This Saturday night, Top Rank & ESPN+ will be live from the Grand Casino Hinckley in Hinckley, Minnesota, where they will have a featherweight attraction. Joet Gonzalez (25-2) will continue his quest for another title shot as he faces Isaac Dogboe (23-2) in a fight that serves as the WBC title eliminator.
There will be a heavyweight battle between undefeated prospect Guido Vianello (8-0-1) and Rafael Rios (11-3) on the undercard. Although not known to casual fans or even purists, Rios’ story is interesting and needs to be told as his contributions to society should be recognized.
Rios is a thirty-seven-year-old heavyweight from Tijuana, Baja California, MX, who moved to San Diego at age ten. His nickname is “El Grande” (The Big One) for good reason as he is 6’6”, so that geared him towards the sport of basketball early on. After playing college ball, one summer, Rios was an extra on a T.V show which is where he met former WBC lightweight champion Rodolfo “Gato” Gonzalez. Rios and Gonzalez started to talk, leading to his first three boxing lessons being taught by the former champion. Rios was twenty-seven years old when he began boxing, and a few years later, Juan Cruz (Cruz Sports Management) introduced him to Coach Victor Worsham. A year later, Rios debuted in Tijuana, MX, and now has his first major fight on ESPN+ this Saturday.
The last time Rios was in the ring was November 2020, when he suffered a TKO loss to Carlos Negron. Rios admitted not being in shape for the fight as he only had a twelve-day notice but has moved on from what occurred that night. After taking some time off, including some trips, he returned motivated and started to train harder than ever. Knowing the life of a fighter without a major promoter, I was curious to know what he did during that time off since there was no money from boxing.
Rios told NYF, “I got a job working at a homeless youth center for young adults called ‘Urban Street Angels.' I started out volunteering and being around these kids to motivate them. I work peer support, so I help them apply for jobs, take them to appointments, practice job interviews, take them on field trips, and give a boxing class once a week. We help them as much as possible to become productive members of society.” People who work at youth centers do not get the credit they deserve as they work hard to break the cycle in certain instances.
Rios has this fight on ESPN+ against a highly touted prospect who goes by “The Gladiator” and has eight victories with eight knockouts. He feels more prepared for battle this time than in his last fight. Rios told NYF, “I’ve been training here at ABC (Any Body Can Youth Foundation) for the last six to seven weeks. I was able to get some good sparring this time, so I’m ready. I had a real training camp this time around.” Rios said regarding his opponent, “I know he went to the Olympics for Italy and can move a little bit. I’ve seen a couple of his fights, so I’m going to take it to him.”
Given that many haven’t seen his fights or know of him, Rios had a message for those who are going to tune in. He said, “It’s going to be an exciting fight and I'm going for the win. I have to win this fight. If it’s there, I’m going for the knockout. I’m going to bring the pressure and throw lots of punches. It should be exciting.”
My Three Cents
Rafael Rios is a guy who has everything to gain and nothing to lose other than a potential shot at a contender in the future. But in life, his contributions to society make him a champion in his own right, which should be admired. Can Vianello continue his knockout streak, or will the San Diego resident Rios pull off the upset? You’ll have to tune into ESPN+ on Saturday night to find out.