The former 140-pound titlist looks to establish himself in one of boxing's glamour divisions when he faces former unified welterweight champ Keith Thurman in a 147-pound showdown Saturday night on FOX Sports PBC pay-per-view.
Given what is at stake this Saturday, February 5 in the Michelob ULTRA Arena of Las Vegas’ Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, it is Barrios (26-1, 17 KOs), the former WBA super lightweight titlist, who insists it is he who will provide an impressive and victorious punctuation in the 12-round main event, making for a star turn in his first appearance in the 147-pound weight class.
The fight will be televised via FOX Sports PBC Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), along with the co-feature pitting former four-division world champ Leo Santa Cruz (37-2-1, 19 KOs) against Keenan Carbajal (23-2-1, 15 KOs).
“I believe both of us have a lot to prove, not only to ourselves but to everybody in the boxing world,” said Barrios, a 26-year-old resident of San Antonio, Texas, in acknowledging the similar yet markedly different circumstances he and Thurman (29-1, 22 KOs), the 33-year-old former WBA welterweight ruler, will be striving to overcome as well as to build upon.
“I’m trying to prove I can compete with the best fighters at welterweight. Thurman’s trying to prove he can bounce back (from a split-decision loss to Manny Pacquiao on July 20, 2019, and a career-long 30-month layoff) and again rise to the top of the division.”
With a slew of potentially big matchups awaiting the winner in the stacked 147-pound weight class, Thuman will attempt to demonstrate he is still all that he ever was and that the close setback to the legendary Pacquiao and 2½ years of inactivity have not left him with a significant coating of ring rust.
Seven years younger than Thurman, who hails from Clearwater, Fla., Barrios also is coming off his first defeat as a professional, an 11th-round stoppage against Gervonta “Tank” Davis on June 26, 2021, in Atlanta in which he was floored three times. But, despite exiting the ring without his WBA strap, Barrios for the most part had positive vibes about his performance and was even more eager to dive into the deep end of the pool in a higher weight class against an established welterweight who many regard as still being among the division’s elite.
“I feel like I was boxing beautifully,” Barrios said of his performance against Davis. “It was a very competitive fight. We both brought the best out of each other and then, yeah, he caught me with some good shots. But even when the fight was called off, I felt like I could have still continued. But that’s me being the fighter that I am.”
“ We’re going into this fight with full confidence that we not only can compete with Thurman, but also hurt him. ” Former World Super Lightweight Champion - Mario Barrios
Not that Barrios was draining himself to make the super lightweight limit of 140 pounds, but he had been pondering a move up to welter even before the scrap with Davis. And if he was going to take the plunge, why not go big or go home? He was and is a proponent of the adage that in order to be great, you have to dare to be great.
“It’s definitely something that we have noticed,” Barrios said of how he feels physically as a full-fledged welter. “I’m feeling stronger and more explosive. I’ve been working with bigger sparring partners. Me and my team are really liking the results. We’re going into this fight with full confidence that we not only can compete with Thurman, but also hurt him.
“Really, I had no real problems making 140, but it was getting harder cutting all the way down. My walking-around weight between fights was in the high 150s, so making the move up felt natural to me.”
Instead of a feel-out fight against a competent but non-top-tier opponent in his debut in a new weight class, and a stacked one at that, Barrios insisted on testing himself at as high a level as could be arranged. A fighter’s prime sometimes can recede into the past if necessary risks aren’t taken, and Barrios was determined to demonstrate his faith in himself.
“If I’m moving up to welterweight, I want to make my mark right away,” Barrios said. “I want to solidify my place as quickly as possible. What better way than fighting Keith Thurman? I know it’s a dangerous fight, I know it’s a fight not a lot of people are willing to take. But I want these types of challenges.”
Nor will Barrios make the mistake of presuming that an inactive Thurman necessarily will be a diminished version of himself. There are times when a fighter finds it necessary to cleanse his mind and spirit as well as to recondition his body. Barrios contends that that is exactly what has happened with Thurman during his sabbatical.
“We’re not looking at Thurman’s layoff as something that’s going to be a negative for him,” Barrios said. “If anything, it’s probably going to benefit him. He did take extended time off, but in our minds he’s well-rested and he’s found his hunger for boxing again. He has much to prove, like me. So we are expecting to see a very competitive, a very strong and sharp Keith Thurman.”
But Barrios wouldn’t mind if Thurman was feeling so good about himself that he might make the mistake of overlooking him.
“If he is, that’s a big mistake he’d be making,” Barrios stressed.
For a closer look at Mario Barrios, check out his fighter page.