In the weeks leading up to Saturday's fight, Mario Barrios wanted to keep things simple: executing trainer Virgil Hunter's game plan, using his six years of professional boxing knowledge to his advantage and sparring numerous 12 rounds in anticipation of a long fight.
Last night in Los Angeles, his world title fight with Batyr Akhmedov met those expectations and then some.
Barrios faced Akhmedov at the Staples Center for the vacant WBA World Super Lightweight title, which is a secondary title in that division. Both fighters are the top contenders in their weight class.
From the start, the Southwest High School alum landed his punches and took control of the bout. As the fourth round started, Barrios delivered two left hooks, forcing Akhmedov off balance and making his gloves touch the canvas briefly for his first knockdown of the fight.
Akhmedov responded in the fifth round with a barrage of punches, constantly attacking Barrios and winning the round in the eyes of many. The next round would be the same, with Akhmedov attacking and pivoting around his opponent, landing clear shots as Barrios constantly backed up.
By the end of the sixth round, it was clear this fight was turning around fast. It seemed like that eight-fight knockout streak was coming to an end for Barrios.
But would Mario's undefeated record stay intact after 12 rounds?
That's where the controversy comes in.
Akhmedov dominated after being knocked down in the fourth round, out punching, out landing and being the aggressor. Akhmedov was on the attack a majority of the fight, even causing a cut under Barrios' left eyebrow in the seventh round.
Entering the 10th round, Virgil Hunter told Barrios, "you need these three rounds."
By the twelfth and final round, that message really sank in. Barrios came out swinging, even though his left cheek had swollen up so much that it appeared to partially shut his left eye.
With 25 seconds left before the final bell, Barrios delivered a power right, catching his opponent square in the face, resulting in the second knockdown of the fight.
To a lot of fans watching, It was a knockdown that saved Barrios.
As the judges scorecards were read, which ended up being in unanimous decision for Barrios, fans that filled the Staples Center rained downed their disagreement. According to the scorecards, Barrios won 114-112, 115-111 and 116-111.
Many thought the fight was a draw on paper thanks to the two knockdowns Barrios scored in the fourth and twelfth rounds. The broadcast showed their unofficial scorecard, which was a draw as well at 113-113.
Had to really bite down and pull this one out. 25-0 taking the WBA regular world title home. Thank you to everyone for their support much respect to my Batyr for being a warrior with me. #PuroSanAntonio 👊🏽 https://t.co/WZoWejRuAF— Mario (@Boxer_Barrios) September 29, 2019
Barrios left the ring at the Staples Center with his new world title belt and second belt since winning the WBA Inter-Continental welterweight title last year. Barrios brings home a world title to San Antonio for the first time since "Jesse" James Leija did the same 25 years ago.
After the fight, Barrios (25-0, 16 KOs) required stitches to close that cut above the left eye and was checked out at a local hospital after receiving numerous accidental headbutts throughout the fight.
It was a minor inconvenience yet solid proof he'd become a world champ.
There wasn't much time to celebrate in Los Angeles considering how brutal that fight was. Barrios and family will celebrate that world title once he returns to San Antonio.
And that's just what the Barrios family prefers.
However you see the outcome, keep this in mind: Barrios has promised for years to bring a world boxing title back to the Alamo City. He's worked tirelessly both here in San Antonio and in California with Virgil Hunter. He's sparred with some of the best fighters in the business. He hasn't let the attention get to him or invited the drama that often surrounds professional athletes.
Team Barrios has stayed humble through it all; Mario has fought for more than just himself. "El Azteca" hasn't forgotten where he comes from.
It doesn't matter which name you call him, just remember "champ" is one of those names.
The champ that fulfilled a promise.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org