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Arce, Little Big Man

You don't need a highlight film to see the best of Jorge Arce. Pop in any fight CD, check out the non-stop action, frame by frame, round by round. Jorge Arce has only one gear -- fast forward - so set your remote accordingly.

"Arce loves to mix it up," said Sean Gibbons, advisor for Arce's manager, Fernando Beltran. "He just keeps coming right at you. Pure Mexican fire."

Arce is indeed a force of nature, and his nature is not very nice, at least in the ring. His alias is "El Travieso," which translate into "Naughty One," a sly moniker he plays on by entering the ring with red lollypop and villain's black cowboy hat. Once the bell sounds, "Naughty" turns nasty. Arce doesn't just beat his opponents, he punishes them.

"El Travieso fights with the same flair and exuberance that he has outside the ring, except that he is a vicious finisher and a mean prick inside the ropes," said Bruce Trampler, matchmaker for Top Rank, which is promoting Arce (45-3-1, 35 KOs) vs Julio Ler (23-1 | 14 KOs) Jan. 27 on HBO's "Boxing After Dark."

The 27-year-old Arce, who is immensely popular in Mexico, will be headlining his second American TV show, but is no stranger to HBO fans. The hell-fire junior bantamweight has been a staple on the under cards of numerous major fights, a promoter's dream because of his crowd-pleasing style, a blend of Arturo Gatti and Ricky Hatton, filtered through classic Mexican machismo.

Like Gatti and Hatton, Arce will walk right into a punch, just to get close enough to inflict heavy damage. Some of the beatings he has administered were so brutal that his opponents were never the same after. Most importantly, he wins, fight after fight.

The two-division champion has not lost in seven years, running up a streak of 25 straight victories, of which 15 came in title fights. Overall, Arce is 17-1 in championship fights. His last loss was as memorable as his victories.

In 1999, Arce was just 18 and the defending junior flyweight champion when he stepped into a Tijuana ring with the legendary Michael Carbajal, a current Hall of Famer who was then 32.

Carbajal was an incredible warrior, the first boxer below 125 pounds to fight for a million dollar purse, thanks to a remarkable job of promoting done by Bob Arum for the classic Carbajal-Humberto Gonzalez, reunification fight in 1993, Ring Magazine's "Fight of the Year."

When Arce came along, Carbajal (49-4) was at the end of his career, without a title and looking for one final shot at glory.

What Carbajal lacked in youth, he made up in experience that night. Carbajal had been in 15 championship fights, Arce just two, and it showed dramatically two minutes into the 11th round. Up until that round, Arce had dominated Carbajal like no man before, ahead on all three scorecards, 98-91.

"He was kicking Carbajal's butt every round, but then he walked into a bomb," Gibbons said. "It was just his inexperience."

Carbajal, whose alias in English means "Little Hands of Stone," was bleeding freely over both eyes at the time, and the hostile, bear-pit crowd in Tijuana was screaming for the young matador to use his sword. Carbajal knew he needed a knockout, and the wily veteran waited for an opening. It came, and Carbajal unleashed a stunning right hand that caught Arce flush on the chin.

Arce was left temporarily motionless before Carbajal rammed home another right and drove his younger opponent to the ropes. Arce managed to stay on his feet, but his eyes were glazed, and after another flurry of punches from Carbajal, the referee stopped it. It was one of the greatest comebacks in history, and Carbajal went out in style, making it his last fight.

"It was really dramatic," said Trampler, who made that match for Top Rank. "They weren't lucky punches, but well-timed blows by a current Hall of Famer, and even Arce gives Michael full credit."

Since then, nobody has taken the measure of Arce, who has knocked out 20 of his 24 opponents on his winning streak, 14 of whom fell in five rounds or less. Last year, he fought four times, all wars, the last of which was marked by incredible ferocity, and fueled by an intense dislike between him and his opponent, Adonis Rivas. Arce's two fights with Rivas are a perfect window into his boxing soul.

Much animosity had built up between the fighters before their first bout last December. It was no surprise then that from the opening bell, Arce not only pounded Rivas with his fists, but pummeled him with verbal abuse. Rivas tried to keep up the battle pace, but Arce's relentless attack eventually wore him down.

Early into the 10th round, referee Laurence Cole mercifully called a stop to the action, but the verbal assault from Arce continued.

So intense was Arce's disdain for Rivas, he dared him to accept a quick rematch, just because he wanted to beat on him more. Only 43 days later -- a remarkably short time between bouts at a championship level -- the two went at it again. This time, instead of blasting out of the starting gate, Arce fought tentatively for the first couple rounds, before pumping up the volume and forcing Rivas to retire on his stool after the sixth round.

