SAN ANTONIO – It's been four months since Mario Barrios shined on a Saturday night primetime bout, knocking out his opponent in the second round with a brutal left hook to the ribs.
Now, the undefeated super lightweight is ready to claim his second professional belt.
The Southwest High School graduate will face super lightweight Batyr Akhmedov on Saturday, Sept. 28 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. Barrios (24-0, 16 KOs) and Akhmedov (7-0, 6 KOs) will battle for the vacant World Boxing Association World Super Lightweight title, which is a 140-pound secondary title for super lightweights in the WBA.
Akhmedov is four years older than Barrios but has had fewer professional fights. He's currently on a four-fight knockout streak and ranked third in the WBA for super lightweight contenders, right behind Barrios who is ranked second.
"He's a well accomplished amateur and they're trying to put him on the fast track for a world title," Barrios told KSAT 12 Sports on Wednesday. "I know he possesses a good boxing ability but this is one of the few fights where I'm the veteran. Come fight night, I'm going to use everything I've learned in my past fights against him."
Next Saturday's fight is scheduled to go 12 rounds, the second such fight for Barrios. The only time "El Azteca" fought 12 rounds was in 2016, when he won by unanimous decision against Italian boxer Devis Boschiero. Since then, none of Mario's last eight fights have gone the distance. In fact, Barrios is on an eight-fight knockout streak.
By comparison, Akhmedov's fights have gone further into their scheduled rounds, which means Barrios could be in for a longer fight than he has been accustomed to lately.
"There's no worries, I've gone 12 rounds before," said Barrios. "The last couple of fights have ended earlier but it's not like I'm going out there and rushing or anything. Every time I step in the ring I know I can go strong for whatever rounds are scheduled. We are preparing for a hard 12 round fight. It doesn't matter which Akhmedov shows up, I'm expecting his best and that's who I want to fight."
Akhmedov is just another example of the dangerous, hard-hitting boxers who come from overseas. What makes Akhmedov so dangerous is his ability to constantly move around his opponent, delivering quick punches and moving out of the way of any counterpunches. It's proven to be a problem with other boxers but Barrios has prepared for such a matchup.
"I'm just getting the right sparring and making sure I'm using movements a lot with my workouts," explained Barrios.
For the boxer who resides in Russia, this would be an exclamation point in a very short professional career. For San Antonio's top rising boxing star, who prepares in California before fights, this is another chance to claim another belt and put himself in position for a world title shot, something he's been promising his hometown for the last several years.
"When you first start as a pro, this is what you dream of," said Barrios. "This has been five, six years in the making. I always promise San Antonio to bring a world title back home. I'm just excited and motivated for this fight."
"I have a great support system in San Antonio," he said. "From the boxing community to the city in general, it's a great feeling going into a fight with all that support and it's only getting stronger."
This fight will be one of the three bouts with title belts on the line, with the main event showcasing Errol Spence Jr. facing Shawn Porter for the IBF/WBC welterweight unification. The fights can be seen on Fox pay-per-view beginning at 8 p.m. locally.
You can hear more from "El Azteca" on Sunday night on "Instant Replay," starting at 11 p.m.
Daniel P. Villanueva has worked with KSAT 12 Sports for over 16 years and is an award-winning sports producer. To submit story ideas, email email@example.com.