By Jake Donovan
By no means does Deontay Wilder view his canceled fight with Alexander Povetkin as a positive experience, but he has at least come away with a silver lining in the aftermath.
In the wake of his canceled May 21 defense versus Povetkin – whose positive drug test for the banned substance Meldonium killed plans for their scheduled mandatory title fight in Moscow, Russia – life moves on for the unbeaten heavyweight titlist. Looking to have something to show for his time spent in training camp, Wilder (36-0, 35KO) will now face California’s Chris Arreola in a voluntary defense July 16 in Birmingham, Alabama.
The event will air live in primetime on Fox, the first time ever that the free-to-air network will showcase a heavyweight title fight.
“Often in life, Fortunate situations come out of unfortunate circumstances,” noted Kevin Rooney, director of public relations for DiBella Entertainment during Wednesday’s press conference at Legacy Arena, where the July 16 will take place. “We feel fortunate and are very excited that (Wilder) will defend his championship on free TV at home in Alabama.”
Call it a consolation prize, although Wilder has yet to view the past few months as anything worth celebrating. Hoping to have become the first-ever American boxer to defend a heavyweight title in Russia, Wilder never made it past Sheffield, England. He set up camp in the UK for two weeks as he found it easier to travel from Alabama to Sheffield and then to Moscow.
Rather than heading into the hosting fight town city on the Sunday prior to his mandatory title defense, his travel plans were rerouted back home after the World Boxing Council (WBC) refused to sanction the event in light of the failed drug test.
“When we set a date for a fight, the fighters are ready to fight and on fair grounds. Then the week of the fight, you find out someone trying to cheat and in his own country,” Wilder reflected of the events that took place. “I was there to represent not only myself but all of the United States of America.”
The matter is still under investigation, with an asterisk assigned to Povetkin’s current number-one spot in the sanctioning body’s latest set of ratings.
Another new development in the WBC Top 10 is the re-insertion of Arreola (36-4-1, 31KOs), a Mexican-American contender from California who has twice before challenged for the famed “green” belt from Mexico. Both attempts ended in knockout defeats, falling well short versus Vitali Klitschko for his first career loss in Sept. ’09 and then suffering a 6th round stoppage in a condensed shootout with Bermane Stiverne in the May ’14 rematch for the vacant title.
He now gets a third crack thanks to being in the right place at the right time when Team Wilder went on the hunt for an opponent for a summertime voluntary defense.
“Things happen. But the saying is, one door closes, another opens,” Wilder notes. “Me opening the door it’s the opportunity to open wide, for me and for Chris Arreola both. Patience is a virtue. I’ve been patient my whole life.
“Chris Arreola stayed patient too. People wonder how he continue to get title shot after title shot. It’s his will and his desire. You can’t deny him. You can’t look past him.”
The opportunity is less merit-based for Arreola than it is being a willing participant. He is 1-0-1 with one No Contest in his last three fights, not looking particularly impressive in any of the bouts.
Arreola went to war with journeyman Curtis Harper, barely surviving to claim an eight-round decision last March. He was then held to a draw versus Fred Kassi in their CBS-televised affair last July before claiming a debatable split decision nod over Travis Kauffman live in primetime on NBC last December in San Antonio.
Whether or not he deserved to win was no longer an issue after drug test results revealed that he tested positive for marijuana, changing the official outcome to a No Contest.
The trip to Wilder’s home state will mark his first piece of ring action since that night.
Meanwhile, Wilder fights an hour from home for the third time in his title reign, making the fourth overall defense of the belt he claimed in a landslide decision over Stiverne last January in Las Vegas. His lone road trip came this past January, scoring a highlight reel one-punch 9th round knockout of Artur Szpilka in Brooklyn, New York.
The feat followed back-to-back knockout wins in Birmingham, stopping Eric Molina in nine rounds last June and then France’s Johan Duhaupas in 11 last September. The strange pattern that has come in his past two title defenses as well as the one in queue versus Arreola is the fact that all were announced roughly one month before fight night.
“This is what we call a short notice fight. It’s short notice but nothing new to me,” Wilder says of the situation, coming at a point in the year where he keeps alive hope for at least three fights in 2016. “We knew we needed the right person. It couldn’t be a normal average fighter.
“We had names at the Top 5 list, but I don’t think they would’ve been ready. We needed a fighter that would fit the description of someone who would be ready on short notice and come to fight. Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce you to Chris Arreola.”
It also means moving forward with the same general battle plan during training camp.
“It’s a blessing that we got a fighter like Chris, who has similar height and reach and similar strength to Povetkin,” Wilder told BoxingScene.com after the presser. “They’re not the same fighter, I’m not saying that at all. But there ain’t a whole lot we have to change for this camp.
“I still wish it was Alexander Povetkin on the other side of the ring but he done blew it messing with them PEDs. But now I got to put on my blinders, get that tunnel vision and focus on what I got to do to knock out Chris Arreola.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2