Santa Ana boxer Ronny Rios says he’s mentally prepared to face Jayson Velez

Confidence is so important to anyone stepping inside the ring.

Once it is gone, the fighter might as well be sent into the ring without his gloves.

Santa Ana’s Ronny Rios had his confidence shaken in his 2014 loss to Robinson Castellanos. He was back in the ring, albeit still shaking off the sting from the loss, in March, defeating Sergio Frias by unanimous decision.

“It took me a while to get mentally strong (again),” Rios said Tuesday after his workout in Santa Ana. “It took me forever. Coach (Hector Lopez) was grinding me, screaming at me, but I just wasn’t sure of myself.”

Rios, 25, now says he has bounced back mentally and that’s a good thing three weeks before one of the biggest stages of his career. He will face Jayson Velez (23-0-1, 16 KOs) Nov. 21 in the opening fight of the Miguel Cotto-Canelo Alvarez pay-per-view cardat Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

“My last fight (against Frias), even though it was a win, I think I went into that fight maybe 50-60 percent,” he said. “It puts more pressure on you when the critics say he should win this one easy. This one, I’m really up for this fight because a lot of people think I’m going to lose this fight and that it’s an easy step for him.

“I’m not there just to be there. I’m there to win it and win convincingly.”

Rios (24-1, 10 KOs) says that a lot of that stems from his loss to Castellanos, who entered that fight with 10 losses and was coming off of a defeat before turning his career around with a fifth-round TKO victory. Castellanos catapulted that moment into a 12-round unanimous decision over Rocky Juarez.

“It wasn’t the victory (over Frias) that helped me get over it or spending time with my family,” Rios said. “I just needed time. We were going to fight in July, but I got injured and at first I was disappointed, like why is this happening to me, then I thought maybe I was going into that fight unprepared mentally.

“Physically, I was in the best shape, mentally I wasn’t … then when they offered me this fight. … It wasn’t even the money, but it’s the opportunity.”

Rios is deep into preparation for this fight. He’s sparring three times a week, getting in most of the work against fighters in Robert Garcia’s stable in Riverside.

A recent social media message by Velez, saying he wants to fight IBF champion Lee Selby, has certainly helped Rios get focused and motivated for this moment.

“He looks prepared, mentally, more than anything,” Lopez said. “This isn’t just an average fight. It is a fight on a big stage, Mandalay Bay … this is HBO pay-per-view. This isn’t like any other fight, and we’re treating it differently.

“This isn’t like some (fight card at a) fair, in some other state … this is the big stage. I’ve noticed a different mindset, he’s believes in himself again. He’s fighting, sparring and training with bad intentions.”

Velez fought to a 12-round draw with Evgeny Gradovich last November for the IBF featherweight title. In his only fight this year, he scored a 10-round unanimous decision victory over Daniel Ramirez.

Rios and Velez had been mentioned as potential opponents in the past. Rios said they were supposed to fight two years ago, but Velez turned it down.

Now, their paths are finally set to cross.

“I’m just thinking about going out there and making a statement,” Rios said. “He likes to keep you away and he fights at his own pace. If you pay attention to his punches, they’re not really to knock you out. Our job is go out there and make it uncomfortable for him.”

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