Is Cristobal Arreola the next great American heavyweight?

By P.H. Burbridge - Over the last 10 to 15 there has been a not so subtle change in the heavyweight division. American heavyweights who once ruled the division have been over taken by European heavyweights. It really started when Lennox Lewis, the first British fighter to win the title in nearly a century established himself as the best heavyweight in the world. Lennox’s success ushered in a change in climate and the end of American dominance. Currently, Eastern European fighters are the preeminent force in the division. Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko have accomplished an incredible feat that will go down in the annals of professional boxing by becoming the only brothers to hold heavyweight world titles simultaneously. That particular milestone may last a lifetime and beyond.. Opinions vary on the Klitschko’s but you can’t question that “they” are the best the division has to offer. They approach matters in a methodical almost clinical manner using their natural athletic gifts along with their size, 6’ 6” and 6’ 7 ½” to control fights. That’s probably the best term to describe their fighting style. They “control” the events in the ring. It’s not the most thrilling style we’ve ever seen but it sure is effective.

Behind the Klitschko’s there are a number of accomplished Eastern European heavyweights waiting for their turn in the spotlight. Ruslan Chagaev, Nikolai Valuev, Alexander Povetkin, Alexander Dimitrenko, Sultan Ibragimov and Vladimir Virchis. There’s no shortage of talent. The American and British scenes are not as contested. I would say former cruiserweight champion, David “The Hayemaker” Haye is the most promising heavyweight to come out of Great Britain since Lennox Lewis. It’s still to early to know whether he has what it takes to compete with the top fighters in the division but he does have some fans pretty excited about his potential. I think win or lose there will be exciting future fights featuring David Haye.

As for America, the field is pretty thin. Some believe 27 year old, Cristobal “The Nightmare” Arreola (25-0, 22 KO’s) “can” be a champion. In my view he certainly has the potential. Views differ whenever the topic of Arreola comes up. Some get caught up in the “he could be the first Mexican heavyweight champion of the world” talk while others are pretty dismissive of his chances stating that there is not one world class opponent on his resume. Frankly, there’s a lot I like about Arreola. The first thing is his attitude in the ring. I like the fact that he goes into the ring with the intent of doing damage. He thinks of himself as a “banger” but I would describe him as more of a “heavy handed” puncher. He definitely has power but it doesn’t appear to be one punch knock out power. There’s nothing fancy about his approach. There’s no incredible speed of hand or foot but there is fluidity to his punching style. He’s always on offense. He’s a consummate combination puncher which is an oddity in the heavyweight division. There’s always a tension in the air when he’s in the ring. You can almost sense the desire to win slowly disappearing from his opponent’s as he chips away at them. From a marketing stand point Arreola is a potential gold mine for Goosen-Tutour Promotions. Considering that Latino fight fans make up a large percentage of the sports consumer base a Mexican-American heavyweight champion would predictably do HUGE numbers if promoted correctly. I don’t think that’s lost on Dan Goosen. They just need a big win over a name opponent to bring more attention to the cause. For some fans being the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage will be a BIG deal when it happens. Being Mexican-American myself I would be one of those fans. Arreola has publicly stated that he wants to be “the one” and frankly, I’d like it to be him as well. It would put to rest another outdated stereotype that Mexican fighters are not big enough to compete in the division. Arreola has the chance to kick that door down once and for all!

Arreola isn’t the first to try. His quest has brought back memories of another heavyweight of Mexican ancestry who fought in the 1960’s thru the 1970’s, Manuel “Pulgarcito” Ramos. Mexican fans still remember that Manuel Ramos for a brief second in time had the heavyweight championship within his grasp. And for that reason he’s still considered Mexico’s most accomplished heavyweight. Reports of the day describe Ramos as a well conditioned fighter who had a good chin and a solid punch. His final ring record of 25-29-3 with 18 KO’s is not that impressive but what is impressive is the list of name opponents that appear on his resume. Eddie Machen, former WBA Heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell, George Chuvalo, Joe Bugner, Joe “King” Roman, Oscar “Ringo” Bonevena, Ron Lyle and Joe Frazier. All those guys were terrific fighters and Ramos gave as good as he got developing a reputation as an action fighter. From the footage I reviewed of Ramos he appeared to have a solid left hook that he relied on quite a bit. He was a very offensive minded risk taker with a “spotty” defense which I’m sure added to the allure of his fights. A kind of Mexican Tommy Morrison. His defensive shortcomings cost him dearly against high caliber fighters like “Smokin” Joe Frazier. In his first and only title shot at Madison Square Garden on June 24th 1968 he challenged Joe Frazier for the New York State Athletic Commission heavyweight championship. It was a spirited brawl while it lasted. Standing toe to toe with Frazier, Ramos landed a terrific short right hand in the first round that staggered Frazier and for a brief second it looked as if he might actually score the upset. But, Frazier quickly regained his composure and went to work with his signature left hook to the body along with some truly excellent right hands to the head. It was a fan friendly action packed fight and Joe more than displayed the qualities that made him great. Frazier ended Manuel Ramos’ dream in round #2. It was simply a case of a GREAT fighter out classing a good one. Manuel Ramos is Mexico’s original heavyweight pioneer and 40 years after he challenged for the heavyweight title Mexican fans are still waiting for one of their own to be called “champion”.

