Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cris Arreola Promises to Bring the Pressure

Cris Arreola will get his big shot at the big title tonight in Los Angeles.

Although the number seems much higher, only 14 different men have worn the WBC heavyweight title belt over the course of the past quarter century.

Cris Arreola wants very much to become number 15.

The 28-year-old Riverside, California resident will get his “Rocky Balboa-like” shot at Vitali Klitschko's heavyweight title tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Change the names and the storyline a little and this fight has elements of the fictional Apollo Creed vs. Rocky Balboa match-up.

There's the wealthy, skilled and well-known Klitschko, who like Creed, needed an opponent to look good against. Then there's the betting underdog and hometown favorite-son in Arreola. Similar to Balboa, he's fighting for pride and for his shot against a champ in a fight that most observers feel he has no chance of winning.

But there are a few major differences in this real world clash. Cris Arreola is undefeated at 27-0, 24 KOs and he is rated as the #1 WBC contender. He'll become the first fighter of Mexican descent to ever challenge for a heavyweight title. He's not a clubfighter, either. And some are even of the notion that if he lands a big punch on the 38-year-old chin of the towering Klitschko, that he might be able to yell out to his good friend and trainer Henry Ramirez; “Yo! Henry! We did it!”

But the most likely outcome, at least according to the oddsmakers, is that Klitschko's greater experience and more refined boxing skills will show Arreola the exit sign before the eighth round.

The bet is that Arreola isn't at all prepared for what Vitali brings to the table. They say Klitschko is the most experienced heavyweight in the world. They also point to the fact that while Klitschko is always in shape and never far from his fighting weight - Arreola gains 30 to 50 pounds in between fights and is enslaved by beer and Mexican food.

That is the difference, they say, between an amateur and a professional or a champion and a challenger.

Arreola has heard the whispers of the naysayers.

“One thing that kind of bugs me, is I feel like I've been taken lightly,” said Arreola on Tuesday. “I feel like Klitschko thinks this is a cakewalk. Now he already has another fight set for December. Well, he can still fight in December, but it isn't going to be for the world title. Man, I'm gonna' win it. I respect Mr. Klitschko, I respect him as a man and as a fighter, but inside the ring everything is outside the door and it's time to fight.”

In the past, Arreola has admittedly been a reluctant participant when it comes to his training regimen. But for this fight, he claims to have pulled out more stops than usual. By all accounts, he became more serious about his fitness. Aside from his long-time boxing trainer, Ramirez, Arreola enlisted the services of strength and conditioning coach Darryl Hudson who has whipped, among others, Shane Mosley and Winky Wright into shape on several occasions in the past.

The work of Hudson, Ramirez and Arreola was on full display when the shirtless Arreola appeared leaner than usual at Thursday's official weigh-in. While he tipped the scales at 251 pounds, the reading did little to quell the doubters who would have preferred to see him make a real statement and come in at a weight closer to 240. Less than three years ago, Arreola scaled a light and lithe 229.

As the fight has neared, and the suet has melted away, the usually easygoing Arreola has become somewhat more testy. He was good-natured earlier this week when he spoke with the media, but there was an underlying tension in his demeanor.

On Thursday, only 1-pound separated Arreola who weighed 251, while Klitschko scaled 252.

The arduous training camp that saw twice-a-day workouts with a variety of new drills and a spartan diet, coupled with the intensifying media scrutiny has no doubt pressured the young fighter. There is also the added burden of being the first fighter of Mexican heritage to challenge for a heavyweight title. That has resulted in the expectation from his Mexican fans that he should make them proud by attacking Klitschko like a blindfolded man whacking at a pinata.

“What I need to do is to fight hard and smart – not hard and stupid,” says Arreola.

Many fighters, from young pros to seasoned veterans, have cracked under the unrelenting pressure that a heavyweight championship fight places upon their psyche. Remember also that Arreola is challenging for a heavyweight title without ever having faced another ranked top-10 contender. He is making a colossal jump in competition against arguably the best heavyweight in the world. He will also be performing in front of his friends and family in what will amount to a hometown crowd. It is a situation of pressure – personified.

So, when asked if the pre-fight jitters were beginning to get the best of him, a terse Arreola said they were not.

“No, look, this is what I was born to do, man,” he answered. “I can't get nervous. I've been boxing since I was seven years old. You know, if I'm nervous now, I don't even deserve to be in that ring.

“For me and my strategy it's plain and simple, man. I've got to make him fight at a pace that he's not used to. I can't let him just lay back and jab his way and bore me to death and fall asleep from him jabbing me. I've got stay on his chest, take his jab away and I've got to bring pressure. I've got to bob and weave and 'Tyson' my way in there."

He could always 'Balboa' his way in there, too.

September 2009

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