By P.H. Burbridge – The moment of truth has arrived for Cristobal “The Nightmare” Arreola. In one fight he can make a special kind of history that no other fighter of his ethnic background has ever come close to making. It may not mean much to the world at large but it means a great deal to many Mexican-American’s like my self. (Burbridge? Mexican? Half Mexican on my Mother’s side.) You see over the year’s fight fans from Mexico and Chicano’s here in the U.S. have kind of resigned ourselves to the fact that we simply weren’t big enough to compete with the real big men of the sport. We’ve had heavyweights in the past but they’ve always been too short, too fat and it was clear that they were masquerading in a division in which they simply didn’t belong.. The results have been predictable and sometimes down right embarrassing. Manuel Ramos was a legitimate big man and so was Alex Garcia but they simply didn’t have legitimate talent to succeed at the highest level. Up until recently the fact that there wasn’t a major fighter representing us at heavyweight wasn’t that big a deal because by most accounts in America “the heavyweight division was dead anyway”. Most of us stay focused on the lower weight divisions because the fighting is so much better there. The punch output, the technique, the rivalries, the drama, EVERYTHING! We’ve been lucky enough to have the best fighter in the world in Julio Cesar Chavez and then right after him the most bankable fighter the sport has ever known in Oscar De La Hoya.
So, by anyone’s standards we’ve been pretty well represented on the world stage.
BUT, having said all that we still haven’t had the “Baddest Man on the Planet” which is what the heavyweight champion of the world is supposed to be. Chris Arreola has a legitimate shot at changing that and if he’s successful on September 26, 2009 and becomes the WBC-Heavyweight Champion of the world he also has a legitimate shot at becoming the new face of boxing in America. The terms of his life will be irreversibly altered when he awaken the morning of September 27th win or lose. It’s clear from all the rhetoric and negative commentary floating around the web that people in general are pretty pessimistic about Arreola’s chances. I created “The Nightmare Diary” series last year to chronicle the career of this young fighter on what I felt would be a historic trip. Is there a “La Raza” element to it on my part by choosing him as the subject? Yeah, a little but that hasn’t stopped me from saying the things I felt needed to be said. Over the course of this series I’ve questioned every aspect of his career, his overall dedication, his commitment to training, his weight, his trainer, his promoter, everything. But, one thing I’ve never questioned was his talent or his ability to evolve as a fighter. Whether people like it or not or have enough of a boxing background to recognize it Chris Arreola has evolved and IS a serious contender for the crown. Anyone who punches with that type of fluidity and is as heavy handed as he is must be taken seriously. I believe the fight with Vitali Klitschko will legitimize Arreola in the same way that Vitali was legitimized in his fight against Lennox Lewis. In that fight Lennox was the respected champion who was expecting to fight someone else when Vitali jumped in with not much more preparation time than Arreola has for this fight. There were many questions about Vitali’s ability to overcome adversity back then. People questioned his resume and pointed to his loss to Chris Byrd as proof that he couldn’t deal with a fighter of Lewis’ caliber. Well, that night Vitali answered those questions and emerged as a major force in the division. Many people have speculated that HE was the one who convinced Lennox Lewis to retire. Can Arreola can do the same to Vitali? The stage has been set! I think Vitali is one tough fight away from calling it a career and this could be the fight that convinces him to sit down and root for little brother. No one figures to hit him harder or as often as Chris Arreola.
Upon careful analysis of Vitali I’ve come to believe that there’s a number of ways that Arreola can achieve success in this fight.
First let’s clear away some of the brush and take a good look at Vitali Klitschko.
