Mario Barrios back in title hunt after bitter disappointments

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Mario Barrios won’t lie. Back-to-back losses to Gervonta Davis and Keith Thurman in 2021 and last year took an emotional toll on him.

That’s the main reason he sidelined himself for a year, which gave him time to see things more clearly and make some changes. That included moving on from trainer Virgil Hunter in favor of Bob Santos, a longtime mentor based in Las Vegas.

The 28-year-old San Antonian rebounded by stopping Jovanie Santiago in eight rounds this past February, which set up an important bout against former 147-pound titleholder Yordenis Ugas on the Canelo Alvarez-Jermell Charlo card Saturday in Las Vegas.

Mario Barrios was ecstatic to get back into the win column. Amanda Westcott / Showtime

If he has his hand raised, the losses to Davis and Thurman will become part of the distant past and he’ll be in position to fight for a major title.

“Yeah, it definitely got to me,” Barrios told Boxing Junkie. “After the Tank fight it was a pretty hard couple of weeks but I bounced back. The Thurman fight …  it was like, ‘Damn, this was supposed to be the fight I proved myself.’ I didn’t have the perfect night I would’ve liked.

“But, you know, I’m really thankful for the team I have and the friends and family surrounding me. That definitely played a big part in the way I bounced back.”

Barrios (27-2, 18 KOs) was planning to move from 140 pounds to 147 when he received the opportunity to face Davis, an offer he couldn’t refuse.

The 11th-round knockout loss didn’t sit well with him but he gave a decent account of himself and could say he lost to a superstar. The Thurman fight was different. As he said, his meeting with the aging former titleholder was supposed to be a springboard to bigger and better things.

Instead, Barrios ended up on the wrong end of a one-sided decision, which convinced him that he needed a break from boxing. The time away gave him a fresh outlook on his career.

“I had two long camps back to back, two really difficult fights, two dangerous fighters that not a lot of guys wanted to fight,” he said. “My body needed the rest, my [mind] did also. During that time I tried to learn how to bounce back, to still value yourself.

“The boxing world is very unforgiving, especially if you don’t perform your best. I think the time off did me good.”

Apparently so. Barrios looked sharp against the limited Santiago, which proved to him that good things can happen if you don’t give up on yourself and led to the opportunity against Ugas (27-5, 12 KOs) on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.

He was asked how he grew as a fighter as a result of his disappointing setbacks and comeback victory.

“In a lot of different ways,” he said. “The way I face adversity. Being in there with those type of  fighters, great fighters like Tank and Keith Thurman, I learned what I needed to work on to be better while maintaining my hunger.

“It’s all been a blessing, regardless, to still be in this position. I still have a lot to give the boxing world.”