by Cliff Rold
In the 1990s, Vaughn Bean got two mandatory cracks at the IBF heavyweight belt without beating anything resembling a contender. Going by BoxRec, he rarely even fought guys with winning records.
That’s the low bar for fighters with multiple heavyweight title shots in the split title era.
Chris Arreola can at least say that he has consistently fought men with winning records. Like Bean then, Arreola cannot say he’s ever beaten someone universally regarded as a serious contender. The closest he came was probably a fun decision loss to Tomasz Adamek in 2010.
Saturday night (Fox, 8 PM EST/5 PM PST) marks his third crack at a major heavyweight belt. In both of his first two shots, Arreola failed to hear the final bell. 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder has the sort of power that could make this the sort of hat trick no one really wants.
Does Arreola have a shot?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBC heavyweight (2015-Present, 3 Defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 226 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Record: 36-0, 35 KO?
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-0, 3 KO
Rankings: #2 (Ring), #3 (BoxRec), #4 (BoxingScene, TBRB, ESPN)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Sergey Liakhovich KO1; Bermane Stiverne UD12)
Title/Previous Titles: None
Weight: 246 ¼ lbs.
Hails from: Escondido, California
Record: 36-4, 31 KO, 2 KOBY
Record in Major Title Fights: 0-2, 2 KOBY
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 2 (Vitali Klitschko TKO by 10; Tomasz Adamek L12; Bermane Stiverne L12, TKO by 6)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Wilder A-; Arreola C+
Pre-Fight: Power – Wilder A; Arreola B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Wilder B; Arreola C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Wilder B; Arreola B
The last year and a half for Wilder has been the best of his career and not just for his successes in the ring. Yes, winning a belt helped his place in the market and announced an arrival but it’s what came with that belt and three defenses since in the ring that counts more.
In his last four fights, Wilder has added 41 rounds to his ledger. That’s just a little less than half of the rounds waged for his entire career. From early on, Wilder was often referred to as a project. His raw talent was enough to medal at the 2008 Games but he was still learning a lot about his craft. Like a Canelo Alvarez or Julio Cesar Chavez, he was developed over a large number of fights and without much of a hurry. He stepped up to Stiverne only when his people thought he was ready.
It turned out he was. Faced with going rounds instead of a string of early blowouts, we’ve seen some extra dimensions to Wilder. He has shown he has stamina, that he doesn’t come unraveled when fights don’t end early, and he carries his power late.
And it’s considerable power.
Those are all positives.
Questions about his chin still linger and that is where Arreola is an interesting opponent. Arreola doesn’t seem to have as much snap on his shots as he might have a few years ago. He is still capable of landing a bomb and puts his punches together in combination. Wilder was rocked against Eric Molina last year. There is at least some risk as Wilder often still goes straight back and doesn’t always keep his hands up.
What he does do, that could mitigate Arreola’s chances, is keep some space. Wilder is getting better at managing distance, doing it best against Stiverne. For Arreola to win, he’s going to have to crowd that space early and get to Wilder with impatience. Arreola was dropped and badly hurt in his last fight by Travis Kaufmann with the sort of right hand that Wilder is good at landing even harder and faster.
Arreola has to land first and keep landing to have a chance here.
In the weeks leading up to the fight, there started to be a feeling here that this could be a better match than most assumed at signing. One starts thinking about Wilder’s struggles with lesser lights like Molina and Spzilka and an upset seems as least possible. A look at Arreola’s appearances since the Stiverne rematch is sobering. We may look back at the Stiverne rematch as the last of what Arreola really had left. Even relatively lighter in his last two fights, Arreola has looked slower, his punch resistance has been less, and his power also declined. He’s looked like an aging fighter whose lack of out of the ring discipline has caught up. Wilder makes mistakes and could be vulnerable early, but there is simply no logical reason, no evidence in anything Arreola has done in the last two years, that suggest he’s up to the task. Wilder is the pick by knockout, possibly as early as inside the first three rounds.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2016: 27-10
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]