by David P. Greisman
The measure of a man is the primary purpose of a fair fight. Everything else — the adulation and the money and the various championship belts — is secondary. The fight is a demonstration of what a man is and what he can be, a potentially extraordinary exhibit of skill and heart and determination, all within the context of combat.
There are other measurements taken before a fight for the sake of showing how fair this pugilistic pairing will be: age, height, weight and reach. Those numbers, along with each man’s amount of wins and losses, can be misleading.
On the day before they were to take the measure of each other, Chris Arreola and Seth Mitchell both weighed in at 242 pounds. That was nearly all they had in common.
There were other similarities. Arreola is 32 years old, Mitchell is 31. Arreola is 6-foot-3, while Mitchell is half an inch shorter. Mitchell’s reach is 78 inches, two inches longer than that of Arreola. They both were once heavyweight prospects placed in the spotlight and put on the fast track toward a shot at the two best fighters in their division, Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.
Each had knocked out all but a handful of their opponents. Each of their résumés included third-round victories over Chazz Witherspoon, Arreola’s 2008 win preceding Mitchell’s by about four years. And both are signed with powerful boxing adviser Al Haymon.
They were very different men, however, different in demeanor, different in discipline and how that showed on their builds. They were literally miles apart as well, Arreola hailing from Southern California on the West Coast, Mitchell a country away on the East Coast in a suburb of Washington, D.C.
The most crucial difference, however, was the one that angered Arreola beforehand, the one that delivered him to victory and drove Mitchell to defeat.
It was why it was predictable that Arreola would be the one lifting his arms up in the air, and it was why it was inevitable that Mitchell would be the one lifting himself off the canvas.
Arreola had boxed for most of his life, competed for years as an amateur, turned pro in 2003 at the age of 22 and was being featured on television before Mitchell was first paid to lace up a pair of gloves. Mitchell, meanwhile, was a former college football player with a nominal number of amateur bouts, a fraction of what Arreola had compiled. He turned pro in early 2008 at the age of 25, fought on his first HBO undercard in late 2011, and set a goal of facing a Klitschko as soon as 2013 or 2014.
“It’s like me trying to go out for the NFL,” Arreola told ESNewsReporting.com in a January interview. “You know, just because I’m a big guy, I think I’ma be able to play in the NFL. That’s not the case. It’s two different sports. And I kind of feel a little slighted by someone like him that thinks that boxing is so easy, that’s going to come and just be a heavyweight champion. He’s not. He didn’t pay his dues, you know. He wouldn’t last with someone like a [Malik] Scott or a [Bryant] Jennings or myself, especially.”
Arreola likely also felt slighted because Mitchell, and not him, was among the heavyweights being heavily marketed. The boxing world had largely moved on from Arreola, who himself had once been seen as overhyped, another in a long line of American hopes soon shown as lacking the ability to fulfill those exepctations.
He’d lost a one-sided fight against the bigger Vitali Klitschko in 2009, then dropped a majority decision to the smaller Tomasz Adamek in 2010. He’d be consigned to lesser television slots, vying for another shot while watching others be pushed ahead of him.
At the time of Arreola’s interview earlier this year, Mitchell himself had already suffered his first pro defeat, a loss that in Arreola’s mind might have justified the disdain. Mitchell had been hurt early by Chazz Witherspoon in April 2012 but had recovered and scored a technical knockout. He wouldn’t be able to turn his November 2012 fight with Johnathan Banks around. Banks caught Mitchell with a counter that stunned him, then knocked him down three times in the second round.
Despite this, Arreola knew that Mitchell would be back on a major boxing broadcast. The Banks-Mitchell rematch, postponed from its initial date due to a Banks injury, was scheduled for June on Showtime. Arreola would be back on HBO in April, taking on another upcoming prospect in Bermane Stiverne.
Arreola got knocked down, had his nose broken and lost a wide unanimous decision. Stiverne remained in a mandatory position for a fight with Vitali Klitschko. And Mitchell boxed cautiously against Banks in their rematch, surviving a few frightening moments against an otherwise inactive opponent, and righting his ship with a decision win.
Mitchell’s team saw Arreola as a good choice for the next fight. He was coming off a loss but would make for a meaningful win. Their fight would figure to be much more entertaining than the second Banks bout. And they believed they could capitalize on what they saw as Arreola’s weaknesses.
