Mario Barrios: The Making of a World Champion

Undefeated super lightweight contender takes another step towards a world title shot when he faces Richard Zamora this Saturday night on Showtime.

Mario Barrios has everything needed to become a world champion one day, perhaps by the end of the year.

The fast-rising, 23-year-old super lightweight from San Antonio, Texas, has power in both hands, zealously takes care of his 6-foot, 1-inch frame, and is fortunate enough to have renowned trainer Virgil Hunter guiding his ring development.

Fighting under the Premier Boxing Champions banner, Barrios will undoubtedly be afforded plenty of opportunities to showcase his considerable talent. Next up: this Saturday night on Showtime (10:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. PT), when Barrios puts his 22-0 (14 KOs) record on the line against Mexican Richard Zamora.

Zamora, 19-2 (12 KOs), will be fighting on U.S. soil for the first time. The scheduled 10-rounder at Dignity Health Sports Park (formerly StubHub Center) in Carson, California, is the co-feature to the headlining WBA 130-pound title fight between undefeated champion Gervonta Davis and Hugo Ruiz.

Barrios comes into his fight having knocked out his last six opponents, including a one-sided stoppage against Jose Roman last July. The fighter nicknamed “El Azteca” was originally scheduled to fight on the Manny Pacquiao-Adrien Broner card last month, so he has had an extended training camp at Hunter’s gym in Hayward, Calif.

“I flew out here in early December and was first sparring with [undefeated lightweight] Devin Haney,” Barrios said. “Me and him were getting ready to fight around the middle of January, and I’ve been getting work in with Amir Khan lately, so the sparring is always great out here. I’ve been able to get a lot of experience just from the people here.”

Hunter praises the way Barrios picks up things quickly.

“He’s coming along very well. He’s showing adaptive qualities; he’s a great student,” Hunter said. “Of course, he’s a very physical specimen for the 140-pound division. He has great power and is eager to learn; very easy to train.”

Barrios feels he has progressed nicely under the watchful eye of Hunter, who made his name training future Hall of Famer Andre Ward.

“The reputation he has is for a reason. He’s a very intellectual coach, he’s filled with so much experience,” Barrios said. “Since I’ve come out here, we work on something new and different every day. There’s never a time when I’ve thought, ‘oh, I’ve done this before.’ He makes you work on the things you’re not the best at, which has helped me out. I’ve seen a lot of progress in myself since we’ve started coming out here with Virgil.”

Barrios, rated the WBA’s No. 1 challenger to champion Kyril Relikh, feels he’s more than ready to challenge Relikh, or any of the other 140-pound belt-holders.

“140 pounds is in our sights right now,” Barrios says. “I’m gunning for all the champions. It’s only a matter of time before I outgrow the division.”

Hunter feels his charge might need a bit more seasoning before stepping up to that level.

“I definitely feel like he can be a world champion. He’s about a year out,” Hunter says. “He’s getting the good quality fights, he’s getting great sparring in camp, and like I said, he adapts very well. He has a good amateur background and he’s hungry. He wants to be a world champion, so all the ingredients it takes to be a world champion, he possesses.”

I’m gunning for all the champions. It’s only a matter of time before I outgrow the division. Undefeated Super Lightweight Contender — Mario Barrios

One of those ingredients is a desire to keep his body healthy and strong. So while Barrios may eschew snacks, he can’t get enough of SNAC. That’s the acronym for Scientific Nutrition for Advanced Conditioning, the company run by Victor Conte and Remi Korchemny, a longtime trainer of elite athletes.

“Korchemny has gotten me in the best shape of my life,” Barrios says. “I’ve been working side by side with Mikey Garcia (who seeks a title in a fifth weight class against welterweight champ Errol Spence Jr. on March 16) and the type of training we are getting is like no other place on earth.”

Barrios has been a practitioner of the Sweet Science since the age of six, when his mom and dad enrolled him and older sister Selina in the boxing program at the San Antonio Boys and Girls Club.

Mario was underwhelmed at first. “I wanted to be a kid when I was six years old, not spend so much time at the gym,” he says.

But they stuck with it. Selina, now 26, is 5-0 as a lightweight. Mario, on the other hand, hopes to extend his KO streak against Zamora.

“There’s never a time going into a fight where I’m looking for a knockout,” he says. “I know I possess a lot of power for the weight, but I just go in looking to execute my game plan. Everything I throw is going to have bad intentions on it, so if it comes, it’s because it came naturally.”

Barrios has put more than one opponent down with viciously effective, well-placed body shots, something of a specialty for him. He will be looking to land a few to Zamora’s liver in hopes of taking the Mexican out.

“From the time I was an amateur growing up in Texas, we’re drilled on that body work,” he says. “You put the work in early to the body and hope in the later rounds the opponents don’t have much left. So I’ve always been a big fan of working the body and I try to incorporate that [in my gameplan] from the first round.”

Hunter knows how effective Barrios can be with his body shots and has been working to expand the fighter’s repertoire.

“He does have strength [and] the knowledge to get to the body. We work on the body quite a bit since it’s his instinct to go there,” says Hunter.  “He’s got a good left underneath, so we’ve been working on the right hand to the body, which he has been showing quite frequently in sparring. And we’ve been shortening up on his punches on the inside. Believe it or not, with his height, he’s able to shorten up his punches, which is a plus. I always have him watch a lot of Bob Foster, Michael Spinks, guys like that who had the height for the division and have him pick up on little things.”

Still, neither Hunter nor Barrios is taking Zamora lightly. They have seen mostly unknown fighters come out of Mexico and shock opponents with their skills and power. And Zamora is on a five-fight win streak, four by stoppage.

Barrios says he trains for each of his opponents as if it’s a world title fight.

“I know he’s coming over here with nothing to lose. I’m the one who has everything on the line,” Barrios says. “He’s got to be more than ready and I’m expecting it to be an action-packed fight.”

For a closer look at Mario Barrios, check out his fighter page.

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