Sunday, September 27, 2009

Like Gerry Cooney, Cris Arreola is Overcome

When the fight was stopped after the tenth round, Cris Arreola was overcome with emotion.

It might well have been June 11, 1982 all over again.

If you were around back then, and if you remember, it was on that evening that Gerry Cooney challenged Larry Holmes for the WBC heavyweight championship of the world.

In the brutal heat of the Las Vegas night, in the parking lot behind Caesars Palace, it was Cooney that was rescued from the fists of the "Easton Assassin" when his fatherly cornerman, Victor Valle, stepped into the ring in the 13th round to save his man from further abuse.

Cooney would later commandeer the ring microphone and address the bulging crowd that numbered nearly 30,000. Through the blood, the sweat and the tears that streamed down his giant Irish face, he said over and over, "I'm sorry."

For nearly two years after the Holmes fight, Cooney was unable to purge the disappointing memory of that Vegas night from his mind.

Last night in Los Angeles, for the same WBC title that Cooney vied for 27 years ago, Cris Arreola met a similar ending against Vitali Klitschko.

After ten rounds of a steady and consistent pounding from Klitschko, Arreola's trainer, "Electric" Henry Ramirez, pulled the plug on his fighter's night.

Much like Cooney nearly three decades earlier, Arreola tried to walk through a storm of left jabs, right hands and the constant cascade of punches that rained down. But it was no use.

Klitschko utilized his enormous reach to spear Arreola and keep him at bay.

A pro-Arreola, Staples Center crowd of 14,556, cheered at his every effort. But Arreola, 251, could rarely get inside the long arms of Klitschko, 252.

Hopelessly behind on the scorecards, with claret leaking from the blood fawcet that had become his face, Ramirez and referee Jon Schorle consulted briefly at the end of the tenth round before calling a halt to Arreola's night - and championship dreams.

"He was taking too much punishment," explained Ramirez. "We had to stop it."

The tears were streaming down Arreola's face before he arose from his corner stool. The 28-year-old fighter from Riverside, Calif., who entered the fight as the WBC #1-contender with an undefeated record of 27-0, 24 KOs, was inconsolable.

"I couldn't get to him," said Arreola of the 6'7 1/2" tall Klitschko, who has a wingspan comparable to a Terradactyl. "He was fighting the fight he was supposed to."

In the days before the bout, Arreola promised that he would pressure the 38-year-old fighter and take him out of his comfort zone - and at times he did accomplish that. He never stopped plowing forward and he never stopped trying to land the haymaker that he hoped would change the direction of the fight.

Klitschko, who improved to 38-2, 37 KOs with the win, claimed that Arreola was a tough customer and he predicted that the young fighter will one day become the heavyweight champion. He landed 301 blows to Arreola's anemic 86.

Gerry Cooney tried his best against Larry Holmes, but he couldn't overcome Holmes' superior skills and ring savvy. Cooney was stopped in the 13th round.

"I was very surprised by his chin," said Klitchko, whose younger brother Wladimir holds the WBO and IBF heavyweight title belts. "He has a great chin and a big heart, a big punch, a good amateur background and he’s had a good professional career. The thing is, he doesn’t have the experience I do."

For Arreola, the process of rebuilding will now have to begin. It's clear that he needs more seasoning against top competition. It's also clear that as along as the Klitschko brothers remain atop the heavyweight division it will be very difficult for him to achieve his dream of becoming the first boxer of Mexican ancestry to win heavyweight laurels.

After losing to Holmes, Cooney faced a similar predicament. The Long Island fighter sank into a deep depression, wallowed in self-pity and abused drugs and alcohol before resuming his boxing career. He never did fuflfill his amazing promise and awesome potential - and he never again challenged for the title.

For some, watching the devastated Cris Arreola in the ring last night brought back memories of "Gentleman" Gerry.

"I'm so sorry," sobbed Arreola, when interviewed in the ring by HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant, who, under very similar circumstances in 1982, had also prompted Cooney for his thoughts.

"I didn't want to stop," Arreola said in pleading his case. "I'm sorry to all my fans. I worked my ass off. I never wanted to quit."

September 2009

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