Al Gavin, heavyweight king Lennox Lewis’ long-time cutman, did a superb job in stemming the flow from cuts above O’Malley’s scalp line, on his right eyebrow and near the bridge of his nose in what was a tough test for his County Wicklow raised charge.
O’Malley won the ESPN-televised contest with scores of 97-92 on all three cards by outworking the 31-year-old Rios and landing the more effective shots down the stretch.
The 27-year-old upped his record to 20-1 (14 KOs), while Rios, a last-minute substitute for Mexican Yoni Vargas, fell to 14-3-2.
There were no knockdowns, although the San Antonio-based Rios was rocked by left and right hook combinations in the seventh and 10th rounds.
“A fight like this is perfect for [preparing] me for a Dorin fight,” O’Malley said, referring to his eagerly sought rematch with Leonard Dorin, the current WBA titlist and only man to beat him.
Dorin stopped O’Malley in nine rounds last year in an equally rough and tumble bout that took the younger fighter out of his groove.
There was no repeat this time as O’Malley, despite boxing sporadically, managed to hold off the game Rios, whose recent fights have been marred by unintentional butts.
O’Malley’s left hook and quicker hands gave him an edge over his opponent, who, nonetheless, never stopped coming forward. O’Malley seemed to get stronger even while looking the worse for wear from the cuts, the first of which opened up in the fourth round.
He had a big seventh round when he batted away at Rios in the middle of the round after referee Arthur Mercante Jr., his pale blue shirt resembling a butcher’s smock, had deducted a point from the Texan for hitting on the break. But the tables were turned in the next stanza following another butt that sliced open O’Malley’s right eyebrow open, squirting blood down his face.
“The blood was getting in my eye and I was trying to box,” said O’Malley, who was caught on the ropes and for the first time outhustled.
Gavin’s handiwork, managed to control the bleeding between rounds, enabling O’Malley to focus on the unrelenting Rios. The 10th and final stanza was another big one for the Irish-American prospect. He landed some big hooks in search of a late KO, but in vain.
O’Malley later critiqued himself for trying to knock out Rios and not boxing enough.
“I’m definitely capable of fighting a lot better and sharper,” he said. “A lot of time when I was boxing in spots, he couldn’t touch me. My instincts were if I land one good shot I want to stand there and try take him out.”
Still, he admitted that he needed more tough fights like this to improve.
Gavin, who has been in Lennox Lewis’s corner his entire professional career, said O’Malley had done well against a good foe.
“He was in with a credible opponent [who] fights with his head,” Gavin said. “Rios is awkward and has a good chin.”
O’Malley also earned kudos from veteran trainer Bob Jackson, who helped prepare him for the fight at Gleason’s Gym.
“It was a pleasure working with a fighter like this,” Jackson said. “He’s got courage and a great chin and doesn’t cave in.”