Riverside boxer Chris Arreola is an honest practitioner in a sport that is often lubricated with hype.
So imagine the reaction when Arreola, on a conference call interview last week to promote Saturday night’s World Boxing Council heavyweight championship fight against Deontay Wilder in Birmingham, Ala., acknowledged that he probably didn’t deserve this shot at the title.
Jaws undoubtedly dropped. Phones too, probably.
“I haven’t beaten the people you’re supposed to beat to deserve a title shot,” he said the next day, in the stuffy gym on the outskirts of San Diego where he spent the last six weeks preparing for this fight. “You’re supposed to beat someone in the top 10, or top 15, in order to really deserve a title shot.”
That bluntness is as much a part of Arreola’s persona as the sometimes — all right, often — casual approach he has taken toward training over the years.
Twice previously he has had title fights and lost them. Against Vitali Klitschko in 2009 at Staples Center, he probably wasn’t ready for a fight of that magnitude, and he says now he was distracted by the possibilities of what a victory might mean. He took so much punishment from Klitschko, who was making his fourth title defense, that trainer Henry Ramirez threw in the towel after the 10th round.
In May of 2014 he faced Bermane Stiverne for the vacated WBC title at USC’s Galen Center, a rematch of Stiverne’s unanimous decision the year before at Ontario. Arreola was winning on the judges’ scorecards when Stiverne floored him with a thundering right cross in the sixth round. Arreola took a standing eight-count and then Stiverne knocked him halfway through the ropes, for a technical knockout and the title.
Subsequently, Stiverne lost the title to Wilder in January of 2015. And after Wilder’s scheduled defense against Russia’s Alexander Potevkin in April was scrubbed when Potevkin tested positive for meldonium … well, he needed a title fight. Arreola, with a 36-4-1 record but two losses, a draw and a no-contest in his last six fights, was available.
This is why Arreola, 35, will fight Wilder Saturday evening. For the third time, he will have an opportunity to be the first fighter of Mexican descent to win the heavyweight title.
Sometimes opportunity drops into your lap. But you still have to grab it.
“You never say no to a title shot,” the 35-year-old Arreola said. “Never.
“I know I’m a handpicked opponent for Wilder. I know he thinks he’s getting a cakewalk, an easy fight. But it’s not going to be a cakewalk. I guarantee you that.”
Few of those who watch boxing for a living — or for recreation, for that matter — agree. They have seen Arreola’s weight and conditioning vary wildly from fight to fight. They saw three 2015 bouts with wildly divergent outcomes: a sluggish eight-round victory over Curtis Harper in March at Ontario, an unimpressive draw over Fred Kassi in July in El Paso, and a victory over former sparring partner Travis Kauffman in December in San Antonio that was subsequently declared a no contest when Arreola tested positive for marijuana.
“After marijuana gets legalized I’m gonna fight to get my wins back,” quipped Arreola, who had a 2011 victory over Friday Ahunanya voided for the same reason. “It’s not like I’m taking PEDs.”
But consider this both a last chance and a nothing-to-lose proposition for Arreola. He understands this will likely be his last shot at a title. He also understands hardly anyone outside his camp gives him much of a chance against Wilder, 30, who is 36-0 as a professional and has won all but one of those fights by knockout.
In fact, Saturday might be the first time Arreola has been this severe an underdog in a fight since the Klitschko bout in ’09.
“There’s no pressure on me — none,” he said. “Nobody’s expecting anything from me. I’m expecting something from me. Henry’s expecting something. B.B. (Hudson, his conditioning coach), is expecting something. Everybody else? They just think I’m coming out as a punching bag.
“This is my Rocky moment. I have to treat it as a Rocky moment. I have to take it as an all or nothing kind of situation, because if I lose people are going to be like, ‘Eh, I don’t want to see him again.’ ”
By all appearances, Arreola looks in decent shape. Ramirez said he figured his fighter will come into the fight around 246 or …