Richard Abril was a replacement, a contingency plan, an interloper who trash-talked his way into a challenge of Brandon Rios only after Yuriorkis Gamboa failed to report for duty.
After months of buzz from fans about the Rios-Gamboa fight, it took a no-show from Gamboa at a media conference to promote the fight, plus a surprise appearance from Abril -- all but unknown on the global boxing scene at the time -- to set the stage for a Rios-Gamboa lightweight clash. But even after the fight was made for April 14, few gave Abril a chance against the brash, brawling Rios.
Fight fans know the rest: Rios showed up overweight and, seemingly, in no shape to fight; Abril put on a clinic, a subtle display of accuracy and avoidance that could have swayed any observer; and, ultimately, Rios ended the night a split-decision winner in the latest disputed outcome for a sport whose credibility continues to crumble.
Abril recently visited ESPN's Bristol, Conn., campus to discuss the Rios decision, his concerns about boxing's direction and the backstory of his moving freely back and forth between the United States and his native Cuba.
How did you feel when Brandon Rios was named the winner of your April 14 bout?
I was so focused for that fight, and I felt that the bout was mine because I was executing my game plan and I was frustrating him. When I saw the first judge's decision, I said, "Oh, all right" with the point differential he [gave me]. But then when the other voted against me, I was like, "Uh, this smells bad," and then I lost. They took a win away that was rightfully mine. I felt very bad with myself, but at the same time, I was very satisfied because of all that I did.
How did you handle it after the fight?
Well, I got to my locker room and saw all the fans who supported me with their comments, and that cheered me up a little. But you feel bad because of all the sacrifices you made to get where you are, and when you make it and they take the fight away from you, you realize that boxing is almost done because of that. People are complaining because of the unfair decisions, like what happened to [Erislandy] Lara, who … fought against Paul Williams and had something similar happen to him, and many others.
So you had a strong reaction to the backlash after the fight?
I raised my head and said "Wow, not only are my fans supporting me, but Brandon Rios' fans, too." Mexican people sent me Facebook messages saying I was the real winner. I mean, that's Rios' country right there. Rios wasn't born there, but he does have Mexican blood in him. Everybody was supporting me. Then I saw the fight on YouTube and couldn't believe it. He didn't do anything; all he had was body shots. My punches were more effective and precise.
I watched the fight more than 10 times to analyze the mistakes I made, whether it was a close fight, but no. I saw the fight, and in my opinion, he could have won three rounds, tops. I saw him taking the second round, yeah, but he didn't do enough to take two more.
Could you have avoided leaving the fight in the hands of the judges by knocking Rios out at some point?
I don't think I could have knocked him out -- he is a tough guy -- but I could have hurt him a lot. The problem was that I hurt my hand in the fourth round after hitting him in the head, and I had to rely more on the jab. From there on, I couldn't do anything with my good hand. I decided that the combination of the jab and good defense was enough to beat him.
Do you think that there's a way to remedy unfair outcomes in boxing?
They are becoming a trend in boxing. I don't have the slightest idea how to fix it, but I do know that judges vote against the grain and I don't know whether they are being bribed or not. They are the ones who have to eradicate it from boxing. I never had a fight like that, but that's not a good thing.
Now what? Is a rematch in the horizon?
Well, I do want to fight Rios again. I don't care if it's [at a different weight], but I do want it.
It seems Rios may be lined up to fight Juan Manuel Marquez in July. Do you think that fight should belong to you?
Of course. I wanted to fight Marquez, I would be proud to fight against a legend. But oh well, that fight was set well before mine, and that's why I think the judges voted against me.
Do you see similarities between the way Marquez lost against Manny Pacquiao and your fight with Rios?
Yeah, I did. He had one helluva fight against Pacquiao. [Marquez] caused him a lot of trouble.
Could you beat Marquez, considering the skill he displayed against Pacquiao?
Yeah. I'm hungry. I'm hungry to win. That's why I'm here, to fight the best and try to beat them. It would be great to fight Marquez. I would study his moves in the first four rounds to hit him, frustrate him and defeat him afterwards.
What other opponents would you be interested in at 135 pounds?
Whoever comes my way. I want to fight for the world title again and then defend it five or six times. After that, I would like to go up to 140, but first I want to fight whoever gets in my way at 135.
You are Cuban, but you live in Miami with a legal visa and can go back home whenever you want. Please explain how that works.
That's a deal between Cuba and the United States. It's like [a] visa lottery. My father won it and he took us legally to the U.S. I'm not a defector. Cuba has a problem with defectors. I don't stick my nose in that. I don't have an opinion on politics. I love Cuba and I come back to see my siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins.
What Cuban boxers do you admire personally?
Teófilo Stevenson. A hard hitter, very adept in the long distance and always ready to hurt you with his right hand. No boxer could withstand him.
What about fighters from the rest of the world?
From the past, I would say Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns. I'm sometimes told my fighting style is like Hearns'. Nowadays, I like Floyd Mayweather. Smart boxer.
What would you like your legacy to be?
That of a noble, humble boxer who gives his best and has always loved boxing. Always.
Martín Bater is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.