All the miles of running every day, the hours jumping rope and pounding the bags, the push-ups and sit-ups, the stepping into the ring with older, bigger guys who hit hard and move fast – there’s got to be a reason Angel Rios makes all the sacrifice.
It’s easy enough to figure out.
The kid wants to be great.
“I feel like if you’re in something, in sports or whatever, if you don’t feel like you want to be the greatest, you shouldn’t be participating in whatever you are doing,” Rios said. “If you just want to be mediocre, just go do something that’s not going to require a lot of effort. But I want to be great at this. I want people to know me and remember me forever.”
Rios, 18, sat down for a moment last week at the Game-Fit gym on Del Paso Boulevard before one of the nightly workouts. His goal is to box in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This weekend, the road takes him to Memphis, Tenn., for a critical test, the Olympic Trials qualifiers, with the top two finishers advancing to the Olympic Trials in Reno starting Dec. 7.
I don’t want to just go and have people say, ‘Oh, yeah, he went to Brazil,’ or, ‘He went and placed silver or bronze.’ I’m dedicated to win that gold. I know it’s pretty cool just to go and a lot of people would say that’s a great accomplishment, but for me, that’s not going to be enough.
Welterweight boxer Angel Rios, on his goal of winning an Olympic gold medal
A welterweight, Rios got a taste for greatness two years ago when he won a bronze medal in the Junior Olympics in Mobile, Ala. He decisioned a kid out of Tucson, Ariz., and another out of Houston before he lost to one from New York City. Since then, his singular thought has been to go to Brazil and win gold.
“I don’t want to just go and have people say, ‘Oh, yeah, he went to Brazil,’ or, ‘He went and placed silver or bronze,’ ” Rios said. “I’m dedicated to win that gold. I know it’s pretty cool just to go and a lot of people would say that’s a great accomplishment, but for me, that’s not going to be enough.”
Rios to Rio will make for a great headline if the day comes. He showed promise with the Junior Olympics victories, but the success in Mobile only got him third place – a couple of rungs below greatness and one slot beneath where he’ll need to be for a Reno trip. He’s lost two of his three fights since then, in the 2013 Junior Golden Gloves and another at a recent event in Puerto Rico. His record as an amateur is 11-4.
11-4 Welterweight Angel Rios’ amateur record
Rios’ career, however, has caught the eye of one of Sacramento’s greatest fighters. Former lightweight champion Tony Lopez works out a few prospects at Game-Fit. From that distance, he has watched Rios grow over the years. He lends his credibility to the notion Rios is a fighter who merits further consideration.
“He’s a good kid,” Lopez said of the teen who used to live in North Natomas but has since moved back to his hometown of Vallejo. “He comes in and he works real hard. He has every bit as good a chance as anybody else. He has a lot of potential in him. If he goes to the Olympics or he goes pro, it’s all up to him.”
All the greats needed a teacher to get them there. Plato had Socrates, Muhammad Ali had Angelo Dundee, and Angel Rios has a guru, too. Azell James Jr. trained decades ago with Lopez and his older brother, Sal. He fought a little in the late 1970s before becoming a boxing coach and training kids at the old Sacramento Police Activities League gym in Oak Park. When he was 12, Rios sought out James. They have been together since.
“What makes him good is his gift, his desire,” James said. “There’s no reason to fight. You’ve just gotta like to do it. Every coach wants to find one of those guys, that you don’t have to worry about, that loves to be the best he can be. You want a fighter that wants to hunt you down at the gym, not one that you gotta hunt down.”
He’s a good kid. He comes in and he works real hard. He has every bit as good a chance as anybody else. He has a lot of potential in him. If he goes to the Olympics or he goes pro, it’s all up to him.
Former champion Tony Lopez on welterweight Angel Rios
James said Rios creates his style as he goes along in the ring, that he has a versatility of approach that is adaptable to any situation. Rios counters the brawlers and attacks the cutie pies. He is fearless. He insists on action, but crazy as it sounds, it is a world that brings him peace.
“I feel a calmness,” Rios said about boxing. “Even though it’s a combat sport, when I come to the gym, I leave all of the dumb stuff outside. I just be doing jump rope, and I start my workout, and everything’s gone. Everything negative, everything bad is gone. This is what I do. I love it.”
Last week, James put Rios in the Game-Fit ring with Mitch Spangler, a tough 23-year-old out of the Broadway Boxing Gym who looked to be at least 10 pounds heavier and a couple of inches taller. The two banged each other over four rounds of sparring, with neither taking a step backward. It was a good workout for both, and a great one for Rios, who likes to train against bigger guys. It makes it easier for him when he takes on opponents at his weight level, at the limit of 152 pounds for amateur welterweights.
With one goal ahead, he accomplished one behind when he graduated last spring from Grant High School. Most of his friends didn’t, and some people told him he couldn’t. He showed them they were wrong. He showed them he could do something great with the books. Now he wants to show them with his fists.