from Mexico, will face Claudinei Lacerda (14-2, 10 KOs) of Brazil in his tuneup fight on Saturday night in Cancun, Mexico. The bout will air in the United States live on Fox Deportes (10 ET). Golden Boy, which promotes Soto, has been working with Fox Deportes to air some of the Mexico-based cards it is involved in, such as last week's Sergio Thompson-Jorge Linares card.
"It is important that these fighters and fights we do from Mexico are shown in the United States on a regular basis," Golden Boy's Schaefer said. "Fox showing them is very good for the fighters and for boxing fans."
In Saturday's main event, former junior flyweight titlist Edgar Sosa (44-7, 27 KOs) will face Wilbert Uicab (33-6-1, 18 KOs) in an all-Mexican flyweight elimination bout that will move the winner closer to a shot at world titlist Sonny Boy Jaro. "My wish is to become world champion once again," Sosa said. "Uicab is a very powerful rival who is always throwing punches, and those kinds of fighters I like."
• Middleweight titlist Dmitry Pirog (19-0, 14 KOs), making his third title defense, will face Nobuhiro Ishida (24-7-2, 9 KOs) on May 1 in Moscow, in Pirog's native Russia, promoter Artie Pelullo told ESPN.com. Pirog is slated to face Daniel Geale in a 160-pound unification fight on Aug. 25 on HBO, but he first must defeat Japan's Ishida, who is coming off a shutout decision loss to Paul Williams on Feb. 18.
Ishida is known for his stunning first-round knockout of heavily favored James Kirkland in a junior middleweight fight that rated as the biggest upset of 2011. Pelullo said he made a deal with Ishida's promoter, Golden Boy, and that the contracts are signed. He said the deal is contingent on an official sanction from the WBO. "The agreement is predicated on the WBO putting Ishida in the rankings, which we have requested and we think will happen, because he qualifies," Pelullo said.
• Last week former undisputed junior middleweight champion Winky Wright (51-5-1, 25 KOs) signed his contract to fight middleweight contender "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin (26-0, 20 KOs) on May 26, and now so has Quillin, Golden Boy's Schaefer told ESPN.com. They will meet on Showtime on the televised undercard of the cruiserweight fight between former light heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver (29-6, 20 KOs) and Lateef Kayode (18-0, 12 KOs). Wright is coming back after a three-year layoff following a lopsided decision loss to Paul Williams in April 2009, while Quillin is looking for a win against the biggest name of his career. The site for the card is not yet set, although Schaefer said he and Al Haymon, adviser to Tarver and Quillin, would talk about it next week.
• Featherweight titlist Orlando Salido (38-11-2, 26 KOs), who is coming off a 10th-round knockout of Juan Manuel Lopez in their March 10 rematch and has knocked him out twice in Puerto Rico, has no plans to sit around waiting for a bigger fight to materialize. Sean Gibbons, Salido's manager, told ESPN.com that Salido likely will defend his title in his hometown of Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, in July. There is no opponent yet, but Gibbons said that after that bout, Salido and his team are "hoping for a big fight."
• Junior lightweight titlist Adrien Broner (23-0, 19 KOs) is due to make his second title defense May 19 on HBO on the Lamont Peterson-Amir Khan undercard, but Golden Boy (Broner's promoter) and the network are having a hard time coming up with an opponent. The one name in a very thin 130-pound division that has been discussed is Monty Meza Clay (32-3, 21 KOs), who has a deal with Golden Boy for the fight, pending network approval -- which is no slam dunk. Meza Clay has won four fights in a row, but he suffered back-to-back losses at featherweight in 2009 -- a decision to Fernando Beltran Jr. and a fifth-round knockout loss to Jorge Solis in a title eliminator. He would also have a 5-inch disadvantage against the 5-foot-7 Broner.
