By Lee Payton
Photo © Ray Kasprowicz
This is a story I wrote awhile back. For those of you who haven't read it, here are my thoughts on the upcoming heavyweight fight...
On September 26, Chris "The Nightmare" Arreola will have a chance to become the first ever Mexican Heavyweight Champion when he challenges Vitali Klitscko in front of what is sure to be a passionate crowd at Staples Center, in Los Angeles. A former amateur stand-out, Arreola has gone undefeated in 27 fights as a pro, with almost all of his wins coming by way of knockout. When you see this guy fight, there's plenty to get excited about, but I have to admit that despite his potential and kill or be killed mindset, I just can't get behind him.
Let me start my explanation off by saying that I generally love Mexican fighters. Gimme the delightful arrogance of Morales, the deadly offensive discipline of Marquez, the brutal clinch work of Castillo, the almost psychotic style of Limon, and the hard-nosed work ethic of Ramirez (I could go on forever), and I'm gushing. These men are what boxing is all about for me. Of course, gutsy, granite chinned, go forward at all cost fighters with nasty hooks to the liver come from scary places all over the world, but those are traits of the prototypical Mexican warhorse. They're a joy to watch if want to see a man broken down in a violent way. They will test your heart, win or lose. You can count on it.
I think Arreola has some of that guerrero in him. I really do. He seems like a guy who loves fighting, and I can't see him pulling the plug when things get rough. He's also got some classic Mexican weapons, like a solid uppercut and a nasty left hook. What he lacks in speed and snap he makes up for in physical strength and heavy punching technique.
The problem is hunger. When those guys I mentioned earlier were on the way up, they were starving. You can't tell me that Arreola's desire is anywhere near the same level. The proof is in his rather comfortable financial situation and his waistline. He's hardly fighting his way out of poverty.
As a rare Mexican heavyweight who can fight, he's been moved along expertly by his promoter, Dan Goossen, who knows just what he has on his hands. Arreola has been paid well throughout his career to beat guys he was supposed to pound on. Many of his fights have been televised, including his last two, which were featured on HBO. What other heavyweight in the world gets on thee big time boxing network against Travis Walker and a retired Jameel McCline? He's been getting the Michael Grant treatment. Not the fighter's fault, obviously, but let's call it like it is.
Heavies rarely fight killers on their way up these days (there are none out there anyway) so I'll give him a bit of a pass for that. My main concern is with his pear-like physique. The man is just way too fat. He's good enough that it doesn't matter against a certain class, but boxing has never been overly kind to anyone who isn't willing to put the work in. At the highest level, this game has to be more than a day job or something you do a few times a year.
I find it astounding that he could be so soft at his age, given his profession. I think you'd actually have to be trying to be as overweight as he often is. Every movement is accompanied by an unsightly jiggle we're just not used to seeing in the ring.
There have been reports that Chris is taking this fight more seriously than others, and I believe them. I also believe those who say he began camp at about 280 lbs. I read that he is so serious about this fight that he actually started jogging! What?! Jogging?!!
Look, I'm sure that he's going to work harder than he ever has, but there is no way he can possibly come into this fight at his best fighting weight. I think those who are hoping for anything below 250 are going to be disappointed. There's just not enough time for him to get into peak condition, in my opinion.
Apart from the issues Arreola has with discipline, I think he's facing a difficult stylistic challenge, as well. Vitali is a 6'7 fighter who understands distance and how to utilize his height both on offense and defense. He uses a steady jab, that tends to come up from his hip, to keep his opponents at bay while sets them up for his other punches. I don't see Chris getting out of the way of these shots too often because he's not very quick of hand or foot, and he has virtually no head movement. Steadily pressing has never worked against Big Brother. He's a master of taking advantage of quasi-aggression from shorter fighters. At 6'3 or so, and with a head that is sure to be right there, I think Arreola's chin is on a tee.
And call it a hunch, but I don't think he's all that difficult to hurt. Not that he has been seriously buzzed all that often, but the way he reacts to shots doesn't exactly remind me of other stone-chinned Mexicans like Chavez and Castillo, who rarely ever blinked inside the ring.
Yes, Vitali Klitscko is 38 years old. He does have a history of injuries, and he has had it pretty easy in his two comeback fights. But we have seen him take flush bombs from real hitters like Lennox Lewis and Corrie Sanders without going down, so I find it hard to question his mettle, even at this stage. I think it's also important to point out that he has been an athlete his entire life. If you saw Arreola on the street, "athlete" is not a word that would cross your mind. As much as this sport is about mental preparation, it is still a physical contest, and in that category, it really is "no-contest".
In the end, it's about sacrifice. You don't truly love and respect this sport unless you are willing to accept the work that comes along with it. I don't believe Chris Arreola has struggled hard enough so I am picking Vitali Klitschko to win by knockout. It will be a painful lesson for the young man.
Email Lee Payton
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
By Lee Payton