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Welterweight boxer Brandon Rios looks to stay relevant

It’s one thing for a boxer to remain active. It’s quite another to remain relevant.

Brandon Rios is battling to remain in the spotlight, to be worthy of fighting on TV.

To remain relevant.

Boxers who keep losing find themselves being dropped from main-event status and relegated to undercards. Despite being just 28, Rios finds himself at a crossroads in his career.

He has lost back-to-back fights — to Mike Alvarado on March 30, 2013, at Mandalay Bay and to Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 24 in Macau. Simply put, he can’t afford to lose to Diego Chaves in Saturday’s 10-round welterweight main event at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.

“This is a fight I know I have to win,” Rios said Wednesday. “I can’t take any more backward steps. That’s why I’m not thinking about the past. I’m concentrating on winning this fight.”

Rios (31-2-1, 23 knockouts) wasn’t sure he would be facing Chaves until Chaves’ visa finally was approved Wednesday morning with an assist from Nevada Sen. Harry Reid’s office. Reid, who is close friends with Top Rank chairman Bob Arum, the promoter of the card, had a member of his staff work with the State Department to expedite Chaves’ request to enter the United States.

Chaves (23-1, 19 KOs) arrived in Las Vegas early Thursday for the HBO-televised fight, for which he’ll make $25,000. It’s only his second fight outside of his native Argentina. He was knocked out in July 2013 by Keith Thurman in the 10th round in San Antonio.

“I never worried about who I was fighting,” Rios said. “I let (manager) Cameron Dunkin handle that. I just stayed in the gym and focused on what I was doing. I knew I was going to fight somebody, so I wasn’t worried.”

Staying focused wasn’t always the case for Rios, who will make $925,000 for Saturday’s fight. The former lightweight world champion, who moved up to junior welterweight and defeated Alvarado in a slugfest in 2012, said he wasn’t as dedicated to his craft as he should have been.

“It was the worst thing I could have done to myself,” Rios said. “I got too comfortable too quick. I forgot the lessons of what it took to get to the top. Now, I’m trying to redeem myself.”

Robert Garcia, Rios’ longtime trainer, saw what was happening and knew changes had to be made after Pacquiao dominated Rios. They decided to stop using a strength and conditioning coach and fired Alex Ariza. They focused on old-school methods of training and getting Rios back to throwing more punches, using his jab more effectively and landing more consistently.

“Boxing is a sport that if you do things the right way, why change?” Garcia said. “With Brandon, I felt we’d be better off going back to the old ways of training, the more traditional ways, the way my father taught me. None of this high-tech stuff. Just good old-fashioned hard work in the gym.”

It was what Rios wanted.

“I loved it,” he said. “From the very first day, I felt like I was back in a comfortable place. All the old drills. The running. Everything. It brought me back to the basics, and I’m very happy. I’m on weight. I followed Robert’s instructions during training camp. I’m ready to win again.”

Rios said he doesn’t want to be forgotten by the networks, so he plans on putting on an impressive show Saturday.

“HBO wants exciting fights, and I want to keep fighting (on HBO),” he said. “I know what it takes to be a champion, and I’m going to be a champion fighter (Saturday).”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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