Chris Arreola didn’t think much of Andy Ruiz when they first met nearly 15 years ago.
By the end of that sparring session, he sensed a future heavyweight champion had just come through the gym—and that their paths would again cross.
“This is a fight that—in all honesty—I’ve seen coming since the first time I sparred Andy,” Arreola insisted while discussing their May 1 Fox Sports Pay-Per-View headliner at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, California. “I remember the first time we sparred, I remember seeing this pudgy kid that went in the ring. I didn’t think nothing of him until he threw those hands. Those hands are lethal. Those hands were fast. He is a Mexican with speed.
“I knew one day this fight would come. This day is here. He is a dangerous man.”
The bout comes more than a year after Ruiz (33-2, 22KOs) became the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, doing so in a 7th round knockout of unbeaten Anthony Joshua in their June 2019 clash at Madison Square Garden. Arreola (38-6-1, 33KOs; 2NC) had three shots at achieving that status, suffering stoppage losses to Vitali Klitschko, Bermane Stiverne and Deontay Wilder on such occasions.
Ruiz’s achievement marked a shift in their own relationship, from a teenaged-amateur version of Ruiz admiring Arreola—eight years his senior and an unbeaten rising contender at the time—to becoming the measuring stick for all Mexican heavyweights.
“At one point he wanted to be like me. Now I want to be like him,” admits Arreola, who recently celebrated his 40th birthday and has not fought since a 12-round loss to then-unbeaten Adam Kownacki in Aug. 2019. “He became the first Mexican to win the heavyweight title. He did something I could never do. He deserves it, he did it.
“Now it’s my turn to do my best, to change history and prove that I am prove that I am a great, elite Mexican heavyweight.”
Arreola was looked upon—at least by those closest to him—to have first achieved that status. The hulking heavyweight from Escondido always believed it for himself, though knew after his 2007 sparring session with a then 17-year-old Ruiz that he wasn’t alone in terms of Mexican heavyweights who warranted attention.
“One thing I remember about Andy, he was very unassuming. I didn’t think he would have the hand speed that he had. I didn’t think he would have the skills that he has. Once we got in the ring… holy f--- did I have a rude awakening. This kid from Mexicali was putting hands on me. He was putting hands on me and I was putting hands back on him. We were banging, we were banging hard. Instead of quitting, he kept coming.
“It was a fun sparring session. I had nothing but respect for him then and I have nothing but respect for him now. I was one of those guys who predicted he would beat Joshua the first time.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox