by Cliff Rold
Boxing fans had a good Saturday night. Whether they watched just one major main event, or the other, or both, it was a good night.
For those who watched both, it was a great night. The Heavyweight rematch between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola, and the Jr. Flyweight rematch between Donnie Nietes and Moises Fuentes, both delivered everything fans can ask for.
They were fun. They were competitive. They were better than their original. The outcomes were indisputable.
Let’s go to the report cards.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Stiverne B+; Arreola C+/Post: A-/C+
Pre-Fight: Power – Stiverne A-; Arreola A-/Post: A; B+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Stiverne B; Arreola C/Post: B+; C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Stiverne B; Arreola B/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Speed – Nietes B; Fuentes C+/Post: B+; B-
Pre-Fight: Power – Nietes B; Fuentes B/Post: B+; B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Nietes B+; Fuentes C+/Post: Same
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Nietes B+; Fuentes B+/Post A; B+
Starting with the smaller men, it’s time to recognize how good Nietes has become. This is a fighter, in his prime, who has really put his whole game together. His ability to finish exchanges on Saturday made all the difference against a Fuentes who has also improved dramatically from even his first title win. Fuentes has sharpened his game since career advancing wins over Raul Garcia and Ivan Calderon.
Against Nietes, Fuentes was hard and crisp to the body. He had a good strategy. It just came undone when Nietes really started to solve him in the seventh. The closing assault in round nine, including a highlight reel right hand for the third and final knockdown, was a veteran showing mastery of the close. He closed strong in the first fight as well but he left no doubt this time.
Nietes is often overlooked among the better Filipino fighters but his success merits recognition. Nietes made some noise about moving up to face someone at Flyweight and if he chooses to do so, he’d make a great division even better.
Fuentes has nothing to hang his head over. He was beaten by the better man but if he continues to grow as a fighter as much as he has in recent fights, he will remain a factor in the title hunt at 108 lbs.
The opposite is the case for the defeated at Heavyweight. It’s time to be honest about Chris Arreola. It’s not just the weight. It’s not just the focus.
It’s just that he isn’t good enough.
Arreola, arriving in what is better shape for him, had a good strategy for the first three rounds. He survived almost getting blasted out in the first and stayed on his game. The third round was great for Arreola. Round four was ultimately, though, where the fight began to get away. Stiverne started using his feet more and Arreola started to slow down. His assaults were getting farther apart and Stiverne, who might have the quickest hands at Heavyweight right now, assumed command as ring general fully in the fifth.
In the sixth, Stiverne finished what he started last year. He now has a WBC belt and chances for big money down the road. His promoter, Don King, has been around long enough to probably get him an exception to make a payday defense before showdowns with Deontay Wilder, Wladimir Klitschko, or both later this year and into next.
Stiverne still isn’t what one would call deeply tested. His best wins are Ray Austin and Arreola, neither of whom should have been objectively considered a top ten Heavyweight when he beat them. Still, his speed and power are clear as day. If he catches anyone, they can go. He’s shown patience in setting up his offense, growing ring IQ, and personality.
He’s a welcome addition to the field of contenders to the throne of Klitschko. He and Wilder, if that’s the first big date, is going to be fascinating and someone is going out on their shield.
For Arreola, it’s a disappointment as his career again fails to advance. He’s a fun fighter, an above average journeyman talent capable of giving a game effort against the upper class of the division without beating them. Look at his career for what it is instead of the narrative and there is nothing wrong with that. The story on him was potential with a work ethic issue. It was misleading and overwhelming. This weekend, there were a ton of words wasted about how he’d gotten in better shape than for the first Stiverne fight.
Almost everyone ignored that Stiverne lost even more weight from the first time around.
That sort of blind reaction tells a lot about how strong the narrative was. Arreola has been carefully managed with only a few step-up bouts. He’s still never beaten a legitimate contender type or really won more than a few rounds in trying. The real narrative is that Al Haymon and Dan Goosen did a great job protecting him, getting ample TV time against second-rate foes, and creating the façade of a star by letting his style and personality create a following.
He is the ultimate example of how important good management can be in getting a fighter to opportunity while managing risk. He didn’t have to go overseas to fight Alexander Dimitrenko and Alexander Povetkin like, say, an Eddie Chambers did on his way up. And to date he’s had more title shots.
When Arreola was risked, against Vitali Klitschko, Tomasz Adamek, and now Stiverne, he faltered. But he got there.
Report Card Picks 2014: 23-7
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]