“This is a fight,” said HBO commentator Andre Ward mere seconds before Brandon Rios was awarded a ninth-round disqualification victory over Diego Chaves. Ward, ironically a connoisseur of arm locks and other unpleasantries, was correct: the fight between Rios and Chaves, staged at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, was a nasty affair.
It is difficult to share his enthusiasm, however. By the time Ward offered his observation, whatever action Rios and Chaves managed to muster had long since devolved into a tedious slop of holding, shoving, tackling, and complaining, garnished with a heaping glob of referee incompetence for good measure. It served to upset stomachs.
This was hardly the return to action Rios intended, and he admitted as much when the ruckus died down. Coming off consecutive defeats—including a pulping at the hands of Manny Pacquiao—a positive drug test, and subsequent suspension, Rios needed to shake off the rust and have his hand raised. Expectations among boxing aficionados being what they are, most everyone would have understood if Rios rolled a lesser opponent to victory.
Instead, Rios, Oxnard, California, targeted Chaves, and threw the outcome of his comeback fight very much into doubt. A natural welterweight with a solid chin, respectable power, and decent footwork, Chaves had sufficient attributes to tame Rios. Moreover, Chaves had comported himself admirably in a hard-fought stoppage loss to Keith Thurman last July. Factor in questions about Rios’ physical decline, ring rust, and his dubious credentials above lightweight, and the upset was a trendy pick.
When he set his offense up with his jab, Chaves made sages of his supporters. Off the jab he cracked with hooks, crosses, and goring body shots. Even when bulled to the ropes, so long as “La Joya” jabbed in retreat he caught the charging Rios with uppercuts. Rios happily paid this toll to advance, hoping to lure Chaves into the type of brawl that becomes impossible to escape as soon as escape is crucial. But while Chaves, San Miguel, Argentina, obliged Rios early, digging in and hurling in concert, having confirmed Rios’ toughness and power Chaves got on his toes.
Movement, confident or desperate, is a natural consequence of sharing a ring with Rios, yet only Pacquiao has eluded him for twelve rounds. As if made of a denser matter, Rios, 147, imposes a gravitational pull on his opponents. Despite his leaden feet, despite often closing without punching, opponents inevitably find Rios tucked under their chins, working his fists into exposed tissue with uncanny accuracy. It is in these moments that a fighter must show his nerve, and it is in these moments that Chaves unraveled.
Perhaps fatigued from his lengthy journey and late arrival in Las Vegas, perhaps already fraying under Rios’ pressure, Chaves, 148, resorted to holding as early as the third round; and in that same round referee Vic Drakulich, without clear warning beforehand, docked him a point for it. Was Drakulich looking to gain control of the fight? If so, he failed. Chaves held incessantly over the remaining rounds. In fact, things would only get worse.
Rios, 32-2-1 (23), was penalized a point for dumping Chaves on the canvas in the fifth round; Drakulich threatened to disqualify both fighters in the sixth; Chaves lost another point in the ninth for shoving Rios on the break, though his textbook execution of a “DDT” somehow went unpunished. In between these fouls there were enough breaks in the action to accommodate commercials as Chaves clamped down on Rios whenever he felt threatened.
Still, considering there were only four and a half minutes left in the fight when the disqualification came, that the outcome seemed very much up for grabs, and that Rios wanted nothing more than a chance to hurt Chaves, Drakulich could have washed his clumsy hands of the affair and waited for the dust to settle. Instead, seeing Chaves once more put Rios in a headlock, and Rios’ infuriated response, Drakulich disqualified Chaves at 1:26 of the ninth round. Rios, who suffered a scratched cornea, was justifiably upset, as replays showed Chaves lacing him in the headlock. Of course, this more severe foul Drakulich missed, citing a forearm as the last straw; meaning Chaves was rightly disqualified but for the wrong reason.
Drakulich will take his share of the blame for failing to take control of the action, but Chaves, 23-2 (19), is plenty culpable himself, and could have been disqualified earlier had Drakulich bothered to uphold the standards his initial point deduction intended to set. Moreover, that Rios, a fighter who for all his boorishness has never complained of opponents working beyond the margins of sportsmanship, was driven into a frenzy by Chaves’ lacing gives credence to his claim that Chaves was fighting in bad faith. Let him do that in Argentina.
As for Rios, however unsatisfied he may feel, he got the win he needed, and avoided taking any further damage to his eye. He should take however long he needs to recover, and upon receiving a clean bill of health, render that bill void at the hands of Ruslan Provodnikov. Let him do that on the grandest stage possible.