- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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In 2011, former heavyweight title challenger Cristobal Arreola fought five times. That's a lot for a top contender, especially a heavyweight. But in 2012, the activity fell to just one fight in February, in part because of injuries.
His 2013 opened with more delays. Arreola and Bermane Stiverne have been set to duke it out in a title elimination fight for the right to become titleholder Vitali Klitschko's mandatory challenger. But injuries and first the postponement and then the cancellation of the Andre Ward-Kelly Pavlik super middleweight title fight (because of Ward's shoulder injury) in January forced Arreola-Stiverne to be rescheduled three times.
Stiverne is looking for his first title opportunity. Arreola would be in line for a rematch with Klitschko, who stopped him in the 10th round in 2009.
Finally -- assuming nothing else bad happens between now and when the bell rings -- they will get it on Saturday night at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif., not far from Arreola's hometown of Riverside. The fight is the opener of HBO's split-site tripleheader that will also include two fights from Argentina, middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs) defending against Martin Murray (25-0-1, 11 KOs) in the main event and welterweight Luis Carlos Abregu (34-1, 28 KOs) of Argentina against Montreal's Antonin Decarie (27-1, 8 KOs).
It will be Arreola's first fight in 14 months. Stiverne, 34, who was born in Haiti and lives in Las Vegas, has not fought since last April.
Arreola (35-2, 30 KOs), 32, whose own illness was responsible for the latest delay from March 9 to Saturday, said regardless of the postponements he is ready to roll.
"I get frustrated when I get injured at the gym or when I get sick, but when I have to wait for a fight, it doesn't frustrate me because I have worked my butt off for the entire year since 2011," Arreola said. "Even though last year I only fought once, I know that when I fight again that I am ready to go. I'm hungry to fight. When I go to [stablemate Josesito Lopez's] fight or any other fight, I get antsy. I get that motivation to fight and get in there."
Stiverne, who was barely audible and seemingly disinterested when he met the media for the announcement news conference in Las Vegas late last month, is also ready to go after all the delays.
"I just want to get it done," he said. "I might be wrong but I don't believe that he was sick. I got frustrated with all of the delays but I am patient. If I have to wait again, I would do it. This is a fight that we've been talking about for three years."
Arreola is a big puncher, but so is Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs), although he is not nearly as experienced against quality opponents. But Arreola basically dismissed Stiverne's power.
"I wouldn't say that he has humongous punching power. Every heavyweight has punching power but if you get caught you're going to sleep," Arreola said. "I don't really care about his punching power or his professional record as much as I do about his amateur record because to me amateur experience means the world [and Stiverne was a top amateur]."
Although the winner is due to get a shot at Klitschko, it remains to be seen if he will fight again. It's no secret that Klitschko, now heavily involved in politics in his native Ukraine, is considering retirement.
"If Klitschko decides to retire then he retires," Arreola said. "It's a dawn of a new era. That's me. It's my time. It's my time to shine. If he chooses to retire, that's good. He did his time. Let him step away. But if I get the rematch that would be even better."
Stiverne said before he thinks about the title fight, he wants to deal with Arreola.
"Chris has fought for a world title so I have to respect that," Stiverne said. "Any fighter would have to. It's something you got to respect. Chris brings the heat. I believe whatever heat he brings, mines is hotter. Mine is more damaging than his. I just can't wait for this fight to happen."