By Jake Donovan
The pessimistic viewpoint surrounding Chris Arreola’ upcoming heavyweight title challenge versus Deontay Wilder is, on the surface, reasonable. He enjoyed full training camps for two previous shots at the very same World Boxing Council (WBC) belt and came up well short, so what can he possibly do on short notice?
To his credit, the veteran contender from Riverside, Calif. is forever a realist and understands the role he’s been assigned for the July 16 showdown at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I’m the underdog and – you know what – I should be the underdog for this fight,” Arreola (36-4-1, 31KOs) admitted during Wednesday’s press conference at Legacy Arena, for which he appeared via live Skype interview. “"I have to make the best out of this opportunity. He is doing what he is supposed to do as a champion. He is defending his title.”
The bout will mark the fourth defense of the title that Wilder (36-0, 35KOs) claimed in a landslide decision win over Bermane Stiverne last January in Las Vegas.
It’s the only time in his pro career in which the unbeaten fighting pride of Tuscaloosa, Alabama – roughly an hour from Birmingham – has been forced to go the distance. Still, it came in a dominant performance against an opponent who owns two clear cut wins over Arreola.
The latter came in a 6th round knockout of their vacant title fight rematch last May. Arreola was in control early, but eventually got caught in his second failed bid at a major belt. His previous attempt at becoming the first boxer of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight title resulted in the first defeat of his pro career, suffering a one-sided 10th round stoppage loss to then-defending titlist Vitali Klitschko in Sept.’09.
Arreola’s career has been filled with ups and downs, as well as plenty of criticism targeted at his lack of discipline when it comes to putting in gym work. He’s attempted to restore his credibility, showing up in shape for a hard-fought 12-round split decision win over Travis Kauffman live in primetime on free-to-air NBC last December.
The outcome was disputed, but such arguments becoming moot after post-fight drug results revealed that the Californian tested positive for marijuana. His win was changed to a No Contest, receiving a 90-day suspension and his name removed from the rankings.
Arreola has since reappeared in the WBC Top 10, thus allowing Wilder to make a voluntary defense in light of his canceled May 21 mandatory title fight with Alexander Povetkin. That fight fell apart when the top contender from Russia tested positive for the banned substance Meldonium, leaving Wilder’s team in a frenzy in searching for alternate means to remain active.
One phone call to California was all that it took to move forward with plans for July 16.
“There wasn’t any hesitation whatsoever in taking this fight.” Arreola insisted. “Deontay is one of the biggest names, one of the better names out there because of his skills that he has shown. I have to be prepared.”
It comes at a good time for Arreola, who was previously due to face Dominic Breazeale in a battle of California heavyweight this past April at the famed StubHub Center in Carson, California. Those plans were scuttled even before training camp began, when Arreola suffered a freak injury that resulted in a sprained ankle and a canceled fight.
Breazeale will now move on to face unbeaten International Boxing Federation (IBF) heavyweight titlist Anthony Joshua on June 25 on the road in London, England. The outcome will be long revealed by the time Arreola makes his own trip into hostile territory, fighting in front of Wilder’s adoring fans next month.
The difference in the two journeys is that Breazeale puts his unbeaten record on the line for his first title shot, whereas Arreola has arrived at last chance saloon.
“I have to approach this fight different than any others,” Arreola admits. “I have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Deontay has a lot to lose. He is going to come prepared. He knows what kind of fighter I am. I am going to give it my all. Deontay is a tough S.O.B. An athlete has to be ready for that right hand and that jab, be careful and be ready at all times.”
As for traveling down south to fight in front of a pro-Wilder crowd
“I love boxing. I love boxing fans whether they are with me or against me,” Arreola insists. “They give energy to their fighters and it is just me and Deontay in the ring. There is no one that will be able to help Deontay and no one that can help me when that bell rings.
“That is what I love about boxing. It is the most gentlemanly sport there is. At the end of the day, it is going to be one-on-one.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2