chris arreolaChris Arreola, right, lands a punch on his way to defeating Nagy Aguilera in 2011. (Getty Images)
Chris Arreola is strong and athletic, but he's always been, well, kind of big. When he's bouncing on the balls of his feet, he's like a family with triplets, going in multiple directions at once.
He's one of the better heavyweights of his era, but as he is now much closer to the end of his career than the beginning, it's pretty clear that he's failed to reach the heights his skills suggested he could.
There is no getting around the fact that Arreola's problems are self-created. He has championship-level skills, but he hasn't shown a championship-level work ethic.
He's never fallen in love with training. He's never been confused with a gym rat. Arreola has never tortured himself, not even in his biggest fights, losses in a heavyweight title bout to Vitali Klitschko and to Tomasz Adamek.
It might be too late, but Arreola finally might be getting it. He might be ready to harvest that boatload of talent and make one last run at the top.
He fights Seth Mitchell in a Showtime-televised bout Saturday in Indio, Calif., in what is being billed as a "Must Win" showdown.
And Arreola, who never in the past was hesitant to skip training, approached it that way. Or, to be honest, he says he has. With boxers, the proof is always in the ring.
But Arreola (35-3-0, 30 KOs) trained in Phoenix, away from the comforts, and bar food, of his Riverside, Calif., home.
It was an acknowledgement of past failures and a recognition that if he didn't do something quick, he might blow his last chance and leave himself with a lifetime of regrets.
"It took me until I was 32, but I've finally grown up a little," Arreola said. "For once, I'm doing what it takes to give myself the best chance to win. I've always been my own worst enemy, but this time it's not like that. I've got to make sure I walk the walk, and that everything I say I'm going to do happens. I've always been my own biggest problem, my own worst enemy. I can't blame anybody else. I work my butt off once I'm in the gym, but getting to the gym wasn't always automatic. I’d always come up with excuses for not going. Out in Phoenix, we only had one car, and [trainer] Henry [Ramirez] did all the driving. He also had the only key. So relocating paid off. I put in the time. I did my training camp the way I [was] always supposed to be doing it. All I did was concentrate on boxing."
Ramirez finally got tired of seeing Arreola waste his vast potential. All the missed days in the gym led to disappointment when it mattered most.
Mitchell (26-1-1, 19 KOs) has a lot more notoriety than a guy of his accomplishments would ordinarily have because he was a football player at Michigan State.
But it's a fight Arreola should win, provided he is in condition. Mitchell's chin is not the best, and he was hurt several times in his last outing against Johnathon Banks. Banks, though, inexplicably stopped punching and Mitchell went on to earn a unanimous decision.
Arreola is a much harder hitter than Banks, who had knocked Mitchell out in their first bout. Ramirez, though, knew that if nothing else, Mitchell would be in shape and that for Arreola to win, he'd have to match Mitchell's conditioning.
Ramirez wasn't happy with Arreola's lackadaisical approach to training for his last outing, a loss to Bermane Stiverne on April 26.
"Chris can't train at home, simple as that," Ramirez said. "His preparation before the last fight was nowhere near what a professional fighter at that level should have – nowhere near. Mitchell is a good fighter. I don't necessarily feel he's at that top, upper-echelon level that some are putting him at, but he's still a dangerous opponent. He's coming off a victory over a guy that knocked him out. So, mentally, he's overcome a hurdle. He beat the guy who knocked him out. "I would expect him to be fully confident and to be the best Seth Mitchell that there is. What that is, I really don't know. But I know it’s not enough to beat Chris. It's been a different Chris for this camp. I knew everything he was doing. We went to the gym together. He didn't have access to a car. There weren't any missed days. Chris showed up for workouts twice every day. Mitchell is not going to benefit from an unprepared Chris Arreola, I can guarantee that."
Arreola has frequently insisted in the past that he's worked hard in camp, only to show up in the fight flabby and unable to go hard for three minutes a round for 12 rounds.
He's saying all the right things now – yet again – and if he is telling the truth, he can still be a major factor in the heavyweight division.
Arreola was somewhat dismissive of Mitchell, but the boxing world may finally be dismissive of him if this is yet another phony claim.
If he's ready, though, Mitchell figures to be in for a long night.
"This is a must-win fight," Arreola said. "I respect his conditioning and his determination to be somebody. Mitchell was a good football player, but I've been in this game too long to lose to somebody like that. If I lose to some guy like Seth Mitchell, I would seriously contemplate retirement. I'm not a gatekeeper and I never want be that guy you beat so my name looks good on your resume. I'm not that kind of a fighter. I'm a world-class athlete, a world-class boxer."
He is a world-class athlete.
He is a world-class boxer.
But what he needs to be is a well-conditioned world-class boxer. And we've yet to see proof of that.
Saturday may finally be the night.