This Saturday night on FOX, Premier Boxing Champions returns with WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder against Chris Arreola, plus a welterweight bout between unbeaten Sammy Vasquez and former gold medalist Felix Diaz.
Here's a look at the matchups.
Deontay Wilder vs Chris Arreola
Record: 36-0 (35 KO) ... Streak: W36 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6’7" / 83" ... Age: 30
Thoughts: It wasn’t all that long ago that Deontay Wilder was thought of by many in much the same way we’ve thought of Dominic Breazeale. Wilder, who won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics, was really still a novice when he competed in Beijing, and got as far as he did on natural physical gifts. And when he turned pro three months after those Olympics, he was still very, very, very much a work in progress.
I was as critical of some of Wilder’s opponents as anyone. It really bottomed out in 2012, when Wilder was matched up with a 40-year-old Marlon Hayes, who hadn’t fought in nearly five years, and was really a natural middleweight. At 5’9", Hayes was 10 inches shorter than Wilder, close enough to say he was a foot shorter than Wilder. And that was Deontay’s 21st pro fight. Plus, Wilder didn’t really look all that great in that fight before he scored a fourth round stoppage.
But even counting how abysmal and even dangerous I considered that matchmaking, I tried to keep a perspective on things with Deontay. Again, this was a man still learning the sport, for the most part. When he turned pro, he weighed in at 207¼ pounds on a 6’7" frame. He not only hadn't developed his skills to the level necessary to be a legitimate pro, but he wasn't even physically where he needed to be, or frankly even close. He was a big ol’ stick.
The people around him saw potential — mostly raw, untapped potential, but legitimate potential that needed to be molded, not simply thrown into the fire. So they took their time. What seemed an exasperatingly long wait to some was really just his team and Wilder being careful, and to their extreme credit, they genuinely never seemed to let any of the criticism get to them or alter their course. They knew the road they were on, even if the rest of us felt it was taking too long. And when Wilder shut out Bermane Stiverne over 12 rounds in January 2015 to win the WBC title, their patience paid off. They’d developed their fighter.
This is not to say that Wilder is flawless, nor will he ever be. He's never going to have the fluid boxing style of Muhammad Ali, or the dominant jab of Larry Holmes, or the mechanical efficiency of the Klitschko brothers. But there are parts of a lot of different fighters you can see in Wilder if you look closely enough. Does it make him great? Perhaps not. If he’s going to be great, that’s still to be proven in the years to come. But he has become good, and at 30, now coming in around a lean but powerful 230 pounds, he's physically come into his own, too.
When Wilder was matched with Alexander Povetkin, a lot of people thought Povetkin was going to beat him, that the Russian would "expose" Wilder. I was not in that camp. Last September, after Wilder beat Johann Duhaupas, I said that I felt he was ready for Povetkin, and that it was far from a foregone conclusion that Povetkin, despite his skills, would beat the American. Before Wilder-Povetkin was canceled due to Povetkin’s failed drug test, I had a preview for that fight written up, and I was going to pick Wilder to win on the road in Russia. The more I thought about that style matchup, the more I felt it was good for Wilder, and the less weight I was inclined to give Povetkin’s post-Klitschko run of the last two years.
But that is no longer the fight. Now it's Chris Arreola, a totally different sort of fighter, and one not taken nearly as seriously as a challenger.
Record: 36-4-1 ( KO) ... Streak: NC1 ... Last 5: 2-1-1 (1 NC) ... Last 10: 5-2-1 (2 NC) ... Stance: Orthodox ... Height/Reach: 6'3" / 76" ... Age: 35
Thoughts: Arreola is one of the single most frustrating fighters of recent memory, not so much because of an idea that he could have been great, but that he could and should have been more.
Arreola was a National Golden Gloves champion in 2001 as a light heavyweight, a division with an amateur maximum of 178 pounds. He was 20 years old then, so he was already a man, if a young man. What I’m saying is that his body had developed. When he turned pro in September 2003, he weighed in at 236. In his sixth pro fight, which came seven months later, he was up to 251.
So even going back to his earliest days as a pro, weight and conditioning have always been an issue for Arreola. In 2006, he weighed in at a career-low 229 pounds, and stayed around that weight (230, 235, 233) for his next three fights, coming over an eight month period. Then it was 245, 244, 239, and most worryingly, 258½ for a 2008 fight with Israel Garcia. When he checked in at 254 for an HBO-televised fight two months later against Travis Walker, it was very clear to see he was fighting heavier than he should, at least if he meant to become a serious contender. He was 255 against Jameel McCline in April 2009.
All of this, though, was somewhat hidden by the fact that he'd started his career 27-0 with 24 knockouts. He had an exciting style, an affable and refreshingly honest demeanor, and he was Mexican-American, looking to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion there’s ever been.
He got that chance on September 26, 2009, when he faced Vitali Klitschko at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the WBC belt. Arreola weighed in at 251 pounds. Klitschko dominated him, the fight stopped after 10 rounds. Arreola’s toughness, heart, and determination were unquestionable. But against Vitali Klitschko, a man very serious about his career and his preparation, Arreola’s lack of discipline exposed him.
To be fair, there’s probably no version of Arreola that beats Vitali Klitschko. If he had his best night and Klitschko his worst, it’s probably still a tall order. Klitschko, like Sandor Clegane to Beric Dondarrion, is simply better than Arreola. But whatever chance he might have had, there was a belief that he'd left it in training, left it on the scales, that he hadn’t come as good as he could have been.
