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Cook Defends IBO Belt Against Rios.

Jason Cook Cook Defends IBO Belt Against Rios.
When Jason 'The Power' Cook puts his IBO lightweight belt on the line tomorrow night against experienced Argentine campaigner Aldo Rios in Hereford, England, he'll be meeting arguably his most difficult opponent so far in his eight year career. Will Cook join Ricky Hatton, Stevie Johnston and

Artur Grigorian as the only fighters to hold victories over forty-one bout veteran Rios? To try and find an answer to that question, we spoke with the man from Maesteg, Wales and his trainer Bryan Evans as they prepared for this difficult test.

Just over two years ago, Jason Cook turned his professional career around with a single punch in San Mango D'Aquino, Italy. His opponent that hot summer night, Sandro Casamonica, had Cook in trouble on the ropes after dropping the Welshman just moments before. With the vacant European crown on the line, Casamonica wasn't about to let Cook off the line. The Italian moved close to land the finishing blow just as Cook instinctively threw a left hook with everything behind it. Cook's punch landed first and exploded on the unsuspecting Casamonica. As the Italian could not shake off the effects of such a devastating punch in time, Cook, a late replacement for Bobby Vanzie, became the European lightweight champion.

Fast forward to January of last year and we have Cook coming off the canvas to pound out a close split decision over former WBA kingpin Stefano Zoff. While Cook did defeat Zoff, he lost his European belt before the fight ever took place, as he proved unable to make the 135-pound limit at the weigh in. Dejected, the Maesteg man soldiered on and went on to stop opponent Vincent Howard eight months later before winning the vacant IBO title two months after that over Ariel Olveira. In May of this year, Jason made the first defense of his new crown by containing a very tough Kevin Bennett over twelve.

Cook, 23-1 (10), was initially scheduled to face dangerous Phillip N'dou this weekend but a medical procedure revealed an abnormality in the South African bomber's brain, forcing his retirement from the game only two weeks ago. While Cook was looking forward to meeting the former world title challenger, he now only has the best of intentions toward N'Dou. "What happened to Phillip N'dou is tragic," he said. "My team and I are very sorry to hear about his situation and we want him to know that we wish him all the best in whatever field he next goes into."

While N'dou was a straight forward, hard punching fighter, his replacement Aldo Rios is the direct opposite. A defensive master with just seven stoppages among his thirty-eight victories, the South American lightweight king has only lost when stepping up to world title fights with Ricky Hatton, Stevie Johnston and Artur Grigorian. Cook's longtime trainer, Bryan Evans, would have rather faced the raw power of N'dou. "I think fighting Rios is going to be a little harder than facing N'dou would have been," admitted Evans. "N'dou would have been right in front of Jason, in his face, but we think that we'll have to chase Rios because he's not just going to stand there. All the sparring we did was in preparation for N'dou but Jason did get a good eighty rounds in and we're confident that he'll win this fight."

Cook and Rios were scheduled to meet in the ring previously but the twenty-nine year old IBO champion suffered a broken leg during the buildup and the whole thing had to be called off. The silver lining there is that Cook and Evans are fully schooled on the tricky Rios. "We aren't concerned with the opponent's power, but we'd rather this not go twelve rounds because of Rios' skills as a boxer," said Evans. "We've been working on getting Rios concentrating on defense. If Jason can get him on the ropes or in a corner, we want to throw a lot of punches and discourage anything coming back from Rios. At that point, the ref might have to step in. That's more or less the plan but to be honest, we don't know how things are going to go until Jason gets in there. We might have to use different tactics."

While this bout does represent a step up for Jason Cook over the competition he's faced in almost two years time, the Welshman has overcome many difficulties both on and out of the ring and sees this as just one more step towards his ultimate goals. "This fight means everything to me and I expect it to be the toughest of my career. I am very, very confident however that I'll prevail. I've boxed at a very good level in the past, particularly against Zoff and Casamonica, so Rios doesn't worry me whatsoever. Both Stevie Johnston and Artur Grigorian couldn't stop Rios and Ricky Hatton did it but he's a weight class higher at light welter. If I do stop him, that will be a very good thing for me but I don't feel any pressure to do so. If all goes right in this one and I look good, I'm hoping to step up to a world title fight. I'm going to be thirty next year so I think it's time to get cracking. Ideally, I'd like to fight Diego Corrales because he's the number one lightweight in the world. A win over Rios should push me up the rankings towards that goal."

Curtis McCormick can be reached at thomaspointrd@aol.com

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