Arreola knew he could capitalize on Mitchell’s key flaw.
“He has a chandelier chin, and I’m going to punish him,” Arreola told BoxingScene’s Francisco Salazar days before the fight.
"He [Mitchell] says every time I've stepped up, I've lost. You're not a step up, I'm stepping down to you,” Arreola said at the final pre-fight press conference. “You're way down here. You're a step down, and remember that. I didn't have to run the combine or do the 40-yard dash, because trust me I do a six-second 40-yard dash and I don't bench press. That's not what I do. I'm a boxer and I've been boxing since I was 7 years old. I didn't just start boxing just because I couldn't cut it in the NFL or couldn't cut it in football. … I've been boxing my whole life and I'm going to prove it on Saturday night. I'm going to show you that you don't belong in this sport.”
And in August, there was this: “Seth Mitchell will need to bring his football helmet.”
Mitchell did plenty of interviews in the build-up to the bout but largely refrained from trash talk, preferring his retort to come in the ring.
Arreola had always been one for talking, though not so much for training. His weight had fluctuated; he’d come in as low as 229 pounds and as high as 263. His trainer had brought him away from California to the heat of Arizona for this camp. This way, Arreola couldn’t distract himself. He had to go to the gym. He had to win.
Mitchell had to win, too, but he never needed any extraordinary measures to bring himself to the gym. While the noticeably trimmer Arreola would still show some flab at 242 pounds, Mitchell looked far fitter at the same weight. For all of the criticism about Mitchell, he had been committed to improving himself, to returning to the gym almost immediately after each fight, training hard and working to shore up his defense and improve on his deficiencies.
There was one deficiency that just couldn’t be overcome.
Mitchell does not react well when hit with a clean, hard punch. The heavyweight division has long been known as the weight class where a single shot could change the course of a fight. For all of Mitchell’s power and athleticism and dedication and heart, there was nothing he could do in training that would give him a better chin. He could opt for a safer style in the ring, but that would not mesh with his personality nor his physical tools.
His chin would remain a question mark over his head — or in this case, at the bottom of it. His fights would be watched much in the way that Wladimir Klitschko’s were after his knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, and in the way Amir Khan’s were after his knockout loss to Breidis Prescott. People would watch, waiting to see what would happen after the first truly heavy punch landed.
They wouldn’t need to wait very long this past Saturday.
Mitchell boxed, circling in either direction around Arreola for much of the first minute. Arreola stalked, awaiting his opening, his opportunity. When Mitchell led from a distance with a left uppercut and followed it with a looping right, Arreola countered over top with a left hook. Moments later, Arreola threw out a pair of jabs and then turned over a right cross that hit flush and left Mitchell reeling, teetering as he tried to hold on to Arreola.
Arreola twisted his body and directed Mitchell to the canvas. The referee rightly ruled that it was not a knockdown. That didn’t matter. This fight wouldn’t be going to the scorecards.
The action resumed, and Arreola led off with a left hook. Mitchell ducked it, clinching briefly and then backing away. His heart kicked in, as it had done against Witherspoon. He threw a left hook that beat Arreola to the punch, then moved away, with his head still dazed and with the seeming eternity of half a round remaining.
For all of Arreola’s limits, and despite his three losses, he was battle-tested. He kept coming, landing another solid right hand to Mitchell’s chin, then another, and then a left hook followed by a chopping right hand to the side of Mitchell’s head. Soon Mitchell was again tumbling down to the mat, and this time the referee issued a count. Mitchell rose before the count of four and listened to the referee’s mandatory count of eight.
“Can you defend yourself?” the referee asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mitchell responded.
“Do you want to fight?” the referee asked.
“Yes, sir,” Mitchell responded.
“You have to defend yourself,” the referee said.
More than 50 seconds remained in the round.
Mitchell moved, threw a right hand, and then got caught again — and again, and again. He wobbled to his right and into the ropes. The referee jumped in. There was no need to see any more of this match. The end would have been near, the ending clear.
“Easy work!” Arreola yelled out soon afterward. It was just as he’d predicted.
The measure of a man is the primary purpose of a fight. Arreola knew he needed to show his superiority, particularly because of what it would mean if he didn’t.
