By Jake Donovan
This time, Chris Arreola swears he’s ready to take his career seriously.
Sheepishly grin all you want, but there’s something to the Californian’s claim of putting past demons behind him that makes this weekend’s showdown with Seth Mitchell more than just a matchup of Al Haymon-advised heavyweights gaining TV team. The two fringe contender will square off at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, Calif., with Showtime to televise the crossroads bout.
“This is a must-win fight,” Arreola acknowledges, even if stating the obvious. "I respect his conditioning and his determination to be somebody. Mitchell was a good football player, but I've been in this game too long to lose to somebody like that. If I lose to some guy like Seth Mitchell I would seriously contemplate retirement.
“I'm not a gatekeeper and I never want be that guy you beat so my name looks good on your resume. I'm not that kind of a fighter. I'm a world-class athlete, a world-class boxer.”
The lackadaisical nature in which he approached past training camps and the manner in which he lost to Bermane Stiverne in his last ring appearance in fact suggested a potential future heading towards Palookaville. Arreola looked far removed from the once-promising knockout artist who power punched his way to title contention before eating and drinking his way out of his prime.
Against Stiverne, what the boxing world bore witness to was a heavyweight who squandered most of his best years and was clearly on the way out. It was enough for Arreola to wake up and realize his career was at red alert status, and that change was imminent if he were to ever again rise to the top.
"It took me until I was 32 but I've finally grown up a little” Arreola admits. “For once, I'm doing what it takes to give myself the best chance to win. I've always been my own worst enemy, but this time it's not like that. I've got to make sure I walk the walk, and that everything I say I'm going to do happens.”
“I can't blame anybody else. I work my butt off once I'm in the gym, but getting to the gym wasn't always automatic. I'd always come up with excuses for not going.”
There were no such excuses this time around. Fed up with his fighter’s excuses, trainer Henry Ramirez was prepared to read his top client the Riot Act, and prepare to focus more of his time and energy on other students who’d greater appreciate what he has to offer in a fighter’s corner.
It never reached that point, however. Once he was able to properly breathe again following injuries sustained versus Stiverne in their title eliminator this past March, Arreola took the initiative to let his trainer know he was absolutely ready to change his ways.
“It was totally my idea to relocate and go to Phoenix,” Arreola reveals of his first distraction-free training camp in years. “We've trained in Las Vegas, Houston, Big Bear, places like that. But they were not quite far enough away. For this camp I wanted to be far away, but close enough. When I'm in Riverside, I find reasons not to train. In Phoenix, I didn't have the opportunity to go out.
“Out in Phoenix, we only had one car, and Henry did all the driving. He also had the only key. So relocating paid off. I put in the time. I did my training camp the way I've always supposed to be doing it. All I did was concentrate on boxing.''
The six week camp in the Southwestern desert has produced a version of Arreola that fans fell in love with when he was appearing on pay-per-view undercards in the mid-2000’s before making his way to HBO’s airwaves.
It was there where Arreola received his breakthrough moment, drilling Chazz Witherspoon inside of three rounds. The win – even if ultimately ruled a draw based on a technicality – remains his crowning achievement, which only underlines that far more work needs to be done.
“Chris can't train at home, simple as that,” explains Ramirez. “His preparation before the last fight was no-where near what a professional fighter at that level should have - nowhere near. Mitchell is a good fighter. I don't necessarily feel he's at that top, upper-echelon level that some are putting him at but he's still a dangerous opponent. He's coming off a victory over a guy that knocked him out.
"I would expect him to be fully confident and to be the best Seth Mitchell that there is. What that is, I really don't know. But I know it's not enough to beat Chris. It's been a different Chris for this camp. I knew everything he was doing. We went to the gym together. He didn't have access to a car. There weren't any missed days. Chris showed up for workouts twice every day. Mitchell is not going to benefit from an unprepared Chris Arreola, I can guarantee that."
Early talks suggest a far more focused version of the former heavyweight contender as well. Arreola is three years removed from a miserably failed bid at Vitali Klitschko’s portion of the heavyweight title. Perhaps a blessing in disguise, Arreola’s recent loss to Stiverne meant that a second shot versus the elder Klitschko won’ going to happen, or even a first shot against younger brother and lineal heavyweight champ Wladimir.
Instead, the fleeting heavyweight contender takes on ex-footballer Mitchell, who is coming off of a revenge-motivated points win over previous conqueror Johnathon Banks this past June.
"If there is one word that describes me for this fight that word is 'motivated.' I'm motivated, much more than in the past. I'm motivated to beat this guy, to put him on his butt and in his place. There's no way this man should beat me. The main thing is, I cannot give Mitchell any opportunity to win this fight at all. It's all on me and that's why I've put in the time.”
"People say he can't take a punch. Well, I can't rely only on hitting him on the chin. I have to make sure and throw combinations and move my head. This is the heavyweight division. Sometimes, one punch can change everything but other times one punch is not good enough.”
It was a lesson Arreola had to learn the hard way – that pure punching power alone won’t get the job done, not without proper conditioning to match. It’s been years since the charismatic heavyweight has been able to put together that combination. The measures taken in this recent training camp suggest a few more good years may still be left, after all.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox