By Ivan G. Goldman
The Chris Arreola-Bermane Stiverne pre-fight talk has centered mostly on the new, svelte Arreola expected to step into the ring Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Arreola, whose career has been plagued by excess poundage and lackadaisical training, won’t have those excuses for this, his second and probably last crack at a major belt. He’s 33. Stiverne is 35. They’ll be fighting for the WBC title vacated by Vitali Klitschko. Arreola has been posting photos and comments on Facebook that show an entirely different Chris from the roly-poly heavyweight we’re used to seeing. Even his head looks slimmer.
Trainer Henry Ramirez whisked him away from his Riverside, California, haunts – where he seems to know every late-night club in a thirty-mile radius — to train in San Diego.
Stiverne, who decisioned him in April 2013 after pancaking his nose in a third-round knockdown, is a crafty Haitian-born Canadian whose record of 23-1-1 (20 KOs) was formed almost exclusively against heavyweights of little note. Before defeating Arreola, his previous outing was against Floridian Willie Herring, who is now 14-13-3 (5 KOs).
Stiverne is promoted by Don King, so if he defeats Arreola again, King will once again be a serious player in the heavyweight title sweepstakes. A couple decades ago he pretty much controlled the division. Stiverne once sued King, a common circumstance among King’s fighters. But the two have since settled their legal differences. Arreola is promoted by Goossen-Tutor.
HBO and Showtime sports departments were so busy feuding that they let this fight slip between the cracks, allowing ESPN to swoop in and carry off their lunch for a rare Saturday night telecast. Arreola had been mostly competing on HBO, but the enmity between the network and his manager-advisor Al Haymon has intensified, making a Haymon-HBO presentation less likely.
U.S. networks pay little attention to heavyweights, a division that’s been largely dominated by Europeans since the reign of Englishman Lennox Lewis, which lasted about six years, ending in 2003. ESPN sensed an opening. The network, which generally comes as part of a cable package, counts about 98 million subscribers, more than three times the HBO total and more than four times the Showtime viewing audience.
Haymon-advised Deontay Wilder is the mandatory contender to face Saturday’s victor. Wilder has an eye-popping record of 31-0 (31 KOs) earned against an underwhelming roster of opponents.
You can pretty much track the course of Arreola’s career through his weigh-in statistics. When he blew out Seth Mitchell in his last fight with a first-round KO, he came in at a reasonable 242. He was 247 when he lost to Stiverne last year, and when Vitali stopped him in 2009 in his first world title shot he came in at a sloppy 251. For his next outing he weighed in at a jiggly 263, a poundage high and career low. As an amateur he won the National Golden Gloves competing as a light heavyweight.
Arreola grew up in South-Central L.A., the area surrounding the USC campus fight venue. A series of Hollywood films made the neighborhood infamous for gangs and drugs. In recent years the city began calling it South Los Angeles to escape the negative connotations, and crime statistics have improved.
With cheap seats going for $25 in the basketball arena, the event could attract a decent crowd if the word gets out. Should he win, Arreola would be the first fighter of Mexican descent to hold a piece of the heavyweight title. Stiverne would be the first world heavyweight title-holder of Haitian descent.
Arreola, seeking to bring a major heavyweight title back to the U.S., is a pressure fighter who doesn’t take his time waiting for something to happen in there. That can work against him if Stiverne weathers the early storm and catches him with a good counter-shots. That’s how it went in their first bout, but Stiverne couldn’t get tough Arreola out of there.
Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the other three major belts, would dearly love gathering up all four titles through a unification bout, particularly since the green belt was held by his brother, now a political leader in volatile Ukraine. The green WBC belt has, over the years, held special meaning to Mexican and Mexican-American fighters. Boxinginsider.com will be ringside to see who walks off with it.
` 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.