“I can’t lose two in a row,” Arreola had told BoxingScene’s Francisco Salazar before the bout. “I can’t and won’t lose to this person. If I lose to a fighter the caliber of Mitchell, I might contemplate retirement. I’m not a gatekeeper. So that is my added motivation for me against him.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, understood the ramifications of this defeat.
“I am very disappointed right now,” Mitchell said in a post-fight interview. “I was very confident in my ability to win this fight. Chris Arreola did what he was supposed to do, but it’s just — my heart just hurts right now. I don’t know what to say. I just got to go back to the drawing board. This was a big, big fight for both of us, and I knew that. It was a fight that I definitely wanted. I didn't want to step back from beating Jonathan Banks. It’s just very disappointing right now.”
It’s understandable. No one wants to learn of his limits, to discover that he cannot achieve his goals — to recognize not only that there are people who are so much better than you, but also that there’s nothing that can be done about it.
It is a harsh reality, and so then will these next words be cold comfort: It is not Mitchell’s fault. He wanted to become a boxer, trained hard in the gym, strived to become a better fighter and challenged himself in the ring — which is better than those who never push themselves to see if they belong in the upper echelons of the sport.
He has a powerful offense but a porous defense. Even if he were to become an expert at boxing and blocking and weaving and dodging, there is no such thing as a fighter who never gets hit cleanly. You can’t train for a better chin.
And so while it was inevitable that Seth Mitchell’s chin would let him down, someday he will recognize that there are reasons to hold his head high.
The 10 Count
1. Arreola, meanwhile, moves into the No. 2 position at heavyweight in the World Boxing Council’s rankings, right behind the man who beat him this past April, Bermane Stiverne.
Stiverne is the mandatory challenger for Vitali Klitschko, but Klitschko hasn’t fought since September 2012, won’t fight for the entirety of 2013, and isn’t expected to return until the first half of 2014. The 42-year-old titleholder has been busy with politics in the Ukraine and has been recovering from an injury.
“I don’t think Vitali’s coming back, so give me the rematch [with Stiverne],” Arreola said after Saturday’s fight.
Vitali will only fight one more time, according to what K2 Promotions’ Tom Loeffler told my colleague Mike Coppinger.
It remains to be seen whether Stiverne will wait on the sideline for a shot at the elder Klitschko, or if the WBC will award an interim title to the winner of a fight between, say, Stiverne and Arreola. I imagine that Stiverne’s team might just be in favor of such an idea, given that Stiverne defeated Arreola once already. The interim titleholder would then either get a fight with Vitali (or whoever beats him should Vitali face someone else first) or would become the “full” titleholder should Klitschko retire.
2. Then again, there’s the question — only half tongue-in-cheek — of whether the WBC will seek to punish Arreola for his post-fight comments.
“This title right here doesn’t mean nothing to me,” Arreola said while holding something called the WBC Silver heavyweight title. “I want the big one. I want the world title. That’s what I’m ready for.”
Beyond that, there’s the fact that Arreola cursed in his post-fight interview.
Four years ago, the WBC suspended Arreola from its rankings for six months because of “his foul language in the ring” with the F-words he used in a post-fight interview immediately following his technical knockout loss to Vitali Klitschko.
It was silly, of course. Arreola wasn’t going to be challenging for the WBC title again within those six months, nor was he prevented from fighting again during the ratings suspension. And beyond that, the WBC hadn’t punished other fighters for cursing or for other behavior that pushed the boundaries of taste.
3. Rafael Marquez’s loss to Efrain Esquivias on the undercard was fun at the outset yet difficult to watch. In a vacuum, it was a good fight. But only those living under a rock would have experienced the fight in a vacuum. The rest of us knew who Marquez was — “was” being the operative term.
It was hard watching Marquez struggle against Esquivias — a good fighter but someone who never would have troubled Marquez so much in the past. Esquivias ultimately scored a ninth-round technical knockout, the kind of ending that so many former greats unfortunately need for their careers to conclude.
It was like watching Alfonso Gomez beat Arturo Gatti.
Gatti knew his career was over afterward and said so in his post-fight interview. Marquez said he would think hard about it. As it is, he was taken to the hospital with a fractured right eye orbital, according to Dan Rafael of ESPN.com. Hopefully Marquez and those close to him will decide that he should hang up his gloves and wait five years for his name to be on International Boxing Hall of Fame ballots.
