Mario Barrios and Naim Nelson Face Off In High Stakes 140-pound Battle

When junior welterweights Mario Barrios and Naim Nelson step inside the ring at Sands Bethlehem Events Center in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania on Tuesday night, there will be too much at stake to consider their bout just another boxing match.

Mario Barrios and Naim Nelson

Unbeaten rising star Mario Barrios attempts to climb another step up the 140-pound ladder when he faces Naim Nelson Tuesday night in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. (Kenyon Sessoms/Premier Boxing Champions)

Both agree this has the makings of a fight that will determine each man’s foreseeable future.

To the average observer, a slugfest doesn’t appear in the cards in the FS1 “Toe-To-Toe Tuesdays’’ main event (10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT). On paper this looks more like a mismatch. The consensus view is that Barrios will win in a cakewalk.

This point of view is easy to understand. Barrios, who was once ranked as high as No. 2 among 130 pounders, carries an impressive professional record into this showdown. And just about every physical stat favors him.

In addition to being 19-0-0 with 11 knockouts, the 22-year-old, 6-foot Barrios will have a significant edge in height and reach over Nelson, a 27-year-old Philadelphia native, who is 13-3 with 1 KO.

Barrios’ ability to control range before delivering his dangerous right hand will play a major part in the outcome of this fight. Overcoming his reach deficit is a major component in Nelson’s fight plan.

“He’s what, 6-1, 6-2? I imagine with his height, long arms would come with that. So I can’t stay within his reach and think I’m going to be effective because he’ll be able to hit me and I won’t be able to hit him,” said Nelson, who is 5-foot-8. “I need to get inside of his reach or if I’m outside, I need to be [far] outside to where he won’t be able to hit me. ... I have to neutralize his reach.”

As a tall junior welterweight, who is adept at controlling distance with his active jab before unleashing a powerful overhand right, Barrios conjures up images of Hall-of-Famer Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns.

“I’ve heard [comparisons to Hearns] before,” said Barrios, a San Antonio native who tipped the scale Monday at 140.9 pounds, while Nelson came in at 140.8.

“Growing up I used to watch his fights with my dad. He was one of the fighters I enjoyed watching. The comparisons to him … that’s always a good sign.”

There is no Sugar Ray Leonard counterpart in this fight. There are no nicknames for Nelson. After dropping three of his four most recent contests, expectations for him aren’t very high these days. He doesn’t possess eye-popping hand speed or a signature knockout punch. Compared to the physical skills and high expectations Barrios will bring to the ring, Nelson could easily be dismissed.

That would be a huge mistake. And it is a mistake Barrios has no intention of making. Nelson is no one’s pushover. He is an aggressive fighter with a solid chin. He will do whatever he can to keep the pressure on Barrios.

Nelson is prepared to take a few hard shots, but he is undeterred and vows to deliver several of his own attention-grabbing punches. He’s coming into this bout feeling at ease and is ready for a battle.

“I’m excited, there’s no pressure. He’s the one with all the pressure,” Nelson said. “He’s the kid who’s 19-0. He’s the kid they have great expectations for. I can let it all go. I’m not afraid to lose. I’ve lost three times already. There’s nothing to be afraid of. There’s no reason to hold back.”

A victory gets me a step closer to a bigger fight where I can start contending for a title shot. Undefeated rising star Mario Barrios

Barrios isn’t the dismissive type. Despite Nelson’s recent struggles and lone knockout in 16 outings, Barrios respects his boxing ability.

He knows Nelson is extremely confident and determined to get his career back on the right track. And a win over the heavily favored Barrios will do just that. To avoid being an upset victim, Barrios is taking Nelson very seriously.

“I’m definitely not overlooking him. We know he’s desperate. We know he really needs this win,” Barrios said. … “He’s just as much of a threat as the last [opponent].”

Barrios never gets caught up in the growing excitement surrounding his future. He realizes that a world title belt could very well have already been in his trophy case. He competed in an IBF junior lightweight title eliminator July 2016 and defeated respected veteran Devis Boschiero by unanimous decision.

But making the 130-pound limit proved too much for Barrios’ growing body to handle. So immediately after the victory, he relinquished his No. 2 ranking and said goodbye to junior lightweight, bypassed the 135-pound division and entered the junior welterweight fray.

No longer struggling to make weight, Barrios, who’s making his fourth appearance at 140, feels better than ever heading into Tuesday night’s fight. He’s found a home at junior welterweight and expects nothing less than a solid victory over Nelson.

“A victory gets me a step closer to a bigger fight where I can start contending for a title shot.”

For a complete look at Barrios vs Nelson, visit our fight page.

Mario Barrios defeated respected veteran Devis Boschiero by unanimous decision in their IBF junior lightweight title eliminator in July 2016.

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