With a win, Arreola could become superstar

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! SportsSeptember 23, 2009

LOS ANGELES – Cris Arreola has a news alert set up on his computer. Any time his name is mentioned on the Internet, he knows about it.

Every day, Arreola silently smiles as he reads about his body, about whether he's in condition to fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, if he's got the discipline to make the thunder in his fists matter.

For the last nine weeks, as he's prepared to challenge Vitali Klitschko on Saturday at the Staples Center for the World Boxing Council heavyweight title, Arreola has pushed himself like never before in an effort to get the last laugh at the critics who spend far more time talking about his midsection than his right hand.

His conditioning coach, the highly regarded Daryl Hudson, said the effort Arreola has given is remarkable. His boxing trainer, "Electric" Henry Ramirez, said it used to be that Arreola would lock the door to his room during training camp and no amount of cajoling could get him out to do conditioning work.

This time around, Arreola has locked the door on occasion, and he's let his share of curse words fly at Ramirez while he begged with him to get out and get to work, but Arreola has always opened the door.

"Hey," Arreola said, shrugging his large shoulders, "Henry has a key to the room anyway."

Hudson raved about Arreola's work and vowed that he'll be able to go 12 hard rounds, with a reserve left, if need be on Saturday.

Yet, Arreola unflinchingly concedes he's not going to impress anyone with his build. The question of the week seems to have been, "How does Cris look?"

Arreola, who said he'll weigh around 250 pounds when he steps on the scale Thursday for the official weigh-in, can easily answer that question.

"I ain't ever looked like I'm a threat to win a bodybuilding contest," Arreola said. "But you know what? I'll bet you, none of the guys who do want to [expletive] with me."

True enough. There aren't many guys anywhere who do. This is a guy whose knockout percentage of 88.9 percent (27-0, 24 KOs) is among the best in heavyweight history. Even Klitschko, who is 37-2 with 36 knockouts, is only slightly better at 92.3 percent.

If the truth be known, Arreola would much rather have spent the last nine weeks at home, playing with his daughter and sitting in front of his television playing a video game. The Southern California resident would prefer a seat at the corner bar, with a frosty mug of ice cold beer, a plate of steaming nachos in front of him and a Dodgers' game on the television set to some of the complex conditioning drills Hudson has put him through.

"Dude, when I'm doing some of that [expletive], it feels like it's liable to kill me at any minute," Arreola says, laughing.

He's an easy-to-like guy who is even easier to watch in the ring. Arreola is a more skilled boxer than he's given credit for being. He was the 2001 Golden Gloves national champion as a light heavyweight, and his promoter, Dan Goossen, said sometimes he forgets Arreola is a heavyweight when he watches him move effortlessly around the ring

But Arreola's calling card is his power and his willingness to stand and trade. He fights much like one-time great Mexican featherweights Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera, firing hard punches from all angles while eating a few in the process. He was dropped by the not-so-highly regarded Travis Walker last November, causing more than a few experts to wonder what will happen if, or when, Klitschko catches him on the chin.

"This fight," Klitschko said icily, "will not go the distance."

On that point, Arreola agrees with Klitschko. Neither man expects to touch gloves for the start of the 12th round. Between them, they have 60 knockouts in 66 professional fights, as well as a killer instinct to finish.

Much has been made of the impact an Arreola victory would have on the lacking-for-talent division, particularly given his congenial and garrulous nature. Even more has been made about the significance of Arreola becoming the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. Arreola's parents are Mexican and emigrated to the U.S. in the hope their son would find a better life.

Mexican boxing fans and some of its greatest boxers are eager for Arreola to stop Klitschko, win the title and start a new era in the sport.

"It is a real event to Mexican boxing," Morales said. "Moreover, if Cristobal wins the title, it will be the cherry on top of the cake in the history of Mexican boxing, as we have had great fighters in almost all the weight divisions, but in this one, which is the most difficult division in boxing, we have never had a great fighter."

As big as an Arreola victory would be in Mexico, it may turn out to be even bigger in the U.S. There hasn't been an American-born heavyweight champion since 2007. The WBC belt was last held by an American when Hasim Rahman had it in 2006. John Ruiz was the last American to hold the World Boxing Association belt, back in 2005. Brooklyn's Shannon Briggs briefly held the World Boxing Organization belt in 2007, and Chris Byrd held the International Boxing Federation heavyweight title in 2006.

None of them, though, were particularly popular champions. Arreola has the self-deprecating personality, the Everyman's touch and, most importantly, the knockout power to become a larger-than-life figure if he can win and keep the belt for a while.

And while he has spoken frequently of what it would mean to him to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent, he's made it clear he's going to be a very American champion.

He points to a tattoo of the Statue of Liberty on his right forearm.

"I'm proud to be an American," Arreola said. "As you can see, I have the Statue of Liberty right here. I've said it: My parents came here to give me a better life. I'm as big as I am because of being born here. The food they gave me in lunch [at school] was great, real nutritious, and I ate everything. I'm proud to be an American. I'm proud to be working for both sides."

And if he wins the title, he's going to celebrate in a very American way.

"I'm going to go have a nice cold beer," he says, chuckling. "Or six."

If he defeats Klitschko, not even Ramirez or Hudson would complain about that.