VK received a lot of criticism for his last performance against Juan Carlos Gomez. But, in fairness it was a style conflict. Gomez’s southpaw stance and unorthodox approach made Klitschko look easy to hit early in that fight. Gomez came out fast and used a lot of quick lunges and lead left hands to score in the first 2 rounds. It actually started off like it was going to be a fight. I was surprised Juan Carlos could reach him so easily. For a moment I thought this might be the fight where VK ages before our eyes. His mouth was wide open early which is somewhat of a habit for him regardless of the level of fatigue but he did seem genuinely off with his timing. But, as usual once his opponent came off his toes he was able to get his rhythm down it became a fencing match. He made the necessary adjustments and found enough holes to completely take over the fight by round 5. VK has GREAT ring generalship and he almost always dictates the pace of a fight. He’s one of the best jab artists the division has ever seen. I believe he is comparable to Larry Holmes in the sense because he can win a fight just with his jab. He also has a booming right hand. I wouldn’t say that his right hand is as devastating as Lennox Lewis’ but it’s certainly a MAJOR problem. It’s not delivered with great speed. In fact, he typically telegraphs that shot. From the outside looking in opponents probably think they’ll be able to avoid that shot. That’s what they “think”. Chances are if you’re fighting on the outside with VK you’re going to get hit with that shot regardless. It’s a combination of awkwardness and great reach that make this punch so deceptive. Opponents get facially numb taking one jab after another and then he breaks up the monotony with either a looping right hand or a laser straight right hand. He lives and breathes on outside. VK also throws a lot of arm punches and he sometimes does it from a stance on the wrong foot. It can look amateurish at times but he makes these things work because of his great athleticism. There’s nothing aesthetically pleasing or graceful about his fighting style but it’s HIGHLY effective. Once he softens opponents up with his jab he then increases the number of lead right he throws at a time when his opponent are so battered or battling fatigue that they can’t counter. It’s a calculated move which shoots his connect percentage way up towards the middle to late rounds. He’s patient. He doesn’t need to knock you out right away. He’s willing to do the work to get you later. It’s a characteristic deeply ingrained in his fighting psyche.
Vitali is great at shutting opponents down before they can get started
He has a number of outlet punches to maintain distance and to control the pace. He throws a minor variation of his right hand going backwards. It’s almost a half uppercut that he’ll use when an opponent is advancing and when he’s stepping back. He’s not fully set when he fires that shot so the power should be manageable but opponents should be weary nonetheless. There is enough sting there to disrupt your timing which is all he’s trying to do. He’s preventing his opponent from getting set to fire to the body. Vitali ALWAYS set’s the pace and if it gets too fast he quickly applies a liberal amount of holding and leaning on his opponent. He often get’s away with holding. He does a very clever thing. He turns his man while he’s holding him which gives the referee the impression that he’s about to get set and “work his way out”. That forces the referee to hesitate to SEE if he actually does throw a punch. More often than not he doesn’t throw a punch and is just turning and leaning on his man. It buys him important rest during a fight and also hinders his opponent’s ability to work on the inside. It’s damn clever and the fact that he does it reminds us again that he’s one of the smartest fighters out there. That’s only one of many subtle tricks of the trade that he’s mastered but it’s the one that has the potential to hurt Arreola’s chances the most. Arreola has to train for it and his trainer, Henry Ramirez needs to point it out to the referee so it get’s shut down ASAP.
Arreola MUST be free to work on the inside!
Even with all the great things VK has going for him not all the performance indicators from the Gomez fight were positive and I think most boxing analyst would agree there were elements that told an entirely different story than was reflected in the final outcome of the bout. You must examine the rounds incrementally to determine where a fighter is vulnerable. Failure analysis has nothing to do with the performance of the opponent and everything to do with the subject’s failure to execute in certain situations. There are subtle features that begin to appear in a fighter as he gets older and you have to analyze each and everyone one of them to understand how they might become an opportunity for your fighter. This type of analysis is beyond simple observation of the opponent’s last fight or his level of competition. It’s primarily focused on the subject and his overall execution, his responsiveness and his recognition of certain situations in the ring. You’re looking for his trigger points and how he compensates when he’s taken out of his comfort zone. By doing that you can set a realistic fight plan based on the current and actual dimensions of the man you’re fighting rather than fighting his resume.
Resumes don’t win fights. We’ve all seen that principal proven over and over in our sports history.
Vitali is starting to show some traits of a fighter on the decline. These traits are subtle but clearly apparent to the trained eye. His hand speed has diminished, his foot work indicates that he no longer has the same bounce or energy level that he did prior to his retirement. This is natural and what you would expect from a professional fighter who is 38 years old. He has also incurred significant injuries during his career that have contributed greatly to this decline. Don’t misinterpret when I use the word “decline” because VK still has enough to beat nearly any one they put in front of him. I’m just underlining a change in his out put and his attributes. Back in 2005 he had surgery on his back as well as tears of a meniscus and a cruciate ligament in his right knee. Those injuries have clearly impacted his overall mobility which is visible in the Vitali of today. He himself is aware of it and fights accordingly. He does not expend a tremendous amount of energy on useless or wild shots and he’s keenly focused on keeping the fight stationary and at a controlled the pace. If VK controls the pace then he wins this fight.
If Arreola can disrupt that pace and chop up the timing then he will have been successful in taking VK out of his comfort zone.
AND, that’s the key!
