by Cliff Rold
In a well made preview feature on last week’s Friday Night Fights, Heavyweight Chris Arreola (36-3, 31 KO) talked about how much it would mean to win the “green belt” held by so many of his fistic heroes growing up. He has his second chance to do it this weekend.
That green belt, the WBC’s, is vacant in the aftermath of Vitali Klitschko’s retirement and pursuit of issue far bigger than any boxing ring can hold. Arreola’s first chance, against Klitschko in 2009, ended in a one-sided drubbing. One year ago, fighting for a chance to be the WBC mandatory, Arreola took another fairly one-sided loss to Bermane Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KO).
He has a chance to avenge that loss and capture the glory that eluded him almost five years ago. It should be a fun fight and, yes, the winner will leave with the “green belt.”
In the Heavyweight division in 2014, winning a belt isn’t enough.
In the words of Ric Flair, to be the man, you gotta’ beat the man. There is only one real Heavyweight Champion right now. His name is Wladimir Klitschko (62-3, 52 KO). If you haven’t defeated him, all you’ve really done is agree to shell out some green so someone will call you ‘champ’ before the honor is earned.
So the big question of the week besides who wins Saturday is this: will Saturday’s victor be satisfied with a shiny new diadem? Or will they move on to trying to beat the man?
It doesn’t look like that’s the immediate direction things are headed. Last week, there was news of an angry altercation between Stiverne and undefeated 2008 Olympic Bronze Medalist Deontay Wilder (31-0, 31 KO). Wilder and Arreola have exchanged words through the press over the last year as well. Wilder has a good chance to be elevated to the WBC’s mandatory position in the near future.
Stiverne is promoted by Don King. Arreola and Wilder are both handled by Al Haymon. Both Haymon and King have proven over the years that putting their guys in as big underdogs isn’t always the first priority when they don’t have a piece of the favorite.
This is where the belt at stake this weekend derives its worth. Maybe the winner isn’t the man, but they improve their economic condition because belts have economic value. Against Klitschko, it would be a chip in negotiations. It also provides a chance to make money without him.
American audiences have shown some apathy for the World Champion. His ratings have been so-so from fight to fight. He is such a monster draw overseas there hasn’t been any reason to bring the show live to these shores since 2008.
Arreola-Stiverne II leading to the winner against Wilder first could actually be what’s best for Heavyweight. How much buzz has there been for boxing’s premiere class in America in recent years? A short sort of mini-round robin between these three can serve the purpose of building a contender to the throne and reinvest American audiences. Would they invest enough to believe Arreola or Stiverne would really have a shot against Klitschko?
Based on past performances from each, maybe not.
That potentially makes the real story here Wilder. Is he for real? There are reasons to be skeptical. The record is great. The size, power, and speed are for real. Huge questions linger about his chin, his stamina in a fight that goes competitive rounds, and his matchmaking.
Let’s be honest. There were complaints about the way Haymon built fighters like Andre Berto and Adrien Broner. Their matchmaking looks positively 1980s Main Events-esque compared to Wilder so far.
Facing and defeating the winner of Stiverne-Arreola II would go a long way to answering the questions. Both Arreola and Stiverne can flat crack and have shown durability. They aren’t going to just fall over. There is a feeling here that what we’re seeing this weekend is as much about setting the stage for the validation, or implosion, of the Wilder project as any single fight in the ring.
If the smoke clears and late 2014 or early 2015 has a belted Wilder left standing, American fans will be more interested in the Heavyweight division than they’ve been in years. It’s not about whether or not Wilder can beat Klitschko.
It will be about having someone American fans really want to see try.
While American eyes will be focused on the Heavyweights Saturday night, Filipino fans may have the fight of the day in Pasay City. Donnie Nietes will defend his WBO 108 lb. title against Moises Fuentes in a rematch of an exciting first scrap. Expect more of the same this time around…The WBC has suspended Adrien Broner and that mean what exactly? They have no authority to keep him out of the ring in the US or stop him from fighting for other titles. Great way to generate a headline though…Amir Khan, fighting the way he did last weekend, would give Floyd Mayweather fits. Who cares? Hold, move, and hit is nowhere near as fun as what Marcos Maidana almost pulled off. Rematch please…Kazuto Ioka has accomplished a lot for a fighter still well shy of 20 pro fights and he’s done it by being a superb fundamental fighter. All of that worked against him against Amnat Ruenroeng on Wednesday and, after his first loss, it’s clear he needs to learn to improvise a Plan B. The loss will be a good learning experience. For Ruenroeng, it’s one more log on the fire at 112 lbs. as he somewhat validates a belt that should really still be with Moruti Mthalane.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]