Arreola returned to action just over two months later, with another HBO fight against Brian Minto. HBO rather infamously had a video package and interview with Arreola saying that he was going to be more committed to his training, to making sure he was in the best shape he could be, and then he showed up at a career-high 263 pounds. Whatever hope there was for Arreola to be a serious player either went away there, or in April 2010 when he lost a decision to Tomasz Adamek, a natural light heavyweight who was able to beat Arreola because he was better disciplined, both in and out of the ring.
Since then, Arreola has been something of a curiosity in the division. He got himself into better shape and won some fights over guys everyone knew he would beat — Manny Quezada, Joey Abell, Nagy Aguilera, Kendrick Releford, Raphael Butler, Eric Molina — before a 2013 loss to Bermane Stiverne, a one-sided decision. Arreola got a faint glimmer of hope back with a first round stoppage of heavyweight hype job Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell after that, but another loss to Stiverne in 2014, with the vacant WBC title at stake, was another big setback.
Arreola has been unimpressive since. He had to fight tooth-and-nail against club fighter Curtis Harper in March 2015, winning a close eight-round decision, another fight where he was well over his ideal weight. He was fortunate to escape a fight with Fred Kassi with a draw. And he was just as fortunate to get a majority decision over Travis Kauffman in December, only for that fight to be changed to a no-contest when Arreola tested positive for marijuana.
But here he is again, his third shot at the WBC heavyweight title, against a tall, rangy, and very powerful Deontay Wilder. Does he deserve to be in this fight? No, frankly, but "deserve" is not often how people get world title shots in boxing. He’s got the right connections, he’s got at least a sliver of name value left, and he was available.
Matchup Grade: C-. I could go D+ here, honestly, because Arreola has looked like a half-washed up fringe contender at best in his last few fights. Two years ago, I suspect there would have been some picking Arreola to beat Wilder, to catch him with a big shot and expose another heavyweight pretender. But now that Wilder has trounced Stiverne and successfully defended his belt three times, even against less than stellar opponents, he's gained a lot more respect for his abilities, and his record is taken more seriously. Add in that Arreola long ago forfeited his own case for being taken seriously, and you’ve got a fight that doesn't really cut the mustard. But Arreola is never in BORING fights, so I’ll be generous. It could be over quickly, but one thing is for sure: Chris Arreola is going to come out swinging. He’s going to give this whatever he’s got left. And you never know.
Sammy Vasquez vs Felix Diaz
Record: 21-0 (10 KO) ... Streak: W21 ... Last 5: 5-0 ... Last 10: 10-0 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5’10" / 71" ... Age: 30
Thoughts: "The Who Can Mexican" from Monessen, Pennsylvania, has worked his way into contention over the last two years, since stepping up his competition a bit in 2014 with wins over James Stevenson and Alberto Mosquera. Last year, he beat Emmanuel Lartei Lartey, Wale Omotoso, and Jose Lopez, and started 2016 well with a dominant win over Aron Martinez in January.
The questions about whether or not Vasquez is good have pretty much stopped. He can fight, there’s really no question about that. He’s a good boxer, and he’s got some style and some flair, too. He’s not a big puncher, though, and it’s not hard to imagine a lack of power being a hindrance should he get in with the division’s elite.
Vasquez was supposed to face fellow southpaw Luis Collazo, a battled-tested veteran and crafty fighter who may well have given him trouble. Instead, he gets Felix Diaz, another fellow southpaw who may well give him trouble. Either way, this does figure to be Vasquez’s stiffest test to date. His win over Martinez in January put him in line for a shot at the WBC title currently held by Danny Garcia, but another fight or two like this one is probably the right call. Vasquez may not be young for a half-prospect, but he’s not going to get old between now and 2017, either.
Record: 17-1 (8 KO) ... Streak: L1 ... Last 5: 4-1 ... Last 10: 9-1 ... Stance: Southpaw ... Height/Reach: 5'5" / 67" ... Age: 32
Thoughts: Felix Diaz won an Olympic gold medal in Beijing back in 2008. After he turned pro, it was a little hard to see how, to be honest. Diaz really was not impressive from 2009-13, didn’t advance his career much, and looked like one of those guys who did well at the Olympics and seemed to have pro promise, but it didn’t really work out.
In 2014, he got through a fight with Adrian Granados, winning a majority decision. Granados can fight, and it wasn’t a robbery, and that win looks a bit better in retrospect. A dominant win over Tito Bracero came last April, and then Diaz faced Lamont Peterson in October, losing a controversial majority decision in a fight I thought he’d done enough to win, and which was easily his most impressive pro performance.
Diaz, though, feels like a bit of a wild card to me. He could come off of that Peterson fight invigorated and ready to show he’s a contender, and that could be trouble for Vasquez. Or he could come off of it a bit flat, frustrated by a loss that maybe should have been a win, taking his undefeated record from him. It’s also entirely possible that he fights more like he did before the Peterson bout, and that Vasquez just, you know, beats him.
Matchup Grade: B-. Not a bad fight at all, but its quality will largely depend on which Felix Diaz shows up. If he’s as good as he was against Peterson, this is a 50-50 fight. If he’s more like he was before, it’s an edge to Vasquez. This is a proving ground fight for both of them, really.