Arreola needs to be the “anti” everything in this fight. He’s going to need to force the pace by staying close and when he’s not punching on the inside he needs to use his weight to lean on Vitali. I don’t think CA can knock out VK with one left hook but I do think he can either stun him or do facial damage with that shot. He is naturally a heavy handed fighter and although I wouldn’t say he’s a one punch knock out artist he certainly can make you feel like sitting down for a moment with one shot. Arreola will want to inflict as many abrasions on VK’s face as possible in the hope of getting a TKO. VK has suffered major cuts and abrasions in the past and even though it’s a long shot for Arreola he shouldn’t leave that on the table. Rough him up on the inside!
One mistake that almost all of VK’s opponents make is head hunting. For some reason everyone wants to test his chin which we all know is first rate. From everything I’ve reviewed which included his last 10 fights, he’s got a FIRST CLASS CHIN. “MAYBE” you can get him out with a shot upstairs if you go through his body first but nothing I’ve reviewed leads me to believe that ANYONE is going to get him out when he’s fresh with one shot up top. I’m not saying it’s impossible but it’s highly unlikely. For Arreola forget about his head! At least early. Play the odds and go to the body. His age, his inability to fight on the inside and the fact that he’s never been truly tested to the body demands that Arreola spend ALL his time getting underneath that jab and IN TO HIS BODY. Vitali is likely working with sparring partners who are throwing hard left hooks on the inside in anticipation of Arreola’s. CA needs work his right hand on the inside to open VK up and balance his attack. The right hand may be the key to sustaining a consistent body attack and I’m confident that he and Henry Ramirez are working on that angle. VK’s height has allowed him to avoid most head shots by simply leaning back. He’s always taking the power off shots by doing that. The pre-retirement Vitali could move his entire body out of the way with his legs but not so much in the current day. That aspect of his game is disappearing. If I’m Henry Ramirez I’m making sure the sparring partners are mimicking that lean back move so CA recognizes Vitali’s footing and fires to the body. DON’T reach for his head. Feint to his head. The training tactic should be to slip or slap down that long jab and take 2 quick steps inside to his right and start firing. Arreola is moving to his own right so he can avoid VK’s right hand counter. The likelihood of VK countering that move with his left hand is pretty low. He won’t expose himself to an over hand right. He’ll either attempt to fire across his own body with a counter right hand or he’ll reach out to hold Arreola with the left while slapping him with his own right just before clinching. He uses that move over and over again. Chris needs to keep his left up when he’s in that position to block that slapping half hook/uppercut shot.
Arreola must make sure once he is inside that HE’s the one moving his hands. NO EXCEPTIONS! They don’t all have to be bone crushing shots but he has to be the one that’s perceived to be doing all the work and VK has to be the one perceived to be doing all the holding. Moving his hands on the inside is something Gomez failed to do consistently. He did a little of it early on but abandoned it when he didn’t get immediate results. He went right back to head hunting and VK carved him up for lunging in. Arreola CANNOT abandon it. He must stay committed even if the early perception is that he’s losing rounds. He’ll have to put on his Julio Cesar Chavez face and stay focused just as Julio did against Meldrick Taylor. For Henry Ramirez, he needs to preach that in the corner and give positive affirmation that it’s working. Ramirez also needs to start the complaining process early and loudly if he sees that his guy is being held. He needs the referee take points away from VK if it continues. This is the key to the fight. Vitali Klitschko has never developed an inside game. His great amateur pedigree was built on the classic European style of fight which mandates and outside attack. For all the many alterations his style has undertaken over the years that one aspect has never been mastered. It’s partly due to his size. Big men with long arms are at a disadvantage when fighting on the inside because the guy with the shorter arms will be able to deliver his punches first. VK’s coping mechanism is to hold and that will remain his tactic for the Areola fight. If you see VK attempt to fight on the inside at any point in this fight you know he is doing something that is completely out of character and should be viewed as making a MAJOR mistake. I believe he’s too smart to do it so, expect a lot of holding.
Arreola’s power is important but not the key to this fight. His day’s as a light heavyweight should really benefit him from a style standpoint because it calls for a relative high punch output. IF he can successfully get inside then he should win this fight. He’s more than capable of throwing 3 to 1. IF this becomes an outside battle then Chris Arreola’s chances begin to diminish significantly. My sense is that VK will be able to hold CA at bay for the first few rounds when he has the legs to do so. After that he will become more stationary and have a difficult time holding on to Arreola. Vitali will be forced to fight at close quarters and he’ll simply be out worked.
The heavyweight championship is the next logical step for Mexican fighters. They have just about conquered all other ground.
It’s time for someone to walk on the moon.
I’m just hoping Chris Arreola will be the one planting the American flag!
(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at PHBboxing@yahoo.com with any comments or feedback.)