Originally created 01/17/04

Unranked Rios earns shot at Olympic team



COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Growing up in small-town Kansas, Brandon Rios' experience in national tournaments was minimal and he was unranked.

None of that matters now. Rios is headed to the U.S. Olympic team trials.

Rios used a pair of flurries in the third round to win a 24-15 decision over Christopher Rizo on Friday night in the U.S. Amateur Boxing Championships semifinals.

Rios will face Ray Lampkin, a 21-10 winner over Matt Remillard, in the featherweight finals on Saturday. But even if he loses that match, Rios will be headed to the U.S. Olympic team trials next month in Mississippi because the finalists in each weight class qualify.

"I always wanted to do this," Rios said. "My dream's coming true."

He certainly didn't take the traditional route to get there.

Rios picked up boxing when he was 8 because his older brother did it, but Garden City, Kansas, wasn't exactly the place to start a boxing career.

The town of 10,000 on the plains of western Kansas has just two boxing clubs, so Rios wound end up facing many of the same boxers over and over again.

"It wasn't a big boxing town, but I kept working out and it got me here today," Rios said.

When Rios did branch out to bigger tournaments, he often was at a disadvantage because he had never seen many of his opponents before. He still managed to reach the quarterfinals in Golden Gloves, but couldn't get out of regionals for U.S. Nationals last year.

Rios entered this year's tournament unranked and didn't know many of the fighters in his weight class - none of his three opponents - but it didn't matter. He adapted his style to each fighter and came away a winner each time.

Rios opened with a 19-13 decision over Joel Rodriguez in a preliminary bout Wednesday, then dominated Ray Robinson 36-17 in the quarterfinals.

Against Rizo, who also was unranked, Rios took control with a flurry midway through the third round, then knocked him back with a hard left to the head that brought cheers from the crowd.

"I've never seen them, I don't know how they box, but bring 'em on," Rios said.

Rios wasn't the only unranked boxer to make some noise.

Lightweight Anthony Vasquez, of Snyder, Texas, had perhaps the upset of the tournament when he knocked off top-ranked Vincente Escobedo in a 7-3 decision.

Vasquez failed to qualify for the tournament last year and lost in the quarterfinals in 2002, but he wasn't intimidated by Escobedo, of Woodland, Calif.

After neither boxer landed many punches in the first two rounds - two points each - Vasquez won the third 3-0 with a left hook followed by an overhand right, then a left hook to the body.

"I'm there, I'm in the Olympic trials," Vasquez said. "I was a little bit worried, but I kept my poise."

Poise also helped put Roberto Benitez in position for a fourth straight national title.

Benitez, from New York, was a three-time flyweight champion before moving up to bantamweight this year. The difference in weight hasn't slowed him down.

Benitez opened the tournament with a knockout and followed with a close decision over Rafael Valenzuela in the quarterfinals. Benitez then faced Philadelphia's Rashiem Jefferson in the semifinals, a rematch of a flyweight match at the 2000 team trials.

Benitez won the first match 22-12 and this one was just as easy. He had a slight advantage in the first three rounds, then turned it into a rout with two standing-8 counts in the fourth.

Benitez won the bout 22-12, ending Jefferson's comeback after being shot days before last year's tournament.

"It was my game plan to box him, but it must have been an ego thing," Benitez said after standing toe-to-toe with Jefferson several times. "It was a combo of pride and ego and I came out on top."