great many boxers from Central and South America, Luis Alberto Rios comes from
a tough upbringing in the barrios. He’s lost many members of his family and
friends to the harsh streets. After following his elder brother to the local
boxing gym at a young age, Rios realised he was good at it and pursued it. From
an early stage of his pro career, he was tabbed by insiders as a possible future
world champion, winning the Panamanian light flyweight title in just his eighth
fight, adding several other various trinkets to his collection. All was going
well until the spring of 2010 when he took on Luis Carrillo; a shoulder injury
forced him to retire at the end of the fourth round. It was a long, arduous
rehabilitation for Rios but he stuck with it and, nearly a year later, returned
to action. Rios has stayed active since winning all seven fights inside the
distance including exorcising his previous demons against Carrillo in five rounds.
Most recently, the 22-year-old from Felipillo (30 kilometres from Panama City)
moved to 18-1-1 (13) with an impressive stoppage over former world title
challenger Felipe Salguero in the penultimate inning of their October fight
(Salguero previously lost a decision to Donnie Nietes), a world title
eliminator for the IBF belt, whilst he’s rated at number three by the IBF.
Anson Wainwright - You recently beat Felipe
Salguero in an IBF light flyweight title fight, stopping him in the 11th round. You were also on the canvas in the fight. Could you tell us about
the fight and what it meant to you to win?
Luis Alberto Rios - Hi, thanks for the
interview. Since I returned from a surgery due to an injury on my shoulder, I
knew it would be hard to get on track so I could achieve my goal of becoming a
world champion and this was my first chance to prove I was ready to take the
step ahead and face the elite. Salguero is a great boxer...as most of the
Mexicans [are] hard to knockdown. Always pressing, also with a good physical
condition, so I had to use my boxing to make the gaps. In the fifth, the fight
was in a heavy moment, so to get Salguero out of reach, I went backwards and a
left hook over my guard left me out of stance so I dropped but I got up
cool. Winning this fight, as you may figure, is for me to prove that with
hard work, I could become a hard challenger for any [world champion] boxer, so
I could get to my goal of becoming champion #30 for Panama.
AW – Presumably, you're looking at
fighting IBF champion Johnriel Casimero at some point next year. What are your
plans for 2013?
LAR - Plans! Well, my manager usually
works on that with my promotional company but right after the fight ended,
since you asked, I wanted to bring Casimero right away (laughs). But now I’ve
cooled down and I realise the fight is really hard so I will face it with the
same attitude I did this time.
AW - Who are the key members of your team?
LAR - The first and head of all this is
God, then my managers are Melchor Herrera and Melchor Herrera Jr. My trainer is
Orlando Soto along with Jacinto Palacios.
AW - You were born in Felipillo, Panama.
Could you tell us about your youth growing up?
LAR - Tough! You have no idea! I am a
from a neighborhood considered as a “red zone” in East Panama, a place where to
run in the morning, you have to get out “jugando vivo” (“playing live” or “being
alert”), on alert constantly since you never know if someone, just because
where you live, could get hurt by a bullet. Because of that nonsense, I
have lost brothers, cousins and friends. I remember an episode when a week
before a hard fight against the Panamanian champion of my division [Walter
Tello], one of my brothers was killed. That moment made me hard, so I decided
to do with all my life what I was good for. I knocked Tello out in the fourth.
I know things are not easy but I try to get out of the neighborhood. I could
train with that pressure. I come back frequently, not to show me as a superstar;
it’s just to let my friends show the new kids there’s a life out of violence
but most important without [forgetting] my friends.
AW - How did you first become
interested in boxing?
LAR - I told you it was hard for me
losing a brother. Well, the brother I lost due to the pandillas (gangs) first
started in boxing and it was good - believe me - even better than me, so as
most of the kids, I followed the steps of the older brother. Not longer than
three years [later], he quit to get in a pandilla but I continued since people
said I was good at it. And I decided to do what I was good at.
AW – Over two-and-a-half years ago, you badly hurt your shoulder, forcing you
to pull out of your fight with Luis Carrillo. Could you tell us about the
injury, how bad it was and what you had to go through before you could box
LAR - Any injury that causes you a loss
is bad but if you add the comments I got from people that “know the sport,” it
was bad enough to quit. My shoulder was a ghost I had since the amateurs, so I
contained it in most of my fights. It took force to not injure myself. My
manager took me to the hospital and Dr. Alessandria assured me that hard work
would erase the episode. The surgery was great but most important, my team
never quit on me, always supporting my comeback. At the very beginning, I threw
the left hook instead of the jab because I was scared about getting hurt again
but I know that’s part of the past and I feel that I’m punching even harder
than before. (laughs)
AW - You returned and won five fights before beating Carrillo in a rematch.
What did the victory mean to you?
LAR - It was great. The confidence that
gives you a win is good but winning by knockouts is even better. The fight
against Carrillo was a pending task and I begged for it ‘cause I wanted to
prove I never should have lost that fight.
AW - What do you think of the light flyweight division and the
current champions, the WBC’s Adrian Hernandez, the WBA’s
Roman Gonzalez and the WBO’s Donnie Nietes?
LAR - All are great champions. I hope become part of that elite and why not?
Face them to prove I’m good enough but with the respect all deserve.
AW - What are your goals in boxing?
LAR – (Laughs) Become a champion...simple as that.
AW - Do you have a nickname and if so,
what does it mean and how did you get it?
LAR – (Laughs) I thought you’d never
ask. It is “Pan Blanco” – “White Bread” - as in most of the barrios in my
country, everybody has a nickname. It is really hard to find someone who
doesn’t. Mine is because my family is darker than me, so my friends called me that.
AW - Tell us about yourself as a person, what
you enjoy doing away from boxing, what your hobbies and interests are.
LAR - I’m quiet. I like to watch TV, spend
time with my girlfriend and in the neighborhood with my friends but most of my
life turns around boxing.
AW - In closing, do you have a message for the light flyweight division?
- Not sure…time will say so.