Mexican warrior Jorge Arce is one of boxing's most brash speakers, one of the sport's most entertaining fighters, and a guy who can take abuse in the ring like few others. He's been a go-to action star his entire career, a career that began in a Tijuana ring in 1996, six months before Arce turned 17 years old.
13 years and a number of wicked, career-shortening bloodbaths later, the warrior still has his spirit. On the undercard of Saturday night's Top Rank pay-per-view, Arce, now 29, stopped 23-year old Filipino prospect Fernando Lumacad with one big overhand right in the third round. Lumacad looked in awe of Arce from the ring intros, and when he went down in the third, he didn't even bother trying to get up. He knew he was beaten by a bigger, stronger, and better fighter.
Lumacad is no huge notch on Arce's belt, but getting back into the ring and being able to so thoroughly destruct an opponent has to have been a great boost for his confidence. No one would have blamed Arce for feeling down after he was thrashed by Vic Darchinyan in February. Arce's matchup with Darchinyan had been talked about for years, a throw-down brewing through back-and-forth words between the two cocky, determined fighters, both of whom have a habit of backing up their words. Darchinyan beat on Arce so brutally over 11 rounds that Arce's corner finally stopped it, and though he was just 29, the rumblings of potential retirement started. Sure, he's still young, but there didn't seem to be much left. He couldn't dent the "Raging Bull," couldn't keep up with him, and couldn't stop walking into big shots.
Enter highly-respected Mexican trainer Nacho Beristain, the man behind the genius of the Marquez brothers, and the man called upon to train Oscar de la Hoya for his career-ending loss to Manny Pacquiao. While it is unlikely that Beristain can change the leopard's spots, promoter Bob Arum expressed serious concern after the Darchinyan fight, noting that Arce, a veteran of the sport, looked like he had no idea how to fight a left-handed foe. Arum was right, too. Arce was not just outgunned by a fresher fighter, he looked lost against Darchinyan.
Beristain isn't going to turn Arce into a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter. Arce simply lacks that type of pure skill, and he also lacks the mindset to fight smart when it starts getting nasty in there. He loves to brawl, to prove his machismo, to show he's tougher than the other man.
Last September, Arce faced Panamanian Rafael Concepcion on Mexican Independence Day. With the homefield advantage, a massive and rowdy crowd behind him, and facing an inexperienced, smaller man, Arce struggled with a fellow guts-and-bombs warrior who wouldn't back down. That fight, while great and an example of what makes Arce so amazing to watch, was troublesome, too. A younger Arce likely would have finished off Concepcion -- game as he is -- within five rounds. In other words, he would have done to him what he did to Lumacad on Saturday.
And I think that's a good sign for Arce. That he looked healthy, didn't look weight-drained, and didn't appear "old." He looked confident, ready, and in firm control from the time the bell sounded.
Does this mean that with Beristain in his corner, Arce can get back in with the big dogs? The last two times he's fought great opposition (Darchinyan and Cristian Mijares), he's been manhandled. Around those losses, he's kept on beating mid-level opponents, sometimes looking good (Lumacad, Tomas Rojas, Medgoen Singsurat, Isidro Garcia), and other times looking quite shaky indeed (Concepcion and a controverisal decision win over Devid Lookmahanak).
With Darchinyan leaving 115 to fight 118-pound titlist Joseph Agbeko on July 11, the division is without a ruler, and is wide open for the taking. Arce may in fact be the division's most accomplished fighter now. Alexander Munoz is inactive, Z Gorres doesn't have Arce's resume, and Nobuo Nashiro seems perfectly content to stay in Japan.
Arce's career, though, is still teetering on that brink between relevant and former warrior-turned-journeyman. I do know one thing: When he fights, we'll tune in. He's still that kind of fighter.