Chris Arreola has an opportunity to not only become the first Mexican fighter to win the title but he can also restore some prestige to the American heavyweight scene. He has a 100+ amateur fight career which peaked in 2001 when he won the National Golden Gloves light heavyweight championship at 178 lbs. That’s pretty hard to imagine now that he’s tipping the scales in the 250 lb range but he does have an excellent foundation to draw from technically. At 6’ 4”, Arreola also has the height to compete with his Eastern European colleagues. He’s very slick defensively and I’m sure when sparring with James “Lights out” Toney a little magic is bound to rub off. If ever there was a guy to learn defense from its Lights out Toney.

The problem for Arreola is obvious. It’s his weight. It’s his conditioning or lack thereof which some say tell you everything you need to know about his level of commitment. Even if Chris came in at a solid 225-230 lbs there’s no guarantee that he would be able to compete with either Wlad or Vitali but one thing is abundantly certain. If he doesn’t get into proper shape his chances of being competitive with either of these champions is pretty remote. Generally speaking, fights are won and lost in the gym. Good fighters beat great fighters when they have a superior work ethic. At this point you have to question Arreola’s team and their ability to bring Chris into a fight in world class shape. It hasn’t happened yet and because of it we don’t know how good Arreola can be. Fortunately, he’s gotten by purely on his talent but time will eventually run out as he ascends in class because his opponents are talented as well.

And, they’re in SHAPE!

He’s ranked #2 IN THE WORLD and he’s under a microscope. Coming in at 258 lbs is NOT the statement he should be making right now. Frankly, he should NEVER make that statement! He needs to look and fight like a well conditioned committed athlete. I’m assuming that Arreola does not have a team member who’s primary role is conditioning and diet. If he does then that guy needs to undergo a SERIOUS performance evaluation because it’s not working. That’s issue #1. Issue #2 is his trainer, Henry Ramirez. I’m going to go easy on Ramirez because there is still a lot I don’t know about him. I partially hold him responsible for Arreola’s lack of commitment and these unacceptable weight issues but I’m not going to damn him until I see what Chris looks like against Travis "Freight Train" Walker on November 29th. The Walker fight represents an opportunity for Chris to make a statement and prove his critics wrong OR to fuel the fire of continued criticism. He can either come in at a lower weight with some intensity or he can come in at 250 lbs+ lumbering about in slow motion! He can’t afford to look bad in this fight. He’s again being showcased on HBO along with Paul “The Punisher” Williams. Any misstep could be disastrous towards future television appearances. He needs another night like his last go around on BAD with Chazz Witherspoon.

In that fight against the undefeated Witherspoon, Arreola made his biggest statement to date and showcased his patience, commitment to technique and punching power but most of all his killer instinct was on full display. I, like many was stunned not by the final result but rather by the method and time frame in which Chris accomplished the task. It was more of an “assault” than a boxing match and even though the final decision was a disqualification of Witherspoon because one of his corner men jumped into the ring before the end of the 3rd round it was obvious what was coming. It was a breakout performance and Arreola badly needs another against Walker.

The 29 year old Travis Walker also has a terrific amateur background and with the exception of one controversial loss in the pro ranks he has an excellent record of 28-1-1 with 22 KO’s. With a win he could easily be the guy people are writing about when it comes to the American scene. I’m looking forward to this fight because it will tell us whether there is a true and legitimate American heavyweight on the rise or if American fans will just have to learn a little patience.

I’m personally hoping that Arreola becomes the heavyweight that captures our imagination. The heavyweight who lives the American dream by rising from humble beginnings and overcoming great obstacles to achieve the status of the best and brightest in the world.

The last few years for American heavyweight boxing hasn’t been a dream at all, it’s been a “NIGHTMARE”!

Article posted on 13.11.2008

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