By Ivan G. Goldman
The way Chris Arreola tells it, he lost his two biggest fights through overconfidence. He trained only haphazardly, he says, because he didn’t believe total commitment was necessary. I’m not buying it.
Arreola, thanks to a lack of competition, remains America’s most formidable heavyweight, but he lost to Vitali Klitschko in 2009 and Tomasz Adamek the following year not because he believed himself the superior fighter. The real problem was that deep inside he didn’t feel worthy of victory, and by failing to train adequately, he gave himself a ready-made excuse for his losses.
Whenever you saw Arreola enter the ring fat on Oreos, which was almost every time he competed, you knew that he was creating an alibi in case things didn’t turn out his way. But this Saturday Arreola, 35-2 (30 KOs), is going in against Haitian-born Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, (20 KOs), looking like the impressive heavyweight he is. He’ll have excess flesh here and there, but he’s in shape, he’s 32, and he’s run out of excuses. Looks like we’re gong to see a good fight.
Arreola-Stiverne, set in Ontario, California, is part of an HBO triple-header with two matches from Buenos Aires, Argentina — Sergio Martinez defending his WBC middleweight title against undefeated Martin Murray and Luis Carlos Abregu and Antonin Decarie tangling in a welterweight bout.
Stiverne, who trains out of Las Vegas, has fast hands, just like Arreola, and though he hasn’t fought at Arreola’s level as a pro, he has an excellent amateur background, he’s hungry, and he’s now 34 years old. If he gets knocked out — and Arreola knocks out most of his opponents — it would set his career back for years. He just can’t afford it, and he knows it.
When the hulking Arreola bares his chest in the ring he may look like just another hulk, but he happens to be an athletic hulk. Chris can dunk a basketball and still plays in pickup games around Riverside. His advisor Al Haymon, who seems to own at least a slice of every boxing pie that counts, generally knows how to pick them.
Dan Goossen, Arreola’s promoter, has compared his guy to Mike Tyson. He does in fact share some traits with Tyson, who also came to fight and was arguably the most crowd-pleasing heavyweight of the modern era. But Tyson, who won the championship at the tender age of 21, had one-punch knockout power. Arreola is a pressure fighter just as Tyson was, but he usually needs a relentless battery of punches to get his guy out of there. You don’t see a lot of paralyzing one-punch stoppages. What you mostly see is a series of overwhelmed opponents. Arreola doesn’t do much standing around and watching. When in doubt, he throws something.
Arreola and Tyson share another trait though. They’re devastatingly outspoken. Ask them questions and they try to give you genuine answers. If Arreola could learn to stop dropping F-bombs in his post-fight interviews, he’d be much more sought after by broadcast teams. He’s got a great sense of humor, and he’s not full of himself. He doesn’t live in a mansion and doesn’t want one. As he once told me, he doesn’t consider himself too important to wait for a bus. He’s also married now and appears to have toned down his lifestyle.
For years now heavyweight boxing has been like major league baseball, organized into majors and minors, but there were only two teams in the Big Show — Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko. Everyone else played on a farm team. One by one they’d be moved into the majors and, with few exceptions, knocked out of the park. The Klitschkos don’t have much of a following in the U.S., but they duck no one and have a phenomenal combined record of 104-5 (91 KOs).
Alexander Povetkin, a plodding contender at best, is supposed to face Wladimir, 37, in the fall. Vitali, 41, has become increasingly active in the politics of Ukraine and may have fought his last fight. There’s a good possibility that if Arreola passes his test against Stiverne Saturday he will, with powerful Haymon pulling strings, get another shot at the Big Show sometime next year.
Ivan G. Goldman’s boxing novel The Barfighter was nominated as a 2009 Notable Book by the American Library Association. Information HERE