SANTA ANA — Go ahead and say boxing has too many belts. Just make sure Ronny Rios, 27, is out of the room.
“I’m barely into the prime of my career,” Rios said Monday, just leaving the ring at the TKO Boxing Club after two hours of work that encompassed 14 rounds of sparring.
He smiled. “But it’s better late than never.”
On Aug. 26, while Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor re-illustrate Solomon’s adage about fools and money, fight fans will come to StubHub Center, like supplicants to communion.
The former tennis stadium has featured lots of forehands and not much love. It somehow spawns great fights every time the lights come on.
For Rios this is a career illumination. He is 28-1 but this is his first title opportunity, against WBC super-bantamweight champ Rey Vargas. He and Vargas will be on HBO, as the lead-in to Miguel Cotto’s fight with Yoshihiro Kamegai.
“I think about it all day,” said Hector Lopez, the only trainer Rios has had.
They work on a tucked-away street in Santa Ana. Family ties are part of the concrete, as is strife, but the city and the gym are Rios’ home.
“What I hear is Michael Buffer saying, ‘And the new …’ It would be the first time for Orange County,” Lopez said. “You think about surfers, football players. This would mean so much.”
Buffer is the famous ring announcer. When a title fight goes the distance, the fighters stand on each side of Buffer, and he reads the scores, and after a buildup he either says, ‘And still …’ or ‘And the new …’
Everything else gets drowned out. ‘Still” means the champ won. “New” means the challenger did.
Leon Spinks’ first title fight was his eighth overall, and he beat Muhammad Ali. Vasyl Lomachenko’s first title fight was his second.
That’s not the norm, but Adrien Broner (23rd), Terence Crawford (25th), Abner Mares (21st) and Leo Santa Cruz (21st) all got a chance before Rios did. He was promoted by Golden Boy but he wasn’t high on the depth chart.
“There have been a lot of pressures and sacrifices,” Rios said.
His wife Daniela and 5-month-old son Nicholas are living at her family’s house while Rios trains, and while he cooks steak and fish and fixes salads at home.
“Ronny isn’t the fastest guy, isn’t the hardest puncher,” Lopez said. “But he’s a great technician. He works the angles, sets up his jab. He takes little bits and pieces and puts them all together.”
Rios first came to the gym when he was 13, because…