The Slur Test: Please Say Good-Bye, Brandon Rios

By Adam Berlin on February 21, 2018
The Slur Test: Please Say Good-Bye, Brandon Rios
The truth is that Rios is not “still in the game.” (Chris Farina/Mayweather Promotions)

I’ve always admired Rios’ fuck-it attitude toward etiquette. He doesn’t have to be polite. He doesn’t have to be a role model. He just has to fight…

On Saturday night longshot-underdog Brandon Rios fought Danny Garcia and did what the oddsmakers said he’d do—he lost, knocked down and called out in the ninth. 

Bam Bam Rios has always been a fan-friendly fighter, who usually goes balls-to-the wall for as long as he can. Some fighters claim they’ll only go out on their shields; Rios does. He’s stepped into the ring 39 times. And each time he has put himself in harm’s way so he can administer harm. Rios is not a boxer but a brawler. And brawlers take punches. And in his last eight fights, Rios has been in wars where, even when he won, he was beaten—his triple-feature with Mike Alvarado starred blood and brutality; his game losses to Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley showed highlight reels of concussive shots.

And then came Danny Garcia, a good fighter not a great fighter, a hard puncher but not a beast, especially at welterweight. In the ninth, Garcia delivered a right hand on the button and the result was one of those slow-motion knockouts that happen in real time.  Rios’ head swivels to the right (Hollywood couldn’t have staged it more dramatically) and he falls backward, head bouncing off canvas. To his credit Rios gets up at the count of eight. To his credit, when referee Kenny Bayless asks him if he’s okay, Rios says, “Yeah.” To his credit, Kenny Bayless doesn’t listen and waves off the fight.

Listen to Brandon Rios’ Yeah, stretched out like a drunk’s long syllable. It’s slow.  It’s pulled up from the instinct side of memory. You can hear, still in real-time slow motion, how deeply Rios needs to go to get the word up and out of his mouth. Yeah. Bottom line: Bam Bam’s synapses aren’t firing quickly enough to make the word sound anything close to crisp. 

Then listen to Rios’ post-fight comments, delivered a few minutes after his brain was scrambled, when he speaks with Jim Gray:

“I’m mad. I don’t like going out like that. I’m a warrior. I got back up and wanted to continue. I guess the corner stopped it, but I’m mad. I’m mad because I got up. I was doing good. I got lazy with the jab and he came over with the right hand and he caught me. I’m a warrior. I’m still in the game.”

The meaning of these words is depressing enough. The truth is that Brandon Rios is not “still in the game.” He has lost three of his last six fights. He will never get below the welterweight limit again, and as a welter he doesn’t have the punch or the stamina to cause any A-list fighter problems. He reached the pinnacle of his career six years ago when he beat then-undefeated Mike Alvarado in a Sports Illustrated fight of the year. The next six years showed Brandon Rios in action fights, showed Brandon Rios receive a barrage of punishment from men trained to deliver punishment.

But it’s the sound of these post-fight words, the way Rios delivers them, his slurring, his inability to hit the sharp notes of speech that indicate how the sharpness of his mind has been pounded dull, that sets off the real alarm. Even as Rios protests that he is still in the game, it’s audibly clear the game has won. The sad song of boxing is composed of hard lyrics that describe what happens to boxers who stick around too long. They walk a little slow. They trip off the curb. They slur their words. 

It’s easy to sit on the sidelines and tell a fighter when to retire. Of course, it’s easy to project retirement on most workers approaching the end of their work lives—I’d like to tell some of my colleagues to get out of the teaching game. My girlfriend, who’s taking a psychology course with a professor in his seventies, heard these words from two young students on the first day of class, “Another teacher who’s old as fuck.”

Old as fuck in most professions can mean a slowing down, a depletion of spark and energy, perhaps a jaded complacency that comes from working too long, from doing the same old same old until it’s just too old and too same. The results of this natural weakening can be incompetence, sloppiness, or, at worst, unconscionable negligence. But in most professions, if you stay in the game too long, no one really suffers, certainly not the old-as-fuck worker. 

Boxing is not an ordinary profession. Men who fight for a living suffer a host of on-the-job effects that don’t just damage their job performance. An elite boxer’s career lasts ten, twelve years, sometimes a little longer. Most elite fighters reach their primes in their late twenties or very early thirties, are out of the game by their mid to late thirties. And then they have a whole life ahead of them, many, many years, far more years than those who toil for a lifetime and get out when social security kicks in. 

Boxers don’t have the luxury of living at a leisurely pace. A boxer’s life is elevated. A boxer’s life is condensed. A boxer’s life is pressurized by harsh conditions and, perhaps most of all, the harshness of time. Perhaps that’s why fighters are often viewed symbolically, standing in for Man with a capital M. And perhaps that’s why boxing, at its finest, at its most elevated, is a sport we can revere because it’s a microcosm of our human condition. The harsh truth about our mortal drama is we fight a losing bout. We all have boulders on our backs and, like Sisyphus, most of us carry on, walking up that proverbial mountain, proving our worth as human beings even when we know that boulder will eventually become too heavy, the struggle almost pointless. (In retrospect, picture Brandon Rios throwing punches before he gets knocked out—with the benefit of hindsight, his exertion is an exercise in human futility). Most fighters eventually lose. And too many fighters suffer long-term consequences. Is it worth it? I can’t speak for professional fighters. 

