LAS VEGAS — The union of Timothy Bradley Jr. and trainer Teddy Atlas, whom Bradley had all but begged to come out of retirement to work with him in August, paid big dividends in their first fight together.
In one of the best performances of his career, Bradley dominated Brandon Rios en route to a ninth-round knockout to retain his welterweight title Saturday night before 5,106 at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Making the first defense of his 147-pound belt, Bradley showed off nifty footwork, speed and a solid, accurate right hand that caught Rios, the crowd favorite, time and again before he finished him with two knockdowns in the ninth round.
“That was the best Bradley I’ve ever seen, and we’ve had him for so many years,” Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said.
Bradley almost immediately began landing combinations in the center of the ring against a stationary Rios and had a huge opening round, punctuating it with a clean left hook to close it out. He never let up.
“The game plan was to take pieces from him, break him down little by little like a piranha,” said Atlas, whom Bradley hired after firing Joel Diaz, the career-long trainer with whom he had won five world titles
And that is just what Bradley did.
“We had seven weeks together,” Bradley said of his training camp with Atlas. “I wonder what a year would do. I wonder what two years would bring. I got a knockout win against a great (former lightweight) champion in Brandon Rios, who is tough and gritty. The sky is the limit from me. Teddy said he’s coming back for my next training camp.”
With the crowd chanting “Rios! Rios!” in the second round, Rios nailed Bradley with a looping right hand, but Bradley took it well and let go with a combination in a fiery exchange.
Rios (33-3-1, 24 KOs), 29, of Oxnard, California, began to get to Bradley (33-1-1, 13 KOs), 32, of Palm Springs, California, a little more in the third round but was hurt by a body shot from Bradley. Rios winced and rarely landed anything meaningful after that.
Rios was wide open for Bradley’s overhand right and got caught with it many times. Instead of getting out of the way or throwing something back, all Rios could do was weakly smile and shake his head at Bradley, as he did when he got cracked with one as the fifth round ended.
Robert Garcia, Rios’ trainer, said he knew they were in for a hard night early on.
“I was just trying to get him going,” Garcia said. “Maybe the weight loss the last few days drained him. I don’t know.”
The fight was so one-sided that Atlas, in one of his many impassioned speeches to Bradley, firmly told him after the eighth round, “He needs your help to win this fight!”
Bradley wasn’t about to give Rios any and finished him impressively in the ninth round, knocking him down twice. He landed a left to the body and a right hand to send Rios down on all fours, and although Rios beat the count, he was done.
Bradley, whose purse was $1.9 million, was all over him with an onslaught of punches, and Rios melted to the canvas under the pressure, prompting referee Tony Weeks to wave off the fight at 2 minutes, 49 seconds.
“I saw that I hurt him early to the body,” Bradley said. “I kind of wanted to get him not thinking about it for a while, and then I went back downstairs.”
Rios showed respect for Bradley after the fight.
“You got me with a great body shot, you got me with a great punch,” he told Bradley in the ring before they embraced. “I really respect you.”
Then Rios added, “He hit me with a perfect shot up the middle to the body and followed up with an equally good shot on the side. The better man won. I have no excuses. It is what it is.”
As good as Bradley looked, Rios, who earned $800,000, looked that bad and nothing like the in-shape and focused fighter who blitzed rival Mike Alvarado on Jan. 24 in Alvarado’s hometown of Denver, winning by third-round knockout in the rubber match of their memorable rivalry.
Rios, inactive since the fight with Alvarado, struggled with his conditioning in camp and to make weight. He was initially 0.2 pounds over the 147-pound weight limit at Friday’s weigh-in before ultimately making weight, but he blew up to 170 pounds on fight night, according to HBO’s scale. Bradley rehydrated to only 155 pounds. None of the extra bulk helped Rios, who said he planned to retire.
“My body is not the same no more,” Rios said. “I’ve been in a lot of wars. I think it’s time to hang it up. I’m done. It’s been a great run. I’m sorry I didn’t put on a great show, but f— it. I didn’t want to hurt my body, and I didn’t want to hurt my family, I didn’t want to hurt my friends. I think I’m going to hang up my gloves and call it a night.”
According to CompuBox punch statistics, Bradley landed 254 of 570 punches (45 percent), and Rios landed 81 of 454 (18 percent).
Rios might be done, but Bradley is in line for big business. He won the vacant belt by unanimous decision against Jessie Vargas on June 27, surviving a cracking shot that badly hurt him in the final seconds. Now he has 90 days to face mandatory challenger Sadam Ali.
However, Bradley might have bigger fish to fry, with a possible fight at junior middleweight should Canelo Alvarez defeat middleweight champion Miguel Cotto on Nov. 21.
Whatever is next, Bradley is not about to let Atlas, with whom he was working on a one-fight deal, go anywhere.
“I got a lot to learn,” Bradley said. “That was seven weeks into training camp with Mr. Atlas. You saw I looked great tonight. I still have a lot to learn, but a lot of the things he showed me did work tonight.”