A fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Brandon Rios would be a dream. But before those two can meet, they first have to take care of a pair of tricky opponents who would like nothing better than to turn that dream into a nightmare.
In a split doubleheader, Marquez will face European junior welterweight champion Sergey Fedchenko in Mexico City, while in Las Vegas the unbeaten Rios must get by Richard Abril, an unusually tall lightweight who has exceptional hand speed and ring mobility.
Marquez is one of the great ring technicians, but getting a handle on Fedchenko may prove tricky. The 30-year-old Ukrainian has an uncanny in-ring ability to figure out opponents, earning him the nickname, "The Professor." He is unpredictable, alternating between two distinct fight styles. At times, Fedchenko (30-1, 13 KOs) has attacked aggressively with constant pressure. Other fights he uses his legs and fast hands to box circles around opponents. So which version will Marquez have to deal with?
Given his past history, it would appear Fedchenko is likely to use a stick-and-move style against Marquez (53-6-1, 39 KOs), forcing the 38-year-old Mexican to use his legs. In Fedchenko's only fights with upper tier boxers - Kaizer Mabuza and DeMarcus Corley - he was in constant motion. When Fedchenko fought opponents he was expected to beat, he trotted out his pressure game, coming forward and throwing fast combos to the body and head. If he chooses to move in this fight, he will force Marquez -- the consummate counterpuncher -- into the less familiar role of aggressor. But there are indications the Ukrainian will engage Marquez.
This will be Fedchenko's first fight on American television, and he knows if he doesn't put on a good show, chances are there won't be a second. Fedchenko seemed to admit as much when he first arrived in Mexico two weeks ago. "Can I beat him on the scorecards? Probably not," Fedchenko says. "Therefore I must always be active. I'm going to take risks and give Marquez such an amazing fight."
Rios (29-0-1, 22 KOs) faces a similar problem in Richard Abril (17-2-1, 8 KOs), who is not only remarkably fast, but at 5'11", a full three inches taller. That doesn't worry Rios's manager, Cameron Dunkin. "Brandon won't have any problems with Abril's height," Dunkin says. "He fought Jorge Luis Teron, who is six feet tall, and Brandon broke him down to the body and knocked him out in three rounds. But it will be harder with Abril, because he'll be moving. I'm really scared about this fight. It's a very dangerous one."
Dunkin and Rios got a firsthand look at how fast Abril moves during a press conference altercation on March 5 in Miami. Rios was originally supposed to face unbeaten sensation Yuriorkis Gamboa, but the Cuban didn't show for the presser and eventually pulled out. Abril, on the other hand, did come to the conference and forced a confrontation with Rios that turned ugly. After getting up in Rios's face and challenging him to fight, Abril shoved Rios in the shoulder and then retreated like the Road Runner.
"Brandon and I were laughing about that later," Dunkin says. "I said, 'Look at this guy, he's not even in the picture any more, he got clear across the room in seconds. That's how fast he is. He's going to move like crazy.'"
In contrast, Rios knows only one way to move - forward. He is a crowd pleaser because of his hyper-aggressive style and power in both fists. Rios is at his best when opponents stand in front of him and brawl, but Dunkin feels his fighter can deal with Abril's speed because he's done it before. "He fought Anthony Peterson and Miguel Acosta, both fast guys and he took care of them. We've been using fast sparring partners. Brandon told me, 'I just have to keep jabbing and moving in. He's not going to win rounds running. I know how to get into this guy's ass and not quit punching.'"
Although known as a brawler, Rios possesses the boxing skills to fight Abril from the outside if he has to. "People think he's this crude guy, but Brandon was an Olympic alternate and won national titles as an amateur," Dunkin says. "The problem with Brandon is he gets in the ring and throws all that out the window, he just wants to fight. He keeps telling me, 'I want a war. Get me a great war that will be a defining fight.'"
One potential roadblock for Rios is his on-going problems making weight. In his last fight against England's John Murray, Rios lost his title on scales, weighing in a half pound over the 135 pound limit. Rios knocked out Murray in the 11th round, and immediately afterwards Dunkin took steps to insure the scales wouldn't be an issue again.
"Brandon came into camp for that fight much too big," Dunkin says. "He was 171. Part of the reason he couldn't make the weight was because his trainer Robert Garcia was getting Margarito ready to face Cotto, and didn't spend as much time with Brandon as he needed. Brandon is the type guy you have to stay on. He doesn't drink alcohol, but he likes his burritos, tacos and sodas. This time I hired Victor Conte to be his conditioner and he came to camp at 153. Garcia told me, 'You're going to be shocked at how beautiful he will look.'"