It used to be fun to watch Chris Arreola fight. Now it’s sad; a view that was reinforced when WBC heavyweight title-holder Deontay Wilder knocked out the shell of what Arreola once was on Saturday night.
Arreola made his mark as a hit-me-and-I’ll-hit-you-back-brawler. But he had a pretty good amateur pedigree and reasonably good ring skills when he chose to utilize them. Once upon a time, he was the #1 heavyweight in America. He got a big push from HBO, but showed an aversion to training properly and ate his way out of serious contention. That led Henry Ramirez (Chris’s longtime trainer) to opine, “Sometimes I don’t think he gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes he comes in a little too far out of shape.”
Wilder, age 30, started boxing late in life. He won a bronze medal as a raw amateur at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and turned pro later that year under the tutelage of trainer Mark Breland. He has been largely protected since then, but rose to the occasion to decisioned a lethargic Bermane Stiverne and claim the WBC heavyweight belt on 17 January 2015.
Wilder was scheduled to make a mandatory defense of his WBC title against Alexander Povetkin in Russia on 21 May. But Povetkin tested positive for meldonium (a sustance that was added by the World Anti-Doping Agency to its banned substance list effective 1 January 2016), at which point the WBC ordered that the bout be postponed. Thereafter, Wilder opted for Arreola as his next opponent.
This was Arreola’s third opportunity to fight for a heavyweight belt. His two earlier efforts (against Vitali Klitschko and Bermane Stiverne) had ended in “KO by.” Now 35, he entered the ring to face Wilder with a 36-4-1 (31 KOs) ledger. But Chris had never beaten a world-class opponent. And over the previous 53 months, his record revealed two wins, two losses, a draw, and one no contest. In his four most recent outings, he’d been knocked out by Stiverne and struggled against Curtis Harper, Fred Kassi, and Travis Kauffman. His best days are long behind him.
Worse; Arreola had broken his ankle in March of this year, which negated any inclination he might otherwise have had to train during what became his recovery period. And Henry Ramirez acknowledged that he and Chris weren’t told that Wilder-Arreola was on until the last weekend in May.
Arreola has long been popular among boxing fans for his engaging personality and refreshing candor. Asked if he thought that, given his recent ring performances, he deserved another title opportunity, Chris replied, “Let's be honest, man. Do I deserve it? Come on. No. But when a title shot comes knocking, you don’t turn it down.”
Wilder was in accord, saying, “Does he deserve the title shot? No, he doesn't. He knows it. But is Chris Arreola the perfect guy for this fight? Of course he is.”
Wilder was a 20-to-1 betting favorite.
As for the fight; there was a time when Arreola would have posed problems for Wilder. But that was when a British pound was worth $1.71 in U.S. currency. The pound might make a successful comeback someday. Arreola won’t.
Wilder-Arreola resembled an aging bull being torn apart by a sadistic matador.
Arreola entered the ring looking like a heavily-tattooed blob. His strategy seemed to be to wait for Wilder to make a stupid mistake and then turn the tide with one big punch. The problem with that strategy was, in addition to having lost his reflexes and timing, Arreola appears to have lost his punch.
“Arreola and “elusive” are rarely seen in the same sentence unless “not” appears between them. Chris has never been hard to hit. And while boxing aficionados have long questioned Wilder’s skills, stamina, and (most of all) his chin, Deontay’s power has never been suspect.
For most of the night, Arreola plodded forward in an attempt to get to Wilder’s body, his own body jiggling as his tattoos took on the look of images in an amusement park fun-house mirror.
Wilder controlled the proceedings with his jab, mocking Arreola from time to time by gyrating his hips in clinches. Chris was cut on the bridge of the nose in round two and knocked down in round four. By the middle stanzas, his left eye was swollen shut and his right eye was closing. After eight ugly rounds, Henry Ramirez stopped the carnage.
Insofar as the heavyweight division is concerned, the bout was the equivalent of a swimmer treading water. The division didn’t sink, but it didn’t move forward either.
Wilder (now 37-0 with 36 KOs) hasn’t fought a legitimate top-twenty opponent before or since Stiverne. Moreover, in a post-fight interview, he said he broke his right hand and tore his right biceps after knocking Arreola down in round four. That will put Deontay on the shelf for a while.
IBF beltholder Anthony Joshua did what he had to do in a seventh round stoppage of Dominic Breazeale on 25 June. But Joshua is still a work in progress. Against Breazeale, his footwork was ordinary (which will leave him vulnerable against opponents who know how to exploit angles) and his attack was one-dimensional (which was one more dimension than Breazeale showed).
The upcoming rematch between WBA-WBO champion Tyson Fury and Wladimir Klitschko (which will be contested this autumn and televised on BoxNation) may, or may not, bring more clarity to the heavyweight picture.
And let’s not forget Luis Ortiz, who despite being regarded by some as the best heavyweight in the world, can’t get a title shot.
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On 23 July, BoxNation will televise an attractive 140-pound title unification fight between Terence Crawford (WBO) and Viktor Postol (WBC).
Crawford, age 28, has a 28-0 (20 KOs) record and is arguably the best 140-pound fighter in the world today. But like many of today’s best, he has gone in soft more often than boxing fans would like. After beating Yoriorkis Gamboa two years ago in a star-making performance, Terence has faced Raymundo Beltran, Thomas Dulorme, Dierry Jean, and Hank Lundy.
That said; Crawford is a complete fighter with no obvious weaknesses. “If I have to box, I box,” he says. “If I have to brawl, I brawl. If I have to trade, I trade. I have the power to back you up. My IQ is what takes me to the next level.”
Postol, a 32-year-old Ukrainian now living in California, is also 28-and-0 but with eight fewer knockouts than Crawford. He’s expected to be Terence’s sternest test to date; an assessment based on his most recent ring outing (a tenth-round stoppage of Lucas Matthysse last October).
Crawford is a 9-to-2 favorite, which strikes most insiders as a bit high. Freddie Roach (who trains Postol) spoke to those odds recently and declared, “I do not feel that Viktor is an underdog going into this fight. Why should I? In his two toughest tests - Lucas Matthysse and Selcuk Aydin - he didn't just knock them out, he took their will to fight away. Don't get me wrong. I have a lot of respect for Crawford. He has a lot of talent. But Postol has fought tougher and better opponents than Crawford. Postol even spent an entire training camp with Manny Pacquiao when Manny was preparing for Chris Algieri. Viktor more than held his own against Manny. Crawford is going to find out that defending a title against Hank Lundy and Dierry Jean is a lot different than fighting Viktor Postol.”
Crawford should win. But it shapes up as a good fight.