By Ivan G. Goldman
Boxing Godfather Al Haymon could conceivably get his hands on a chunk of the heavyweight title this year, expanding his empire into territory that’s been closed to Americans for years.
It all depends on his fighter Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola of Riverside, California, a fan-friendly pressure fighter who has a bad habit of training only sporadically and coming in fat for his most important matches. To win the vacant WBC title he has to get through Bermane Stiverne, who, when they fought last year, dealt Arreola the second worst beating of his life. The worst was meted out by Vitali Klitschko, who in a 2009 match in Los Angeles poured on such sustained punishment that Arreola’s corner surrendered after ten rounds.
But victory is not impossible if tough, talented Arreola can stop setting himself up with excuses to lose and somehow manages to control his weakness for beer, parties, and (no kidding) Oreo cookies). “It’s my crack,” is the way Arreola once characterized his Oreo habit to me. He was only half-joking.
Stiverne looked like an unstoppable force in their first fight, smashing Arreola’s nose into a bulbous glob of traumatized flesh in the third round and then coasting to victory. But he has weaknesses, as does any fighter. Back in 2007 a journeyman by the name of Demetrice King scored a fourth-round stoppage over Stiverne, a Montreal resident who was born in Haiti. He’s 35 years old with a record of 23-1-1 (20 KOs) and has fought only 79 pro rounds. Usually the winner of a lopsided fight wins more easily the second time around.
Trainer Henry Ramirez clearly has only limited control over Arreola 36-3 (31 KOs), who has admitted playing hooky from gym sessions prior to bouts that were pivotal to his career. That fits the profile of people who equip themselves with excuses to fail. But bad habits can be broken. Heavily tattooed Chris tends to swear up a streak in post-fight interviews, but he’s a gentle soul with a quick mind. He owns what he calls a “regular” house (not a mansion) and isn’t above taking a bus to get where he has to go. He grew up in Los Angeles and Riverside.
The WBC ordered Stiverne and Arreola, ranked one and two respectively, to compete for the belt of Vitali, who retired in order to concentrate his energies on the shaky democracy of Ukraine, where he’s a member of parliament and heads a political party. Stiverne has a strained relationship with his promoter, Don King, who will need to put together a fight contract with Haymon and Arreola’s promoter Dan Goossen. If they can’t make a deal, which is often the case when King is involved, the WBC will order a purse bid, which means the promoter pledging the highest total will promote the match.
Haymon, whose most valuable property is his contract with pound-for-pound best Floyd Mayweather, seems to manage the careers of half the prizefighters on TV. It’s easy to imagine Haymon, with his flair for setting up big shows, breathing new life into the heavyweight division should Arreola make history as the first man of Mexican descent to hold a major heavyweight title. The other three titles are held by Wladimir Klitschko, now 37, a man who ducks nobody. Wladimir-Arreola for all the heavyweight marbles could be one heck of an attraction.
If Arreola fails him again, Haymon’s American heavyweight hopes would rest on Deontay Wilder, 30-0 (30 KOs). Fed a steady stream of tomato cans, he may own the most blown-up record in all of boxing. Ranked Number 10 by Haymon-friendly Ring magazine, he’s gone only 53 rounds as a pro. In his last match he stopped faded Siarhei Liakhovich, 37, in the first round. It was Liakhovich’s fifth loss in his last seven outings.
The Showtime on-camera crew, parroting the Haymon Party line, once claimed that Wilder can’t find more formidable opponents because the money’s not worth the risk. What they didn’t mention is that Showtime and Golden Boy have been careful never to offer opponents a purse big enough to satisfy a world-class heavyweight. Sure, miracles happen, but if his handlers thought he was ready for top guys he’d have fought some by now. Arreola, who destroyed Seth Mitchell in his last outing, needs a much smaller miracle.
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.
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