Golden Boy wants to match Broner with contender Vicente Escobedo, but two things prevent that fight from happening May 19: There isn't a big enough budget to make the fight as the HBO opener because nearly all of the money is going to the main event; also, Escobedo wants one more fight -- probably May 12 on Telefutura -- before he thinks he will be ready for Broner this summer, when Broner is expected to headline an HBO "Boxing After Dark" card.
• Cruiserweight titlist Marco Huck (34-2, 25 KOs) and interim titleholder Ola Afolabi (19-2-3, 9 KOs) this week announced their May 5 rematch, set for Erfurt, Germany. Huck, returning to cruiserweight after losing a highly controversial majority decision to heavyweight titlist Alexander Povetkin on Feb. 25, will meet Afolabi in a mandatory fight 2½ years after outpointing him in their first title bout.
"I have waited for this fight for the last 2½ years," said Afolabi, who will train with renowned German trainer Fritz Sdunek. "Huck has done everything possible to avoid fighting me again. He even moved to heavyweight to delay this fight. This time, I will not leave any doubt."
Sdunek also trains heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who, with brother Wladimir Klitschko, owns K2 Promotions, which promotes Afolabi. That gave Huck an opportunity to take a swipe at the Klitschkos. "The Klitschkos should refrain from sending over their employees, and take me on themselves," he said.
Also on the Sauerland Event card, super middleweight titlist Robert Stieglitz (41-2, 23 KOs) will make his mandatory defense against George Groves (14-0, 11 KOs), and Alexander Dimitrenko (32-1, 21 KOs) and Kubrat Pulev (15-0, 7 KOs) meet for the vacant European heavyweight title.
• Although heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola (35-2, 30 KOs) is the favorite to land a fall title shot against Wladimir Klitschko -- if Klitschko defeats Tony Thompson on July 7 -- he will fight at least one more time before that potential fight takes place, promoter Dan Goossen told ESPN.com. Arreola, who fought five times in 2011 -- the busiest schedule of a heavyweight contender -- scored a first-round knockout of Eric Molina on Feb. 18. The regular activity has been good for Arreola to help him stay in shape. "We're going to get him back out there in May or June at the latest," Goossen said.
There had been conversations about Arreola returning to Mexico, where he fought in November in his first pro fight in the country where his parents are from, but Goossen said he will instead fight in the United States. The promoter said California or Texas are likely spots. "There is nothing concrete yet, but right now we are working on some things and on getting him back on television and doing it in the United States."
• Besides the fights it airs, HBO has also developed several shows to complement them, from "24/7" to "Face Off" to "2 Days" to "Ring Life." Now HBO is unveiling another show called "Portrait of a Fighter." The debut edition, which runs 13 minutes, will profile junior middleweight titlist Saul "Canelo" Alvarez (39-0-1, 29 KOs) and debut April 12 (9:15 p.m. ET/PT). The show promises an in-depth look at the background of the 21-year-old Mexican star, who is preparing to defend his title against former champion Shane Mosley (46-7-1, 39 KOs) on May 5. There will be numerous replays on HBO and HBO2, and the show also will be available on HBO On Demand.
"I considered retiring because everybody knows I want to fight Manny again and that I won the last fight, and I feel very angry about that decision."
-- Juan Manuel Marquez, who is preparing for an April 14 pay-per-view fight against Sergey Fedchenko, on his feelings after his controversial loss to welterweight titlist Manny Pacquiao in November and his inability to get a fourth fight with him
"Malignaggi is nothing special. I know how to fight him. I plan to expose his weaknesses during the fight. I'm going to make sure that Malignaggi remembers my name for a long time. What he says does not bother me at all. I smile when I hear most of the stuff he says. I'm not a talker. I am a boxer, and I'll show my skills in the ring. I am very calm and focused on my fight on April 29.
Paulie is already talking about defending his title in Brooklyn, but I am still the champion. He needs to take the title from me. He should start thinking about retiring, not defending the title, after he fights me."
-- Welterweight titlist Vyacheslav Senchenko, on Paulie Malignaggi, whom he will face April 29 in Donetsk, Ukraine