Boxing Champ Mario Barrios Talks Life, Training and Dealing with an Uncertain Future

Landon Buford

Mario Barrios has a lot on his mind at the moment, waiting on a title defense that doesn’t yet have an official date. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t reflective on what this month means to him.

“Growing up as a kid, I have always been very prideful of my heritage and my culture, it means everything to me,” Barrios said. “My grandparents are from Mexico and they are the ones that raised my sister and me when we moved to Texas due to my mother having to work to provide for us. She was a single mother at the time, and I attribute why I am a fighter to having a Hispanic background,” said Barrios.

“That is also the reason why I chose the alias ‘El Azteca’ because I like to be as connected with my roots as possible. So, Hispanic Heritage Month means a lot, especially in boxing when I have had fights lined up in September, they have attracted major turnouts [with a large contingent of Mexican fans in the crowd].”

Born Boxing

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Photo Credit: Kristopher Lopez of Cruising Kitchens, LLC

Barrios was born on May 18, 1995, to Martin Barrios and Isabel Soto. Five years later, they would relocate to San Antonio, Texas. In 2001, Mario started boxing at the age of six after his mother, who was a boxing fan, led him and his sister, Selina, to the Eastside Boys and Girls Club. Barrios' mother wanted to box, but she was discouraged from training because women’s boxing was not nearly as popular as men’s.

Instead, Isabel elected to make money elsewhere to feed her family. According to Barrios, his mother excelled in raising him and his sisters: Selina (27), Vanessa (18), and Valencia (16).

“My mother did a great job providing for us. We did not have a lot growing up, but we didn’t realize it because of all the things that our mother did for us.”

So, as an incentive, they would receive new clothes or new video games by winning the tournaments that they were entered in.

“My sister Selina was a tremendous amateur boxer from the beginning,” Barrios said. “She had only three losses I believe out of 75 wins. As for me, I had like 15 or 20 losses. I mean it was up there but growing up me and my sister would pull out the victory, and I would lose in the second or third round of the tournament.”

“So, my sister was being rewarded with new shoes, a game, or a game system. That was a huge motivator for us competing against each other, but at the same time we were each other’s biggest supporters.”

Mario and Selina Barrios were both first coached by trainer Tony Jaramillo. As they got older, their dad Martin took over the reins.

As the two siblings continued to improve on their workmanship in the ring, they were inseparable. Selina was the one who set the pace as she was winning every tournament she entered. Being the younger of the two, Mario would look up to his sister. It was not until he was 15-years old that he was able to handle Selina in the ring.

Early Success

Entering his freshman year in high school, Mario was only 5’5” and had already won a few boxing tournaments. It was not until he won the National PAL Boxing Championship that he realized he had the talent to become something special in the sport.

During his senior year, he grew to 5’7” and then grew another four inches after graduating from high school. Barrios stood at a stunning 6’0” by his 21st professional fight.

Barrios would make his pro debut as a super-bantamweight in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, at the Cowboys Dance Hall on November 11, 2013. He would go on to score a first-round TKO against Rigoberto Moreno.

In his next 14 fights, he would go 14-0 (8 KOs). However, his next bout, a title elimination fight in the super featherweight division, against Devis Boschiero would be a challenge.

Barrios struggled to make weight at 130-pounds, but he would go on to defeat Boschiero in a lopsided unanimous decision. This earned him an opportunity to challenge the super featherweight title. Barrios and his team would later decide to move up in weight classes and change trainers.

He trained with his father until he was 20 years old then later started training with Virgil Hunter, the Futch-Condon Award winner and 2011 Trainer of the Year.

“My father was the one that took over after my first coach Tony Jaramillo because he showed my father the techniques,” said Barrios. “After that, we started bouncing around and he got me as far as he could take me. I give him a lot of credit for handing over the coaching duties to Virgil Hunter.”

“I have been training with Virgil now for five years, and we are 10-0 with nine knockouts currently. We had some great success with one and another, and our chemistry fits each other’s style.”

Becoming Champ

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Photo Credit: Kristopher Lopez of Cruising Kitchens, LLC

Last September, at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, Mario Barrios scored a near-unanimous decision victory over Batyr Akhmedov (7-1, 6 KOs) to capture the WBA Super Lightweight title.

"I knew this was going to be a war,” said Barrios. “He was getting dirty in there, but the Mexican warrior in me was not going to let this opportunity pass me by. I dug deep and got the victory."

In the process, Barrios became the fifth fighter in the Alamo City and first in 20 plus years to win a world championship. He went on to share its significance.

“It means everything to me,” Barrios said. “This is just the start. I said it before when I first turned pro, that the goal for me and my sister [Selina] was to bring a world championship back home if possible.”

Barrios was scheduled to fight against fellow Texan Ryan Karl in his hometown of San Antonio, but the fight was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Karl and I have known each other since we were young amateurs. We have always been friends and have always supported each other at our fights. Of course, it is only business, and hopefully, after we can shake hands and chat with each other,” said Barrios.

“I have tremendous respect for his coach Ronnie Shields, him, and his family. All the people that know us in South Texas or just in Texas amateur boxing are disappointed the fight is not taking place in San Antonio. That is where it was supposed to be originally and it was going to be a huge turnout for myself, but also for Ryan He has a tremendous fan base as well in Texas, and his nickname is 'Cowboy' for a reason.”

Karl shared that he would be open to fighting without a crowd if the money were the same.

“If the paycheck’s the same I wouldn’t care,” he said. “I’m a showman. I do enjoy being in front of people. But a paycheck is a paycheck. I’m not going to argue over that.”

Barrios couldn’t care less if the arena is full or empty if he has an opponent in the ring. “For me, whether there is a crowd present or not, it does not make a difference,” Barrios said.

“All that matters to me is the person that is in front of me, the one I am staring at across the ring. I am not the type of fighter that needs to feed off the crowd to make something happen if I am losing or winning. I learned that when I was an amateur fighter.”

If he gets past Karl, he would like to unify the titles in his division, but he wanted the public to know that he is not taking his friend lightly.

The fight between Barrios and Karl will be featured on Showtime, but there has not been a date set as of yet.

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