4. And thank goodness that Marquez’s loss will prevent what his promoter, Golden Boy Promotions, had mentioned as his possible next fight had he defeated Esquivias:
A bout with Leo Santa Cruz.
There’s occasionally the surprise of a faded veteran stepping up for one last notable performance — recall Erik Morales giving Marcos Maidana a tough fight but ultimately losing, though not in the way that we had worried about beforehand.
Santa Cruz vs. Marquez wouldn't have been like Morales-Maidana. It would’ve been ugly, and dangerous.
5. Speaking of Morales… well, this’ll take a little bit of explaining.
I caught up last week with the second episode of Showtime’s “All Access: Mayweather vs. Canelo.” (The third episode aired this past Saturday). At one point, they showed Canelo Alvarez watching a broadcast of one of his brothers, Ramon, fighting in Mexico.
That opponent’s name? “Erik Mireles.”
Joked boxing writer Alex McClintock: “I really liked his wins against Juan Manuel Merguez and Marco Antonio Barrero as well.”
6. And returning to fights that reminded me of other fights, this past Saturday’s lightweight title bout between Ricky Burns and Ray Beltran reminded me of the middleweight title fight in 2006 between Arthur Abraham and Edison Miranda.
Both bouts had the defending beltholder suffering a broken jaw and eventually escaping with his title; Burns-Beltran ended with a split draw that many believe should have been a Beltran victory, while Abraham was awarded the controversial win against Miranda.
Beltran is one of those hard-working but hard-luck kind of guys. We’ve seen fighters such as Glen Johnson and Orlando Salido ultimately get their moments at the top. Perhaps that day will come for Beltran, too.
7. Should we really care if this week’s pay-per-view breaks the record set six and a half years ago by the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather show?
We should want these shows to be profitable, particularly to encourage good matches being made and good cards being put together. These pay-per-views come at our expense, but can be to our benefit.
It’s good if a sizable PPV buy rate means more of these casual or first-time viewers shelling out for the Super Bowl of boxing then become regular supporters of the Sweet Science. If they go on to contribute to network ratings, buy tickets, follow the sport and, ahem, read certain writers’ weekly columns, then the sport is for the better.
But beyond that? If Alvarez vs. Mayweather does 2.1 million buyers, or 2.2, or 2.3, or 2.4, and falls short of the 2.5 mark, it doesn’t make the show a failure.
It’s a storyline worth writing about, given the magnitude and spectacle of this fight and the star power of those involved. But boxing wasn’t saved by De La Hoya vs. Mayweather, nor would it have been saved by Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao, nor will it be saved by Alvarez vs. Mayweather.
That’s because it doesn’t need saving. It just needs continued success.
8. Of course, boxing is dead, according to Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon of ESPN show “Pardon the Interruption.”
They’ve been saying it for years. Seriously. Google it.
They’re two writers whose work I respected and loved for years in The Washington Post. I’ve been a big fan of “PTI” as well. Yet it’s clear that neither man knows much about boxing anymore, not about the sport, nor about the business. Wilbon says he’s a fan of boxing. I wonder if he’s even seen three of this year’s best fights, all of which were broadcast on HBO and Showtime.
I don’t want to get riled up about the words of people who don’t know what they’re talking about. The problem is they’ve got a significant audience, and their laziness is both influential and detrimental.
Boxing has a niche audience, but the larger mainstream audience is like the retail customer. You want to encourage and entice walk-in traffic, hoping that curiosity that will bring someone inside. You want a chance for them to like what they see, and for a fraction of them to come back for more.
9. Boxing is dead, but I’ll still be back next week…
10. Congratulations are due to BoxingScene’s Rick Reeno and to the numerous other staff members and contributors. Last week, this site celebrated its 10-year anniversary.
I’ve been fortunate to write for BoxingScene.com for nearly nine of its 10 years. I’ve seen the good, hard work put in by Rick and the rest, and I’ve been proud to be part of a great crew.
And so long as we’re allowing momentary back-patting and group hugging, all of this is possible because of you, the readers. Thank you for your support. I hope we continue to make it worth your while.
“Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon . Send questions/comments via email at email@example.com