Oscar Larios: A Boxing Tragedy Waiting to Happen

By Jason Pribila: Many of this week’s boxing headlines and feature articles will be about whether or not Mexican boxing legend, Marco Antonio Barrera, should walk away after suffering a technical decision loss to Amir Khan.

Many of the articles will thank Barrera for the memories, and assure that his Hall of Fame career will be remembered for much more than his last performance. However, after reading post-fight comments, one is led to believe that Barrera will use the cut he suffered as a loop-hole, and continue to fight. With promoter Don King even more desperate for another payday, one can see that this story is not likely to end happily.

In July of 2007, similar stories were being written about another Mexican tough guy that tasted defeat. Oscar Larios was the B-side of the Jorge Lineras coming out party, when they met on the Bernard Hopkins vs Winky Wright undercard in Las Vegas. The results were much more conclusive, as Larios was dismantled over ten rounds, before finally being knocked out. His trip to the hospital showed that he suffered a minor subdural hematoma, and his career was probably over.

Larios entered the Lineras bout on a three fight win streak, which followed back to back defeats to Israel Vazquez and Manny Pacquiao. He stated before the fight that he was contemplating retirement, if he were to lose. The blood on his brain should have made the decision easier for him. Under Nevada rules, any fighter suffering “bleeding on the brain”, no matter how small, cannot be licensed to box in the state. Larios was put on the medical suspension list throughout the United States. He announced his retirement.
Unfortunately, he found a loop-hole.

In February of 2008, Larios not only returned to the ring, but he was featured on Mexican television. He returned to his home country where he knew he would be allowed to fight. Mexico has poor medical safety regulations and has been known to grant fighters with licenses despite not being cleared in the US. Larios faced Arturo Gomez (13-7-3), but had to go the twelve round distance to win a vacant regional title. Walking away with his hand raised in his home country was not enough to satisfy Larios.
The Gomez victory opened the door for the Mexican-based boxing commission (WBC) to rear their ugly head and turn a precarious situation into something downright disgusting. In May of 2008 they approved Larios to fight for the interim title against Feider Viloria. This is the same title that Larios fought for and lost to Lineras. However, when Lineras had to pull out of his title defense against Viloria due to an injury, Larios stepped in to knock out Viloria, and become Lineras’ mandatory.

Three months later, Larios was back in a Mexican boxing ring to defend his interim title (and pay sanctioning fees to the WBC) against Nicaragua’s Marlon Aguilar. Larios won by knockout in seven rounds. At this point Larios has not only won three in a row, but he’s fighting as regularly as a prospect, and not a veteran of fourteen years.

Larios found himself in the ring for the fourth time in 2008 when he traveled to Japan to face Takahiro Aoh. Larios was now viewed as the full featherweight champ, as Lineras vacated to move up to 130 lbs. In Aoh, he was facing a man eight years his junior on his home turf. Aoh dropped Larios in the fourth round, but was unable to hold off the veteran down the stretch. Larios improved to 5-0 in Japan by escaping with a split decision. The victory earned Larios the right to take more punishment.

On Thursday Night, Larios was back in Japan for a rematch with Aoh. Larios quickly found that at 24, Aoh had the ability to grow mentally and physically. Reports stated that Aoh used less footwork, and chose to fight more aggressively, overpowering Larios over 12 lopsided rounds. After tasting the canvas in the final round, Larios rose to hear the final bell. He walked across the ring and raised the victor’s hand before official scores were announced. Hopefully Larios is able to accept that this is the end of the road with as much class as he accepted defeat.

Time will tell if this is the end of the road for the Mexican warrior. I am not going to pretend to be a doctor, but I’m confident that the medical team that examined Larios in 2007 is more concerned with him reaching his life expectancy, than reaching into his wallet for another sanctioning fee. I’m sure Larios used 2008 to prove something to himself, rather than proving the medical profession wrong, but I hope that he chooses to cash in his chips and walk away with piece of mind.

Oscar Larios has been a fighter for his entire adult life, and he has thrilled fans over and over again with his warrior mentality. He has had the kind of career that deserves a happy ending. Winning a title, defending it against a hometown favorite in his own backyard twice is about as bright as the sunset gets in this sport.

I’m not qualified to tell someone when enough is enough. I have made poor decisions in my own life that threatened my own longevity, but I was fortunate to have those around me that knew when it was time to take the keys out of my hand.

A former two-time champion, with a warrior’s heart is always going to be an attractive name to put on a prospect’s resume. I’m sure there will continue to be calls from promoters and commissions that will ask Oscar to once again tempt fate, and that is the unfortunate evil that comes along with this business. If the time comes, I could only ask that those who cover the sport take the lead of writer’s like ESPN.com’s Dan Rafael who has reminded his readers that, “every time that Larios fights it is a blight on boxing”.

To those that squeezed the final run out of Larios, and put their own agenda ahead of Larios’ health, it is time to quit while they are behind. The sport of boxing in Mexico and Japan may be enjoying much more popularity than it is in the US, however, nothing will stunt its growth quicker than a tragedy. Especially a tragedy that could have been prevented.
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