Sharkie's Machine: Growing Pains For 'Mighty' Mike Arnaoutis

19.02.05 - By Frank Gonzalez Jr.: Friday night at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez California, "Mighty Mike" Arnaoutis (photo: Tom Casino/Showtime) upped his record to 13-0-2-6 KO's as he defended his NABO Jr. Welterweight Title, taking on the unheralded, former Lightweight, Roberto Santa Cruz (11-3-2 KO's).

The Greek pugilist has been a hot property as of late, fighting six times in 2004 and showing improvements with each performance. Arnaoutis is a fairly slick boxer with fast hands, who recently added some sneaky power to his arsenal..

Roberto Santa Cruz has not fought since May of 2003. He gave a poor account of himself in his first two rounds of televised boxing. He hardly threw a punch. After two rounds of target practice, Arnaoutis looked to referee, Jack Reiss as if to ask, "Is this guy going to fight or what?"

For the Main Event on ShoBox, it looked like a lousy match up favoring Arnaoutis from the start. Santa Cruz was not a competitive and gave the impression that he was only be there to make Mike look good. The fans were not getting their money's worth and booed loudly after the second round was more boring than the first. But in the third round, something wonderful happened-Santa Cruz decided to fight.

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The Fight

Round 1
Santa Cruz kept his guard up and his work rate down. Arnaoutis was the only one fighting as he popped his reluctant opponent with jabs and combinations that were finding the mark. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 2
Santa Cruz rarely threw a punch and the crowd jeered. Arnaoutis did his job, worked his jab, and landed unanswered punches frequently. The fans were booing and Arnaoutis stepped up his output to quell the crowd. As the round came to a close, Arnaoutis looked to the referee as if to ask, "Is this guy here to fight or just stand there?" 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 3
Santa Cruz seemed to get the message that he was in the ring to fight and finally unleashed some offense. He caught Arnaoutis on the nose with a right hand that had to hurt. Surprised, Arnaoutis got busy, popped his jab and took the fight to Santa Cruz, who was suddenly fighting back. As the round progressed, Mike's nose got redder and started swelling. While he didn't do enough to win the round, Santa Cruz did some damage. But Arnaoutis scored more. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 4
They boxed, with Arnaoutis popping his jab and throwing occasional combinations. Santa Cruz came alive again and landed a big left hand that shook Arnaoutis. Out of nowhere, Santa Cruz was suddenly the aggressor, backing Arnaoutis up and scoring with left, right combinations. Santa Cruz' herky-jerky movement made him tough to defend as his punches came from strange angles. At one point, Santa Cruz pressed Arnaoutis into the ropes and Arnaoutis slipped. It was rightly ruled such. Suddenly, there was a fight going on. Whenever Santa Cruz would throw punches, he was landing and the crowd was screaming. He assaulted Mike with a flurry of punches against the ropes. The fans cheered wildly when the bell rang as Santa Cruz convincingly won his first round. With a bloody nose and a confused look, Arnaoutis walked to his corner. 10-9 Santa Cruz.

Round 5
They traded punches in the center ring. Santa Cruz connected with a big right hand that stunned Arnaoutis, who boxed his way out of trouble and popped Santa Cruz with some pitty-pat shots of his own. Santa Cruz landed another big right. Arnaoutis had a concerned look as Roberto's confidence was rising. The energy in the arena was pumping adrenaline into Mike's opponent. Santa Cruz was awkwardly effective as he pressed Arnaoutis into the ropes. Arnaoutis, who was spitting blood, got caught with a big right hand that slammed him into the ropes in a way that forced me to believe that if it weren't for the ropes, he'd have fallen onto the scorer's table. The blow left a gash on the bridge of Arnaoutis' nose. It should have been called a knockdown but the referee didn't make the call. I did. 10-8 Santa Cruz.

