By Jake Donovan
It began with respect exuded from both camps as Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola prepared for their heavyweight title fight rematch. As fight night grew closer, however, both sides have shown their competitive spirit, which figures – or at least is hoped – to spill over into the ring when they collide tonight at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles, California.
The bout – which will be contested for a vacant title – will air live on ESPN’s flagship station (Saturday, ESPN, 8PM ET), the first time the network has chosen to air a major fight in prime time on a Saturday.
But will the fight be that good, and worth that much mainstream attention?
The first fight certainly wouldn’t have qualified, largely thanks to Stiverne (23-1-1, 20KO) breaking Arreola’s nose en route to a 3rd round knockdown and dominating the rest of their HBO-televised fight. It was undoubtedly the best performance of Stiverne’s career to date, a win that resurrected his once promising career that has been otherwise littered by letdowns.
Arreola (36-3, 31KO) is well-versed in the art of underachievement. The Californian has carried a world of hype behind him, thanks to thrilling performances early in his career when he was still serious about his craft. Somewhere along the way, partying and other bad habits got in the way of training, as Arreola began to balloon in weight with each fight.
The lone title fight of his career came in Sept. ’09, as he was dominated by Vitali Klitschko in the lone stoppage loss of his career. Two fights later came perhaps the biggest letdown of his career, when he failed to properly condition himself for his April ’10 fight with Tomasz Adamek, losing a close decision.
Arreola and his team have labeled that fight as the most disappointing night of his career, as they squandered a winning opportunity. That was, until he once again turned up out of shape for last year’s loss to Stiverne, in which the winner was due a mandatory title shot.
That turned out to be Stiverne, who instead had to wait thanks to the elder Klitschko’s indecisions about his career. The wait came to an end last year, when Klitschko – whose younger brother Wladimir Klitschko is the reigning World lineal heavyweight champion – decided to retire and instead focus his efforts on politics and combat against civil unrest in his native Ukraine.
Rather than take a stay-busy bout in the interim, Stiverne went the way of most fighters under contract with Don King these days – sitting on the sidelines, growing stale. Part of that had to do with a lawsuit between the two sides before eventually settling up to move towards this fight.
Arreola has fought just once since the loss to Stiverne, showing up in phenomenal shape for his 2nd round knockout of Seth Mitchell last September.
Both fighters appeared to be in great shape at Friday’s weigh-in, as they both came in roughly eight pounds lighter than was the case for their first fight last year.
Will conditioning factor into tonight’s fight, or has it already been established who is the better and more skilled fighter? Will Stiverne become the first ever Haiti-born fighter to claim a heavyweight title, or will Arreola claim such honors as the first heavyweight champ of Mexican descent?
Read on to see how the staff at Boxingscene.com believes tonight’s heavyweight title fight goes down.
BOXINGSCENE.COM PREDICTIONS: BERMANE STIVERNE vs. CHRIS ARREOLA (REMATCH)
"Arreola started out well in their first meeting before he got caught and had his nose broken. Judging from his photos, I think he took his training camp more seriously this time and appears in much better shape. Arreola is the superior boxer and I think it will come down to who can avoid the big shot."
- Ryan Burton (Arreola by decision)
"Whatever happens on Saturday, Arreola will have either won or lost (or draws) in his absolute best physical shape. Perhaps I'm getting sucked into the hype - and judging by the other picks, I will be the only one whi is very, very right, or very, very wrong - but I believe his best will be too much for Stiverne, who hasn't helped his cause any with a (mostly forced) 13-month layoff. Both will want to make a statement; Arreola's will be more pronounced, with attrition leading to a mid-round stoppage."
- Jake Donovan (Arreola by mid-rounds KO)
"Unless the last time around with these two was an anomaly, it looks like Arreola is once against destined for bridesmaid status as another contender steps past him to join the belted class. To these eyes, Stiverne is too skilled and he'll make it 2-for-2 unless Arreola is successful in making it a street fight and hits him with something decisive."
- Lyle Fitzsimmons (Stiverne by decision)
"It's tempting to think that Arreola will avenge last year's defeat, that his being in better shape and determined to save his career will be the key in a bout against an opponent who hasn't fought in more than 12 months. But I still believe Arreola, no matter what shape he's in, is hittable. And as we saw last year, Stiverne can hurt Arreola, and though Arreola will be in better condition for his own attacks, I see Stiverne winning again."
- David Greisman (Stiverne by decision)
"Their rematch should be closer than their first fight because Arreola boxed with a broken nose for nine-plus rounds on his way to lopsided loss in that 12-rounder (118-109, 117-110, 117-110). Arreola also claims he will be in much better shape for this fight (yes, again) and at 33 has to know that this could be his last shot at a heavyweight title. But unless Stiverne has more difficulty absorbing Arreola’s power than he did a year ago in Ontario, Calif., he should be able to out-box his taller, heavier opponent again."
- Keith Idec (Stiverne by decision)
"Once again Arreola moved his training camp out of Riverside. Last time he did this against Mitchell he was in phenomenal shape. I expect this again which will lead to him out slugging Stiverne in a classic slugfest."
- Timothy Kudgis (Arreola by decision)
"Stiverne could have some rust issues having been on the shelf waiting to see what happened with Vitali. As a guy who can be economical, that could hurt. Arreola will be better this time. That said, Stiverne is still quicker and more explosive and Arreola has never gotten over the hump against serious contenders. The trend continues here."
- Cliff Rold (Stiverne by decision)
"I'm going to believe Chris has turned things around even though we've heard it before. Physically you can tell he's been working. I also think Stiverne will come in better with a world title being on the line. I think with proper conditioning, Arreola will be able to press the action for 12 rounds and not allow himself to be outboxed for long stretches. In a close fight, I think Arreola edges Stiverne in a fun fight that will see either man hurt or on the canvas."
- Luis Sandoval (Arreola by decision)
"Their first fight was a major discovery for me as I thought that the Nightmare's power and activity coupled with Stiverne's iffy chin will cause some positive fireworks for Arreola. The reality was different that time and drastically so. Sometimes you need to re-adjust your conscience - I'll go with the Canadian this time, although the fight is fifty-fifty in reality."
- Alexey Sukachev (Stiverne by decision)
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