By Robert Morales
People can criticize Chris Arreola and his past misgivings about training all they want. But if not for him, America would never have a heavyweight title fight on home soil.
Remember Arreola's unsuccessful challenge to Vitali Klitschko in September 2009 at Staples Center in Los Angeles? That's the last time the U.S. hosted a heavyweight championship. That is nearly five years ago, thanks to the Klitschko brothers and their desire to fight on foreign soil.
Perhaps the May 10 title fight between Arreola and Bermane Stiverne at USC's Galen Center in Los Angeles should therefore be embraced in a big way.
That doesn't mean fans should altogether forgive Arreola for the Klitschko fiasco. The guy weighed at 251 pounds. That's not his heaviest, but it might as well have been because he was in pathetic shape. The rolls of fat bounced around on his back every time Klitschko hit any part of him, or any time Arreola threw a punch. He was stopped by Klitschko after 10 rounds.
This fight is going to be televised on the mothership ESPN. So we told promoter Dan Goossen that we ran into an ESPN reporter at Tuesday's Lakers-Knicks game at Staples Center. This
particular reporter does not cover boxing for ESPN, though he does do for someone else. His thought about Arreola being in shape for this rematch with Stiverne was.
"Where have I heard that before?"
Said reporter was reminded that Arreola came in shape for Seth Mitchell, and knocked out Mitchell in the first round in September in Indio, Calif. But it was just five months prior - in April 2013 - that Arreola entered his first fight with Stiverne having trained very little. The result was a broken nose, a knockdown and a wide-decision loss.
How then, we asked Goossen, does he expect to sell the public on this May return bout?
The Galen Center holds 10,258. A heavyweight title fight should have no problem selling that out. But if so many others think like this particular ESPN reporter, will that happen? Will it come close to happening?
Arreola hasn't come close to selling out Citizens Business Bank Arena in two tries; it regularly seats 9,500, and he's only gotten a little more than half of that. And it's in Ontario, Calif., only a 20-minute drive from Arreola's hometown of Riverside.
Goossen on Wednesday was candid about Arreola when pushed.
"I'll say two things," said Goossen, who will co-promote this fight along with Don King. "One is, we are not oblivious to Chris's lack of dedication to training in the past. Chris at times would talk a good game as it related to his shape, and it wouldn't be correct."
Indeed, Arreola has looked veteran reporters in the eye and told them how hard he had trained for a particular fight, only for us to find out afterward he basically lied about it.
"Two, we sent him to Arizona to train for his last fight and we saw the results," Goossen said. "More importantly, he saw the results. He has been chomping at the bit to have this fight scheduled and announced because he wanted to get to training camp. They got to training camp this week."
Arreola, whose biggest problems come when he trains close to home, is not training in Arizona because his trainer - Henry Ramirez - told us he could not secure housing there for the entire training camp. Instead, they are in San Diego, which is about 100 miles from Riverside.
That might not be far enough. But Goossen isn't worried.
"He's come to the conclusion he's got one more shot at this and he's got to give himself every opportunity to win it," Goossen said of Arreola. "As I would tell every fighter I've got, these fights are won in training, not in the event.
"You've got to give yourself every opportunity to be able to overcome everything in that fight that night and the way to do that is to be in tip-top shape."
Goossen said Arreola is running three miles a day. He hates to run, so that's a good thing. Goossen also would like fans to consider just how much of a warrior Arreola is, even when he hasn't trained and is getting his ass kicked the way he did with Stiverne last April. Arreola's nose was broken early, and he bled and bled and bled.
"He said it was the most excruciating pain he's ever endured," Goossen said. "We had a red mat, he had so much blood coming out. So you can imagine he couldn't breathe. He was in excruciating pain, but he never took a backwards step the rest of the fight. That tells us how tough he is and how willing he is to do everything he can to win even though he came into the fight where he wasn't in shape.
"Think of that mind-set and willingness to do whatever it takes to win, and being in shape."
The question is, does that willingness exist as it pertains to training his behind off for the opportunity of a lifetime - becoming the first fighter of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight championship?
Forum Boxing memories make Arum smile
Promoter Bob Arum on Wednesday played host to a news conference at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, Calif., where May 17 Juan Manuel Marquez of Mexico will take on Mike Alvarado of Denver in a welterweight title-elimination fight (on HBO). The winner will face the winner of the April 12 title fight between Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley at MGM Grand in Las Vegas (on HBO pay-per-view).
Marquez made his bones at the Forum back in the 1990s, going 12-0 with nine knockouts on his way to becoming one of the all-time greats from a country with so many.
Arum also has history there, and he was only too happy to share it with us before the news conference began.
"Well, I'm very excited," Arum said. "You see, one of the advantages of being around this sport so long is, yeah, you get old but you have so many memories and you remember what was important. And I'll never forget this building and how important it was for the sport of boxing.
"Whether it was Marquez or Julio Cesar Chavez Sr., who beat Roger Mayweather here in this building (in May 1989), and Michael Carbajal and Chiquita Gonzalez and (Rafael) Ruelas coming back and beating (Freddie) Pendleton). I mean, what great memories."
It was Feb. 19, 1994 and Arum's Top Rank Inc. and Forum Boxing - belonging to the late Dr. Jerry Buss - co-promoted a twin bill that featured Carbajal and Gonzalez in the main event in their second of three light flyweight title fights. The semi-main was Ruelas challenging Pendleton for his lightweight title.
Ruelas got up from two first-round knockdowns to take Pendleton's title via unanimous decision in an absolute thriller on which yours truly reported. Then in the main event, Gonzalez won a split-decision over Carbajal, which certainly sent most of the fans home happy because, like Marquez, Gonzalez had made his name at the Forum as well. As did Marco Antonio Barrera, leading to this comment Wednesday from Arum.
"There wouldn't have been a Marco Antonio Barrera without Forum Boxing, or a Juan Manuel Marquez without Forum Boxing," Arum said. "There wouldn't have been Chiquita Gonzalez without Forum Boxing."
Color Marquez really jazzed
Marquez, 40, is over the moon to be fighting once again at the Forum, which has been recently refurbished. He apparently was smiling big even before he made his way out to greet reporters at the news conference.
"When I greeted him in the room that he's sitting in and I walked in and I said, 'Welcome home,' there was a big smile on his face," Arum said.
Marquez (55-7-1, 40 KOs) can't wait for the fight to get here.
"I feel very happy right now because I started my career in this historical place, in this historical building," said Marquez, who is coming off a split-decision loss to Bradley in October in Las Vegas.
As for Alvarado (34-2, 23 KOs), he is equally anxious to show fans he still has the goods after he was stopped after 10 rounds by Ruslan Provodnikov in October in Broomfield, Colo.
"Coming off the loss to Provodnikov, I'm able to redeem myself with a boxing legend," said Alvarado, 33, of Denver. "So it's just a dream come true.
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Los Angeles Daily News and BoxingScene.com