American heavyweight scene a crying shame

Martin Rogers

LOS ANGELES – Cris Arreola's tears were real, the unbridled release of emotion from a brave man denied the chance to finish the biggest night of his career on his feet.

Yet the saddest thing about this occasion was the stark realization of just how far away from the United States the balance of power in heavyweight boxing now lies.

The Staples Center, the increasingly iconic venue that has played host to Kobe Bryant, Michael Jackson, Wayne Gretzky and Bruce Springsteen, was just a temporary pit stop in the grinding heavyweight circus on Saturday.

When Vitali Klitschko first fought in Los Angeles in 2003, it was because America was where the division's centrifugal force lay. Back then, Klitschko came to Staples and had his face pulled apart by Lennox Lewis, battling hard before a cuts stoppage sliced off his challenge after six rounds.

This time, Klitschko arrived as WBC champion, and he ventured here because he felt like it, not because he had to. Boxing-wise, his contest with Arreola was a working vacation, a routine defense that only tightened the grip he and his brother Wladimir hold on the division.

The next time Klitschko steps into the ring it is most likely going to be back in his adopted home of Germany, back to his fan base and his most comfortable surrounds.

As he departs the City of Angels on Sunday the latest chance to bring a heavyweight foothold to the United States goes with him, and there is little likelihood of it coming back any time soon.

"In this era of Eastern Bloc fighters being champions it is difficult," said Dan Goossen of Goossen Tutor Promotions, which co-promoted the fight. "They have got a great home in Germany, they bring in tremendous fans. The one way to beat Vitali Klitschko is for him to retire."

Indeed, with Vitali aged 38 and Wladimir 33, it may well take the end of their careers before the biggest heavyweight contests are once again routinely in the United States.

This was more of a champion's roadshow than a heavyweight blockbuster. Arreola was game and spirited and kept moving forward, but he took a heavy beating for 10 rounds, before his trainer, "Electric" Henry Ramirez, called a thankful end to the proceedings.

"I hit him with some very hard punches to the head," said Klitschko. "But he didn't go down and it surprised me a little bit. I wanted to send him to the floor. He had a great chin and a big heart."

Arreola cried in the ring during his post-fight interview, feeling he had let himself and the public down. In reality, this was an outcome that should have caused little surprise. This country is host to a handful of heavyweight hopefuls, but no real stars.

"I hate to lose," said Arreola. "It hurts. I am not going to say I can take anything good from this loss, because that would be the answer of a loser."

Arreola was the man of the people yet it was not only for this reason that Klitschko was occasionally booed by the 14,556 at the Staples Center.

Of Klitschko's 38 wins, 37 have come by stoppage, yet he is seen as cautious and boring and dull to watch.

Another reason why he and his brother will only make sparing appearances in America is because American television won't routinely pay big money for fights that are technically proficient yet generally uneventful.

"All the boxing public would like it if people stand toe-to-toe and prove who has a bad chin," said Klitschko. "I want to use my head after my career, so I use defense.

"Everyone wants to see a KO. But I always finish the fight before 12 rounds. I am so sorry, it is not maybe a spectacle. What do you want?"

What American boxing wants is to get its grip on the heavyweight game back again. The wait continues.