And I can’t speak for Brandon Rios. If he ever reads this article, he’ll probably tell me to fuck off—and that’s fine. For the record, I’ve always kind of enjoyed the way Rios peppers his post-fight rants with fucks, and I’ve always admired Rios’ fuck-it attitude toward etiquette. He’s a fighter. He doesn’t have to be polite. He doesn’t have to be a role model. He just has to fight and that’s what he has done professionally for almost fourteen years.

Kudos to him. 

So it’s with affection and concern for his well-being that I ask Brandon Rios to consider retirement. If he watches his slow-motion knockdown, and if listens to his drunken “Yeah” when he rises, and if he further listens to his post-fight comments, maybe he’ll hear what I hear, what I’m surprised more sportswriters didn’t hear (or at least address)—it’s time. It’s time to say good-bye. It’s time to hang up your gloves. It’s time to get out before a few slurred consonants and a few trips off the curb become the least of your worries.

Bam Bam Rios. Like his cartoon namesake, he’s been a clubber and, as clubbers are, a club-ee. But Bam Bam’s most important club is the one he belongs to—he’s one of the few men on the planet who can call himself a boxing champion. A world title is something Brandon Rios, with his fierce will, took from boxing. Now Brandon Rios must decide how much he’ll allow boxing to take from him. 

At its best, boxing is beautiful. While Rios’s style was never pretty, there was often something starkly, harshly, rough-edged beautiful to the way Brandon fought. Last Saturday night, working hard in the ring, Rios reminded us, once again, that boxing’s beautiful edges are forged in brutality. And when the fight was done, when the microphone was thrust close to Brandon’s bloody mouth, Brandon Rios reminded us, as boxers and boxing always remind us, that the sweet science is also an exacting science, one that takes its pound of flesh.

Adam Berlin is the author of four novels, including the boxing novel Both Members of the Club (Texas A&M University Consortium Press/winner of the Clay Reynolds Novella Prize) and Belmondo Style (St. Martin’s Press/winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Ferro-Grumley Award), and the poetry collection The Standing Eight. He teaches writing at John Jay College/CUNY and edits the litmag J Journal: New Writing on Justice. For more, please visit

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  1. Albert 04:56pm, 02/25/2018

    What a well written insightful article.

    Rios ate his way out of the lightweight division where he belonged. Since becoming a welterweight he has lost more than he has won.

  2. JamesSteele 02:13pm, 02/23/2018

    Adam Berlin says:
    “For the record, I’ve always kind of enjoyed the way Rios peppers his post-fight rants with fucks, and I’ve always admired Rios’ fuck-it attitude toward etiquette.”

    You’re correct that It’s okay for Rio’s to say that around adults but around the time one of his fights (with Alvarado), Rios was doing an interview in his home and he was saying “fuck” loudly every 2 seconds around his little kids. Maybe the knockout loss will smash some sense into his head. To his wife’s credit she told him to watch his language. He also talked trash to Alvarado in the ring interview after he lost a decision to him.  That’s a little more understandable but the great fighters don’t do that. Rio’s was tough but stupid. To be great you have to be tough and smart like Leonard, Mayweather, GGG, the Klitschko’s etc.

  3. Alfonso Bedoya 10:59am, 02/22/2018

    Brandon has always come across as a wannabe stand up comedian…..actually he seems to have a sense of humor unlike some others and he is much more likable than most as well. He did go too far with his take off on Roach though! Don’t know about the slurring but he did seem to have trouble formulating his thoughts in the post fight interview with Jim Gray and when he couldn’t seem to find the words he always seemed to find his way back to “fuck”....but let’s face it he was still in the throes of an unGodly concussion!

  4. Buster 10:02am, 02/22/2018

    Hey, I can condense this overly long article into a few simple words: Advice to all pro boxers who are too stupid to get out of this so called “sport”.  Your brains are being turned to mush. Might as well stick your mouth into an auto exhaust pipe.

  5. Joe 04:53am, 02/22/2018

    I agree he should retire. I already noticed that slur before and after the pacquiao fight

  6. Lucas McCain 10:39am, 02/21/2018

    Pretty funny that it was the aside about aging profs that’s getting most of the attention!  Academics age at different rates.  And though modern fighters, with fewer fights and new training methods,  seem to be running longer than they used to (Archie Moore was “Ancient Archie” in his 40s and Ray Robinson was an antique in the same decade), the accumulated punishment is still the same. 
      Sorry about your girlfriend’s annoyance, though.  I’d also ask about alertness or attention span of the two young classmates.  One of the world’s leading Shakespeare critics, and still packing them in at Harvard, is also in his 70s.

  7. Ollie Downtown Brown 10:02am, 02/21/2018

    I recently posed a pretty easy question to a college grad. The question was- Who wrote our National Anthem and what event inspired it? She had no idea who wrote the Star Spangled Banner and she guessed it was written during the Revolutionary War. Makes you wonder what they are teaching in “skoo” these days.  smdh.  To a person in their early 20’s, even people 40 seem, “old as f*ck.” Hell, a 25 year old seems “old as f*ck” to a 16 or 17 year old.

  8. don from prov 09:07am, 02/21/2018

    “—I’d like to tell some of my colleagues to get out of the teaching game. My girlfriend, who’s taking a psychology course with a professor in his seventies, heard these words from two young students on the first day of class, “Another teacher who’s old as fuck.”

    That is pretty small minded, Mr. Berlin.
    A lot of tenured young teachers don’t give a shit.  Maybe THEY should be gone.  Teaching isn’t boxing, and if a professor is still invested, judging
    them automatically by their age will not only prove misleading but could
    also be called ignorant.  Maybe professors need a Gray Panthers movement.

    By the way, how much younger than you is your girlfriend?
    Perhaps that’s a subject worth exploring.



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