San Antonio's finest believes he holds all the advantages when he puts his WBA 140-pound world title on the line against Gervonta 'Tank' Davis Saturday night in Atlanta, live on SHOWTIME PPV.
He might be slightly less popular in his heavily Mexican-populated hometown of San Antonio than the fabled Alamo. But unlike the iconic, nearly 400-year-old mission, he has never suffered defeat.
Mario “El Azteca” Barrios (26-0, 17 KOs) is on a mission to keep his belt and perfect record intact when he battles also unbeaten Gervonta “Tank” Davis for Barrios’ WBA World 140-pound title. The June 26 showdown is the main event of a pay-per-view card on SHOWTIME (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) from the State Farm Arena in Atlanta. It’s Barrios’ first PPV headliner.
Barrios, 26, has been competing at 140 pounds since 2016 and is 10-0 with nine stoppages at that weight. Davis (24-0, 23 KOs) is a formidable foe to be sure, but gives up 4½ inches in height and nearly four inches in reach to the champion. The powerful southpaw from Baltimore, also 26, is moving up two weight classes in search of a title belt in a third weight class.
Coached for the last half-dozen years by Virgil Hunter, one of boxing’s most respected trainers best known for taking Andre Ward from Olympic gold medalist to undefeated champion and future hall-of-famer, Barrios has been training at Ward’s gym in Hayward, Calif. for the last two months.
Introduced to the sweet science by his mother, Isabel, at age six along with his older sister, Selina, Barrios began his career under the watchful eye of his father Martin, who stepped aside when Hunter was brought on board.
“He’s still very involved. He’s a part of every camp,” Barrios said of his father. “I’m thankful that he was able to pass it over to Virgil without any issues, without any hesitation. Ever since, we’ve been consistently innovating, and working towards me becoming a better fighter.”
Davis is unquestionably the biggest fight of Barrios’ career. He struggled two bouts ago, in September 2019, taking a physical beating against Uzbekistan southpaw KO artist Batyr Akhmedov. Barrios was saved from an ignominious finish by two knockdowns of Akhmedov, the second in the 12th round to win the vacant WBA belt by unanimous decision, thus becoming the fourth fighter from San Antonio to win a world title and the first since Jesse James Leija in 1994.
Barrios admits he was completely gassed in the second half of that fight, and learned from his mistakes, returning 13 months later to drop fellow Texan Ryan Karl with a crushing left hook in the sixth-round at the Alamodome.
“Those mistakes I made during the fight with Akhmedov, looking back on it, I knew exactly what went wrong and what I needed to change,” Barrios explained. “And I made sure I did that. So when I got ready for the Karl fight, it was not an issue because I wanted to make sure I never put my body through that again.”
Coming from a family of boxers – and being the only male among the four siblings – Barrios often leans on his sisters, particularly older sister Selina, who has fought professionally and is expected back in the ring soon, as a sounding board.
“Absolutely. Throughout this whole camp my sister will reach out every couple days just to offer her support and some motivational words,” Barrios said. “We started in this sport together, so we know each other like the back of our hands. And we know exactly how to motivate each other.
“Even if my sister is not here with me, I know she’s here with me in spirit. She’s always someone I can talk to if I need some advice or need to get something off my chest. I’m very thankful for the relationship I have with each of my sisters.”
“ The world will see the greatness that God has blessed me with. ” Undefeated WBA World Super Lightweight Champion - Mario Barrios
Yet Barrios is not completely consumed by the sport that will make him wealthy. He has other interests, specifically music and travel. And a dog.
“Boxing, for sure, is the majority of my life. But when I’m not in the gym or I'm able to take time off, I’m very family-oriented,” said Barrios. “I have three sisters, my niece (Selina’s daughter), who has me wrapped around her finger, my mother, who I have a very close relationship with, and my girlfriend.”
When he’s not training, Mario and his girlfriend enjoy traveling, experiencing different cities, and going to music festivals or concerts. “I’m big on music – punk, alternative rock – so we enjoy traveling, I like to be outdoors a lot,” says Barrios, who enjoys skateboarding. “I have a Huskie named Raiden (after the Mortal Kombat character) that I spend a lot of time with when I’m back home. He’s pretty much like my child.
“My mom jokes around that even when I’m home I’m not home. I’m not the type of person that likes to sit around the house all day. When I’m back home in San Antonio, it’s very hard to keep track of where I am, or where I’m traveling to.”
Now, however, “El Azteca,” a nickname Barrios chose to honor his Mexican heritage, is single-minded: Tank and the title belt he hopes to hang onto. On June 26th, the battle of unbeatens will commence in Atlanta, and Barrios is grateful for the opportunity.
“I’m very excited to go out there and showcase my talents once more,” he says. “I have never fought in or even visited Atlanta before the press conference, but I have heard great things about events thrown there. And to be headlining SHOWTIME there, it’s a tremendous honor to seize this opportunity fully.
“I’m super-stoked to go out there and give fans another fan-friendly fight.”
Barrios agrees that Davis’ size and stature will dictate in part how he approaches this fight.
“Absolutely, just given our statures, my physicality, I have enough size to present a lot of difficulty for Tank,” Barrios explaied. “It’s my job to go in there and use them, but it’s only a matter of time before Tank goes on the inside, so we’re prepared for (whatever he brings).
“Tank is going to be in there with a full blown 140-pounder. He’s not going against someone past their prime or going up in weight. I’m a guy who goes out and gets stoppages. He’s facing someone just as dangerous as he is, but two weight classes higher than what he’s used to seeing.”
Both fighters prepare for their clash in the presence of greatness. Davis trains at Floyd Mayweather’s gym while Barrios, of course, has Ward. He was pumped when the future hall-of-famer visited him at his gym recently.
“Whenever you’re in the presence of a great fighter like ‘Dre, someone who has conquered the pinnacles of boxing, it’s like his aura rubs off on you, and you have no choice but to feel great,” Barrios said.
“The words of encouragement he told me put an extra fire in my soul. I’m coming with everything I got against Davis, and the world will see the greatness that God has blessed me with.”
For a closer look at Mario Barrios, check out his fighter page.
- Mario Barrios