As has been stated repeatedly as Chris Arreola has shifted gears in his career in 2011, the popular, action-friendly Mexican-American heavyweight brawler has one goal in mind: A shot at Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko. A shot at the greatest glory in the heavyweight division.
Of course, Arreola (34-2, 29 KO) has been in with a Klitschko before. Back in September 2009, one week after Floyd Mayweather Jr decimated Juan Manuel Marquez, Arreola had his face beaten into a purple pulp by Vitali Klitschko, who skated around the ring, pumping his jab into the eager face of Arreola, stifling every possible attack before it could even get very close.
Arreola didn't lose that fight because he didn't try to win, as so many Klitschko opponents have been guilty of in recent years. He lost because he wasn't good enough, and frankly, because he was too damn fat. Weighing in at 251 pounds on the scales, Arreola's conditioning was heavily criticized as he jiggled around the squared circle. He was a target more than an opponent in the end.
A little over two months later, Arreola was back on HBO against Brian Minto. He had lost no fans with his brave effort against Vitali, drawing praise for his toughness and his good humor after the fight. He had admitted his flaws, vowed to get into proper shape. HBO even did a video feature on him for the Minto fight that highlighted his newfound dedication.
That well went to hell when Arreola showed up on the scales at a career-high 263. In that instant, the ha-ha jokes about burritos and Coronas had grown tired. Arreola, fun heavyweight in an era of boring big men, was killing his own career with laziness.
The wake-up call didn't come immediately. Arreola blasted out the undersized and overmatched Minto in an exciting slugfest, then returned in April 2010 to lose to Tomasz Adamek, a talented fighter, but a fighter lacking a true heavyweight's frame. He injured his hand in that fight, and did so again in August against Manny Quezada.
2011 has seen Arreola turn a personal corner, but professionally, it's very easy to argue he has stagnated. While that still makes him one of the world's better heavyweights, and it's good to see him try, let's look over his 2011 slate of victories and see if he's really deserving of another shot on the biggest of stages.
January 28: Joey Abell (KO-1)
Arreola came in at 249¾ for this one, no real difference from his earlier fights, and tore through Minnesota club thumper Abell (27-5, 26 KO) in just 2:18. A fight more to test his hand out after five months off, Arreola did his usual job in this one, and nobody thought much of it, though it did draw one of the highest ratings on Friday Night Fights all year.
May 14: Nagy Aguilera (KO-3)
For a little under four months, Arreola hit it hard, and dropped a real 15 pounds. Down to 234 on the scales, his lowest weight since 2007, Arreola turned a few heads when weigh-in photos saw him looking shockingly slim. Aguilera (16-6, 11 KO) was no challenge, as Arreola winged wild shots en route to a knockout at 1:58 of the third round.
May 27: Kendrick Releford (TKO-7)
A few doubters of Arreola's discipline had to check themselves with this one. Friday Night Fights had an opening, so Arreola stepped up to the plate just 13 days after his win over Aguilera, taking on a crafty and tough veteran gatekeeper in Releford (22-15-2, 10 KO). It wasn't pretty, but it gave Arreola some rounds, which he needed, and he dominated. The fight could have been stopped earlier than it was, and it was a mercy call when it came. Arreola was at 236 pounds here.
July 9: Friday Ahunanya (UD-10)
Another fight where Arreola won without much trouble, but got to work. Ahunanya (24-8-3, 13 KO) had survived 12 rounds with David Tua in March 2010, and the only stoppage loss of his career to date came in 2004 against Lance Whitaker. The Nigerian gave 236-pound Arreola some tough looks, and Arreola, though he won on near-shutout scores (99-91 twice and 100-90), admitted his displeasure with his own performance in the fight.
November 5: Raphael Butler (TKO-3)
After a four-month break, Arreola showed up still in shape, weighing about 240 pounds -- a little heavier than the previous three, but he actually looked a little tightened up in this one, so maybe it's a good five pounds or so. He blasted the game Butler (35-12, 28 KO) in his Mexico debut.
The Value of These Wins
Value is low, at least if you're only considering the opponents and not the man himself. Sure, none of these guys were world-beaters, but in terms of how much legitimate chance the opponents had to win vs the man they were matched against, were these fights any worse than Wladimir's upcoming stomach-turner with Jean Marc Mormeck, or Vitali's 2010 romps with Albert Sosnowski or Shannon Briggs?
I hate to go to the idea that the Klitschkos fight worse opponents as a legit reason for Arreola to get the shot. So here are some other good reasons:
- Emanuel Steward, Wladimir's trainer, seriously wants the fight.
- Arreola has guts to spare (in a good way now) and fights his heart out. Even at his most out of shape, he fought hard for as long as he was in the ring. He's fought through injuries. He's fought through his own indifference to training.
- Arreola is marketable, and he's popular.
- He is, in my opinion, still one of the division's best fighters.
Now all that said, I don't think even the very best Arreola can beat either of the Klitschko brothers. As much as I like watching him fight, he's not good enough to beat them. So I guess what I'm saying there is, I wouldn't mind seeing him get the shot, and sure, he deserves it as much as anyone else does.
But there are other fighters I'd like to see him face instead, or at least before another Klitschko shot, and there's time to do that. Wladimir's fighting in December and probably won't fight again until next summer. Vitali is reportedly fighting in March, and he wants to get David Haye out of his fake retirement.
Since none of the European guys (Dimitrenko, Helenius, Fury, etc.) are going to fight Arreola (it just won't happen, because neither side will travel for that risk), how about a fight with Franklin Lawrence, Bermane Stiverne, Johnathon Banks or a (potentially) rejuvenated Sergei Liakhovich?
There are steps he can take between the guys he's been fighting and the Klitschkos. There's risk involved in stepping up even one rung on the ladder, of course. But if Arreola is truly deserving, fights on that level shouldn't worry him.