Last Man Standing?

Sep 22, 2009

Chris Arreola has the heart of a warrior and the soul of a stand-up comedian. Taken together, the fighter's two sides could turn him into a phenomenon not seen in a long time—the American heavyweight boxing superstar.

As Chris Arreola trains for his fight with Vitali Klitschko on September 26th at the Staples Center, he has a lot on his mind. The fight is for Klitschko's WBC heavyweight belt, and taking that belt would make Arreola the first man of Mexican descent in history to win a share of the heavyweight title.

It's a goal that Arreola first set his sights on when he laced up the gloves as an eight-year-old growing up in East L.A. For critics who think he's being rushed along too quickly in this fight with Klitschko, he cites his many years of fighting, dating back to those childhood days, and claims that right now he's as ready for a big title fight as he'll ever be.

"Maybe I've never fought a top-ten heavyweight," he says, "but I've beaten a lot of undefeated fighters, and a lot of these undefeated guys could beat most of the top-ten guys in the world. I've been boxing for sixteen, seventeen years now. So if not now, then what am I boxing for? I've paid my dues over the course of my life and I'm ready."

But one of the main criticisms of Arreola is that he doesn't pay his dues, at least not where it counts for a fighter - in the gym. Just a few months before the Klitschko fight, Arreola was seen in public looking heavier than ever. His weight and flabby upper body have made talking points for critics in each of his successive fights as he's gained more and more renown. They ask how a man who isn't willing to dedicate himself to his overall fitness can ever hope to be a true champion.

Now that he's fighting for a title on the big stage, this question is one of the main topics of conversation when writers assess his chances at beating the 6'7" leviathan. It's a question that irritates Arreola , because in his mind, it completely misses the point. "It does bug me that they fixate on my weight and my physical appearance," he says, "because not once have I ever shown that I was tired in the ring. Not once have I changed the way that I fight. They're more fixated on my weight than they are on my performance."

I picture myself just breaking him down little by little, chipping away and chipping away, and then finally finding that opening that I'll be looking for.

Arreola has a point. Whatever his body may look like when he fights, it's hard to argue with the results. Twenty-seven bouts, twenty-four knockouts, and most of them of the crowd-pleasing,"Oh-my-God-did-you-see-that?" variety that turns winning fighters into YouTube sensations and must-see stars. There's no question that Arreola has the total package to become a huge star on the American scene, possessing both gigantic punching power and a gigantic personality. The knockouts are self-evident, and so is his charisma.

"I've always wanted to do a set of stand-up comedy," he admits. "Just go in there on amateur night and try to do a routine. It's sort of seems like boxing actually, because it's just you and the stage. No one else can come in there and help you."

Anyone who's ever hung around the guy knows that being a comedian would not be an unlikely alternative career choice. Joking around is a way of life for Chris Arreola. As he tells it, he and his trainer bust on each other so hard that observers often wonder how they maintain their relationship. "I've always been a class clown type. Me and my friends, me and Henry, my trainer, we're ball-busters. And it's all in good fun, believe me. People look at what we say to each other and they say, "How are you guys friends?"

Then again, when talk turns to his boxing career, the jokes go out the window. Asked if he'll go right after Wladimir Klitschko if he beats Vitali, he turns serious in a heartbeat. "The thing about it is, man, I don't look at this as 'if' I beat Vitali. It's 'when.' When I win this fight, if Wladimir Klitschko is the next fight in front of me, then so be it, because what I look forward to is being the undisputed heavyweight champion."

His confidence heading into his first world title shot is undeniable. Ironically, for a man who is constantly facing questions about his weight, a lot of that confidence has to do with his fitness level and how he sees the Kltischko fight playing out. "I'm prepared to go into deep water with him, and I'm pretty sure that we're going to go deep into the fight. But it's not going the full twelve rounds, that's for sure. I picture myself just breaking him down little by little, chipping away and chipping away, and then finally finding that opening that I'll be looking for."

Despite his reputation as the life of the party, Arreola hasn't planned any particular victory celebration yet, beyond some immediate post-fight sustenance. "After I get the title, when I get to the dressing room, I'm going to have some beer on ice ready for me. So I'm warning you, I might stumble into the press conference pretty buzzed."

After that, the sky's the limit. As a big-punching Mexican-American who is all kill-or-be-killed fury in the ring and affable, approachable and completely hilarious out of it, Arreola has the potential to become the first heavyweight to capture the American imagination since Mike Tyson. So provided everything goes according to plan, just how long does Arreola imagine his boxing career lasting? "I'm thinking like my mid-thirties. Seven more years and I'm out. And then when I get to my time, I'll just, you know, sit next to Max Kellerman and Jim Lampley and announce the fights with them."

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