11:41 PM EDT, April 24, 2013
Chris Arreola is a boxer who would wear his emotions on his sleeve. That is, if there were any room.
The massive arms that the Riverside boxer hopes will carry him back into the heavyweight title picture are covered with tattoos. The muscles ripple and the tattoos jiggle. For lovers of tattoos and boxing, Arreola is an art form.
He is also among the more interesting people in a sport that often filters out real personalities in exchange for orchestrated hype. There is nothing orchestrated about Arreola. Having lunch with him is more interesting than watching him box, and watching him box isn't all that bad.
He will be in the ring Saturday at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario as part of an HBO tripleheader coordinated over two continents, North and South America. A new concept for TV, ever turning up the hype in boxing, is one card, one promotion, two sites, often times zones apart.
In this most recent attempt to feed the insatiable TV sports gods, Arreola will go first at about 5:30 p.m. in Ontario. He will fight Bermane Stiverne. That will be followed by two title fights from Buenos Aires, the feature matching Sergio Martinez and Martin Murray, preceded by Luis Carlos Abregu versus Antonin Decarie.
Think of it as your typical Ontario-Buenos Aires connection. Fans watching in Argentina are sure to wonder why there are so many palm trees in Canada.
If the format is silly, the stakes for Arreola are not.
He is 32, has a record of 35-2, with 30 knockouts, and has been on the doorstep of real boxing fame once before — partly because he fights in the sport's sexiest division and partly because he is of Mexican heritage. Some may downgrade that Mexican heritage because it took roots at birth in East L.A. Nevertheless, there has never been a heavyweight champion of the world with that heritage.
When Arreola fought Vitali Klitschko on Sept. 26, 2009 at Staples Center for the WBC title, he had matched the legendary Manuel Ramos (1968 versus Joe Frazier) among those heavyweights of his heritage getting a title match.
Klitschko of Ukraine, who along with brother Wladimir, holds all of boxing's meaningful heavyweight titles, beat up Arreola that night. Arreola, who had never been taken seriously by the boxing community, returned to being a bar stool punch line.
Now, he has a rare second chance. He is the No. 1 challenger in Vitali Klitschko's WBC division. The Stiverne fight is an eliminator to see who gets next with Klitschko.
Arreola, who says Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs) is no pushover, claims that if he gets Klitschko again the result will be different. "The first fight with Vitali I got at the last minute," he says. "I had about five-six weeks. I weighed 295 and I wanted to get to 241. It wasn't a training camp, it was a weight-loss camp."
Weight has always been Arreola's problem. He talked about getting it off, but lingered near 300 pounds between fights and fought at as much as 265. His pre-fight intentions were to look like Evander Holyfield. His ring entrances resembled the Pillsbury Doughboy.
That has changed for good, he says. He will fight in the "low 240s" he says.
"I stopped eating out so much," he says. "That just piles weight on you. I stay active now. Just taking a walk for 30-45 minutes can do wonders."
His shaved head has been replaced by hair. His longtime manager, Henry Ramirez, says Arreola is a different fighter now.
"It's the hair," Arreola jokes. He also says, "I'm a young 32, but I want to do this only so long, so that when I'm 37-38, people can understand what I'm saying when I talk to them."
He trains with Ramirez in a gym on the side of a hill behind a big home in Riverside. The gym, named II Feathers, is owned by William (Indian) Schunke, who also owns the home in front. The wind whistles though the aluminum door on one side of the spacious gym. Visitors sit in heavy swivel chairs that once swiveled people in front of slot machines. On one wall, a sign proclaims: "Failure to prepare is preparing for failure." John Wooden would be impressed.
Ramirez says Arreola is long over his anger at his corner stopping the Klitschko fight after the 10th round. Arreola yelled at Ramirez, sobbed, then cursed a bit more than even the boxing norm in his post-fight interview.
"I don't try to change that stuff, or him," Ramirez says. "Chris isn't some wholesome guy, but he's not a street guy, either. He just likes to curse."
That fits perfectly. Were Arreola to make his way to, and through, Klitschko, a boxing world that has long doubted him will scratch its head and say, "Well, I'll be damned."
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