The fact that Rivas quit, without taking more punishment, fired Arce's anger. He believed Rivas should have fought to unconsciousness, a state which he was all too eager to administer. After the final bell Arce walked over to Rivas and told him just that.

Asked after the fight why he had started out so slowly, Arce would say he wasn't being tentative, that it was part of his strategy to stretch Rivas' punishment out for as long as he could.

Welcome to Jorge Arce's world.

Outside the ring, Arce disarms people in a radically different way. Those he encounters invariably describe the "Naughty" one with a word no opponent would dare use -- "charming."

"People feed off his energy," Trampler said. "He always makes sure to acknowledge and hug everyone he meets. His persona is very engaging, and it's real. He genuinely likes most people."

"He was kicking Carbajal's butt every round, but then he walked into a bomb," Gibbons said. "It was just his inexperience."

Arce's charm was more than evident last September, when the Spanish language network, Azteca America, introduced its fall programming schedule by hosting a lavish bash at the American Museum of Natural History.

The gregarious Arce was the smash hit of the evening, regaling potential sponsors (for Azteca) with stories about his life and boxing skills. He was a female magnet, and at one point was surrounded by a bevy of tall beauties, all well-known actresses and models in Mexico.

Part of Arce's immense popularity in Mexico was sparked by his participation in 2003 on the Televisa version of the "Big Brother V.I.P" reality TV show. The two-fisted combo of ring exploits and TV celebrity have combined to make Arce today one of the biggest draws in Mexico since Julio Cesar Chavez.

"Arce headlines his own cards in Mexico," Gibbons said. "He's the second-highest draw after Erik Morales. That TV show catapulted his name."

Headlining his first bout on American TV is a big step up in terms of exposure, and Arce knows it. Asked at training camp in the Mexican mountains how he felt about his feature debut, Arce said, "My career is going into a new stage."

What shape that stage takes is open to conjecture. Though only 27, Arce has had 48 fights, and is looking to cement his place in history - and perhaps a future date with the Hall of Fame. Before he can scale those heights, Trampler says, he will need a little help from his "friends" inside the ring.

"Carbajal, Gatti and Barrera all had opponents who helped define their careers," said Trampler, who has been Top Rank's matchmaker for 25 years. "Carbajal fought 'Chiquita' (Gonzalez) three times; Barrera and Erik three times, Gatti-Ward three times. Those trilogies were as important in this era as the 1980s battles between Hagler-Hearns and Leonard-Duran. Arce has never had that outstanding 'partner' to help define his career. But in style and performance, he has the potential be as exciting as those guys."

There are showdowns out there that could make for super Arce fights, such as with flyweight champions Vic Darchinyan and Pongsaklek Wonjongkam. At junior bantamweight, there is the popular Martin Castillo and the new Japanese sensation, Nobuo Nashiro, who shocked Castillo this summer in Japan on a 10th round TKO to win a championship title in just his eighth fight. Should the 5'-6 1/2" Arce eventually decide to go up to 118 pounds, there is a potential mega-fight with champion Rafael Marquez.

"It shouldn't reflect poorly on Arce that he hasn't had that mega-bucks dance partner yet," Trampler said. "Very few fighters in history - the exceptions being Ali, Oscar, Joe Louis and Tyson (and not many others) -- could carry a show regardless of who they were fighting. History will tell if he is a future Hall of Famer, but at this point, he certainly has a chance."

Some might legitimately question if Arce's brawling style will allow his body to last long enough for a date with destiny. Many warrior boxers achieved glory young, but were already burnt out before 30. Gatti managed to extend his career to 34 through sheer will, and Barrera is still going strong at 32 despite having been in 67 fights and countless wars. But Barrera was able to add years onto his career by morphing skillfully into a boxer-puncher, and Gatti under trainer Buddy McGirt made a similar, though less successful, conversion.

Gibbons says Arce is a different case than other brawlers. "A guy like Fernando Vargas has taken beatings, from Felix Trinidad and De La Hoya," Gibbons said. "Arce has never taken a beating in his life. He's the one that does the beatings. He didn't even take a beating in his loss to Carbajal. He can definitely keep going. There's a lot of gas in his tank."

Foot to the pedal, round after round, Jorge Arce is a Mack truck in a compact-sized body, determined to motor down the road to glory.

"Arce headlines his own cards in Mexico," Gibbons said. "He's the second-highest draw after Erik Morales. That TV show catapulted his name."

Posted 12:00 AM | Jan 27, 2007

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