Round 6
Santa Cruz had turned the tables and was now the hunter, crashing Arnaoutis into the ropes and wailing on his body and head with awkward punches that came from all over the place. Arnaoutis dotted the canvas with bloody spit as he boxed his way out of trouble with lessening authority. Arnaoutis scored some shots late in the round but not enough to win it. 10-9 Santa Cruz.

Round 7
Arnaoutis boxed better and landed some solid combinations, including a stinging left uppercut followed by a nice body shot that backed Santa Cruz up. Santa Cruz became aggressive late and backed Arnaoutis into a corner, where he let loose the leather. But it was too little, too late and Arnaoutis did more to win the round. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 8
Santa Cruz pressed the action, banging Arnaoutis with wild shots. Arnaoutis landed another good body shot, followed by a right jab that landed cleanly. Santa Cruz was winning the crowd over as he aggressively pursued Arnaoutis and scored enough to win another round and make it an ever-closer fight. 10-9 Santa Cruz.

Round 9
Arnaoutis boxed well from the outside, popping shots and regaining control of the tempo. Suddenly, Santa Cruz was back to doing nothing as he hardly mounted any offense in the ninth as fatigue set in. Late in the round, Santa Cruz landed a solid right hand that pushed Arnaoutis into the ropes as Santa Cruz rallied but it just wasn't enough to win the round. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 10
It was all Arnaoutis, boxing circles around Santa Cruz, who looked spent and was only fighting in spurts. Arnaoutis landed a good body shot that sapped even more energy from Santa Cruz, who rallied in the closing seconds of the round but it was not enough. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 11
They traded shots, with Arnaoutis getting the better of the exchanges. Again, Santa Cruz, tired as he was, rallied late. The crowd loved it but again, it was just not enough. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

Round 12
Santa Cruz was fatigued as he threw wild shots that mostly missed. Arnaoutis was landing his shot and dominated the action in the last round with effective aggression and cleaner punches. 10-9 Arnaoutis.

It was over. I added up my scorecard and had Arnaoutis up, 115-112.

The Judges scores were announced as follows:

Ralph Mc Knight-114-114 Even.
Dave Mendoza-115-113 for Arnaoutis.
Dr. Jim Jan Kin-116-112 for Arnaoutis.

Mighty Mike had won by Majority Decision.

The crowd booed as Arnaoutis was named the winner. Roberto Santa Cruz had won them over. If the results of the fight depended on crowd reaction, Santa Cruz would have won. Watching an underdog rise up with a full heart is inspiring. But the reality was that Arnaoutis had done enough to win the fight. He just didn't win impressively. He knew it too and wasted no time exiting from the ring and into the locker room.

* * *

Coming into this fight, Arnaoutis was a heavy favorite and his attitude was borderline cocky from the opening bell. But by the end of the fight, Arnaoutis did not look happy. Though he won the fight, he lost the crowd. This fight did nothing to improve the image of "Mighty" Mike Arnaoutis, who boasted that he would knock Roberto Santa Cruz out early. His over confidence proved to be no ally Friday night.

This fight was an excellent experience for young Arnaoutis because it went the distance. Rounds are experience. Experience is invaluable. Arnaoutis faced adversity but rose up to win the last four rounds and add another W to his resume. But, in some ways, this fight hurt Arnaoutis. The tapes of this bout will leave a blueprint for how other fighters might approach him down the line. It certainly exposed some of the chinks in his Armour, like his susceptibility to pressure.

To his credit, Arnaoutis kept his focus, used his boxing skills and ultimately got the job done. Mighty Mike also showed some poise under pressure and in the end, his superior boxing skills and stamina were the deciding factor in this victory.

Whatever mystique Arnaoutis might've gained had he won more impressively, went to Santa Cruz, who surprised everyone with a show of heart and the spirit of a Warrior. Though he lost the fight, his stock went up. With hard work and more activity, he could become a notable prospect himself. Hopefully Roberto learned a valuable lesson and maybe in his next fight, he won't waste the first two rounds.

As for Arnaoutis, he's good, but he's still a work in progress.

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Article posted on 19.02.2005

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