12 Rounds With … Mario Barrios

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After soaring up the rankings at 130 pounds, unbeaten prospect Mario Barrios is now competing at 140, but that hasn’t slowed his pursuit of a world title.

Mario Barrios and Jose Arturo Esquivel

Unbeaten prospect Mario Barrios has gone 11-0 with seven KOs since the beginning of 2015. The 22-year-old San Antonio native recently moved up from 130 to 140 pounds in his pursuit of a world title. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

The 22-year-old San Antonio native has been as active as almost any boxer over the last 2½ years, going 11-0 with seven KOs since the start of 2015. After Barrios swept his way to a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Devis Boschiero last July in his first career 12-round bout, he seemed to be positioning himself as a rising threat in the 130-pound division.

With his 6-foot frame still developing, though, Barrios abandoned his campaign in that weight class toward the end of the year, and also began working with a new trainer in Virgil Hunter.

Since then, Barrios has scored a second-round KO of Claudio Rosendo Tapia at 136½ pounds in December and a sixth-round of Yardley Armenta Cruz at 139½ in his last fight in March on the Keith Thurman-Danny Garcia undercard.

Mario Barrios (18-0, 10 KOs) now looks to continue his ascent at 140 pounds Sunday night, when he takes on Mexican veteran Jose Luis Rodriguez (21-9, 12 KOs) in a 10-round bout on the Brandon Rios vs Aaron Herrera undercard at the Pioneer Event Center in Lancaster, California (FS1, 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT).

Barrios was scheduled to fight Nicaragua’s Nelson Lara on a PBC on FS1 card in late April, but withdrew from the bout after Lara came in overweight. Now refocused on a new opponent, the “Golden Boy” took a break from training to discuss his move up in weight, his decision to change trainers and how far away he thinks he is from fighting for a world championship.

You seemed comfortable competing at 130 pounds before moving up in weight last year. What instigated the move?

We turned pro at 124 [pounds in November 2013] and have been gradually outgrowing the weight classes. I definitely have the height to grow into this weight class. Right now, at 140, I feel very comfortable and strong at this weight. I’m not struggling whatsoever.

Everyone was wondering if I could carry my power up to 140, and I’ve been showing a lot of people that I can carry that power. I’m sparring with some very strong guys and they’re telling me that my punches are there. I feel as if I could stay this weight for quite a while.

Where are you training?

Right now, I’m training in Hayward, California, out here with Virgil Hunter.  Virgil’s my primary trainer and Bob Santos is my second.

It’s been about nine months—since August or September—and my first fight with Virgil Hunter was in December when I knocked out Claudio Rosendo Tapia in the second round.

What prompted your decision to work with Virgil Hunter?

I had met Virgil at some other fights when he was commentating, and he saw my style and he liked it a lot. My manager knows the style that he teaches and he sent me out here for about a week in August.

Me and Virgil started working together a little bit, just testing the waters. It worked out perfectly, and we continued to work together. Now, I’ve got two straight knockouts [since then].

Those past two wins, I’ve got to give credit to being out here under Virgil. He’s taught me a lot about how to control my distance and about using my height. We’ve been able to successfully implement it into my style and to use it in those fights. Being out here in general, it’s just a dream come true. 

What are your thoughts on your next opponent, Jose Luis Rodriguez, who has won three straight fights and whose only loss in his last eight bouts is to unbeaten 135-pound contender Felix Verdejo?

The knockout is not something we go out looking for, but we’re going in there to hurt our opponent with the game plan that we’ve got going on.

Rodriguez comes to fight the whole time, applying a lot of pressure and throwing a lot of punches. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s going to be an exciting night.

Everyone was wondering if I could carry my power up to 140. ... I’m sparring with some very strong guys and they’re telling me that my punches are there. I feel as if I could stay this weight for quite a while. Unbeaten 140-pound prospect Mario Barrios, on moving up from 130 pounds last year

Have you sparred with anyone of significance leading up to this fight?

I got some sparring in out here with Amir Khan. I think we went six rounds when he was here, and that was some great work. Right now, one of my main sparring partners is “The Wolf,” (147-pound prospect) Levan Ghvamichava. I’ve been getting some all-around great work from these guys.

They’re telling me that my skills, speed and power are there. It’s definitely a confidence booster. Sparring with Amir Khan, he has so much speed and experience fighting the top-tier guys on the professional level. As quick as Khan is, that’s some of the best work and experience that I’ve ever gotten in my life.

Now, [sparring] with The Wolf for this upcoming fight, you can’t get much better than that for my next opponent. I’m not going to say that my opponent won’t have as much power or apply as much pressure as The Wolf, but if you were to tell me that he would apply any more power or pressure than The Wolf, I would have to disagree.

No matter what the next guy brings, I’ll be able to either handle it or to take it away from him, and to respond by executing my game plan 100 percent the best that I can.

How do you rank the top fighters in the 140-pound division?

This weight class is filled with talent, but I think Terence Crawford is at the very top of the division and then everybody else just comes afterward.

Rances Barthelemy is in line for a title shot, and there’s a lot of other top fighters. I’m just looking to work my way up there, and hopefully I’ll be up there soon.

How far away do you think you are from a title fight in this division?

We’re looking to be in position for a title shot by this time next year, so it’s pretty exciting knowing that I’ve got a lot of options in a talented 140-pound division.

I want to fight as much as possible between now and that time, and I’m going to always be in the gym, so I’ll be prepared when the time comes.

What fighter in history would you most like to have fought, and what would be the result?

One of my favorite fighters I used to love watching old tapes of is [longtime featherweight champion] Salvador Sanchez. I watched him growing up and thought, “This is a guy who is a great boxer and he’s changing the Mexican style.” He was a boxer-puncher.

If I had the opportunity to fight Salvador Sanchez, it would be a very explosive fight. His [August 1981] fight with Wilfredo Gomez where he knocked out Gomez, that was one of my favorite fights to watch. You had the Mexican fighter against the Puerto Rican, so that made it even greater.

So, a fight between me and Salvador Sanchez, that would be huge. I’m definitely not one who shies away from a fight. I would have to try to use my size and my reach on him, and hope for the best. Salvador Sanchez is an all-time great.

I just loved watching him fight. I can’t honestly say that I would go in there and beat him, because I have too much respect to say that, but it would be an honor just to step into the ring with somebody like that. He was an incredible fighter.

What is your favorite punch to throw?

I really feel as if I have power in both hands and that I can hurt people in multiple ways, but if I had to choose one of the best ways that I’ve been able to knock out my opponents it would be either the left hook to the liver or the left hook to the head.

As a Mexican fighter growing up, we’re taught to kill the body and the head will follow, and I’ve had a lot of success with that. Those are definitely the best punches to throw. In a fight that’s set to go 10 rounds or more, those shots really turn a fight around.

There have been a few fights where the liver shots have hurt the fighters, and the left hook to the head can be a finisher. When I fought Manuel Vides in December 2015 and knocked him out in the sixth round, I really used the body shots.

In that fight, I just killed the body against a very tough opponent from the first round on. You could see that he was gassing out and had no energy left in his tank.

Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …

… an engineer of some kind. I really enjoyed school. I was always a really good student. I was actually majoring in engineering in college. I’ve put my education on hold for boxing, though, because I was traveling so much and having trouble continuing the work at home.

I graduated from high school with a 3.4 grade-point average, and I took a year and half of college in San Antonio at a community college. But it’s definitely something that I want to go back and finish, and major in engineering or business.

“12 Rounds With …” is published Wednesdays at PremierBoxingChampions.com. Next week: undefeated Polish heavyweight prospect Adam Kownacki.

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