Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chris Arreola Has The Tools To Rise Above Expectations

Michael Nelson takes a look at Chris Arreola's chances of toppling Vitali Klitschko in next month's heavyweight showdown.

Photos © Ray Kasprowicz

The critics of the upcoming Arreola-Klitschko bout are many. The consensus of the hardcore boxing fan base seems to be that Chris will get blown out in the early rounds, or gas midway through the bout and get blown out then. Either way, the contest won't be very competitive, they say.

Much of the venom spewed comes from resentment towards the notion of yet another fighter allowed to walk down an HBO crafted red carpet without paying dues. That this particular fighter balloons between showcases and doesn't show up to the ring in optimal shape is insult to injury. Meanwhile, HBO ignores whole divisions full of dedicated men who live the boxing lifestyle 24/7, not just when convenient (when's the last time they aired a bout between Cruiserweights?). If it doesn't seem fair, it's because it isn't.

The reason for HBO's push is clear though: Arreola is the rare Mexican-American heavyweight. Any measure of success he has at the championship level is huge. And if he becomes the man to uproot the Klitschko brothers' hold on the division, we're talking about one of the biggest boxing stories in recent memory. The reawakening of the heavies would be Adderal to the casual fan's attention span.

The question remains, does he have a real shot at defeating Vitali Klitschko? Or is this the '09 redux of Michael Grant vs. Lennox Lewis? The lack of tough fights on Arreola's resume makes it hard to come up with a definitive answer, but I'd argue that Chris has better tools than anyone the Ukranian has fought since Lewis in 2002.

Most discredit Arreola's chances because of how his weight has skyrocketed within the past year and some change. Undoubtedly, he should be in better shape, and he'll need to have more discipline between training camps to remain near the top of the division for long. But his current condition doesn't necessarily doom him against Vitali for a couple of reasons. One, he's shown himself to be well-conditioned in his longer fights - going seven rounds twice and eight rounds once - maintaining a work rate that's closer to the average middleweight than the average heavyweight. While it's true that the last time he's gone more than four rounds was two years and 10-20 pounds ago (depending on how much he weighs on September 26), it's a mistake to assume that he'll be out of gas by the middle of the fight when he hasn't had stamina issues in the past.

Secondly, he will have worked with strength and conditioning specialist Darryl Hudson for over two months come fight night. Having a proven track record with Shane Mosley, Chad Dawson, Winky Wright, and others, if anyone can get Arreola into championship level condition, it's Hudson.

He should have the best camp of his career. What happens in rounds nine, ten, and beyond still remains a mystery, but Arreola's pressure and work rate suggests he has the ability to set a pace that can take Klitschko out of his comfort zone... at least for two-thirds of the bout.

The man Chris is trying to yank the title from has been dominant since his TKO loss to Lennox Lewis six years ago. But the 37 year old Klitschko has also been injury prone and inactive. Moreover, the opponents he has dominated are a who's who of fat fighters with careers plagued by stamina issues, coming in grossly overweight for their title shot. Kirk Johnson showed up nearly 20 pounds above his career high weight and summarily got harpooned; Corrie Sanders, Danny Williams, Sam Peter, and Juan Gomez came in at or near their career highs, were on E by the 7th round, and got beaten into submission shortly after. I'd honestly be shocked if Arreola isn't in much better shape than all of those guys.

Lennox Lewis was at his career high weight as well when he gave Klitschko his second loss. His first loss came at the hands of Chris Byrd, one of the few talented opponents Vitali has faced that managed to come in shape. While Klitschko fans will argue that both losses resulted from injuries, it's no fluke that they came against men athletic enough to push him.

Nevertheless, the odds are no doubt against 28 year old from Riverside, CA. Ironfist has the better footwork and defense. He has the quicker, straighter punches. He has a painful jab. And his whiskers appear to be sturdier. At first glance, the gulf in technical acumen appears insurmountable, but peer beyond the surface and you'll see Arreola's advantages; a far better inside game, body attack, and variance of shots that start to level the playing field. Add in Vitali's age and friable frame, and the sweet scent of a brewing upset might float into your nostrils.

Fact is, Arreola has a potent mix of attributes that Mexican fighters are known to possess: combination punching, body punching, and a nefarious left hook along with a healthy dose of heart and balls. Barring an early knockout, Vitali will have to deal with several rounds of the rare big man who throws more than one or two punches at a time. He'll have to deal with a man pounding him to the ribs, arms, and shoulders whenever his chin can't be reached.

The aging champ faces something he hasn't seen in several years. Far from the sideshow many bill it as, this is a real fight with real ramifications. Understandably, low expectations are born out of cynicism of groomed careers and manufactured saviors. Just prepare to be shocked next month if you choose to keep them low.

e-mail Michael Nelson


Anonymous said...

It should be a great fight and I believe Arreola will pull the upset. I already bought my ticket to see history.

Anonymous said...

i think arreola its going to wear down vitaly and will make him quit on the 10 rd

Michael Nelson said...

The Staple Center will be off the charts. Have a great time.

Filipino Boxing Fan said...

My concern is Vitali's age and his own history of injuries. He will be facing a youthful opponent who can box and hungry for the belt.

I pick Arreola to win and put the United States in Heavyweihgt map again.

Anonymous said...

"I'd honestly be shocked if Arreola isn't in much better shape than all of those guys." Prepare to be shocked -- he came into camp at 297 pounds. He'll be at least 260 or more by fight time. Vitali, meanwhile, looks great -- ripped and huge.

Michael Nelson said...

If he's 260 or more at the weigh-in, I will indeed be shocked. I'm pretty sure he won't be though.

Michael Nelson said...
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