Nightmare dreams of becoming first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage

6/17/2008 - Boxing

Chris Arreola's moniker is "The Nightmare," but he is hopeful that his quest to become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican ancestry will ultimately be a sweet dream come true.

"It's history," Arreola said. "The closer and closer it gets, it's not pressure, but it's more 'orgullo,' it's pride. I [have become proud] to say, 'Yeah, I'm going to be the first Mexican heavyweight champion.' I just want to get there and I just can't wait to get there."

Arreola, 27, of Riverside, Calif., via Los Angeles, is promoted by Dan Goossen and managed by Al Haymon. Together, they've brought Arreola along nicely and now Arreola is ranked in the top 10 by three of the four major governing bodies. At 23-0 with 21 knockouts, it would appear the time has come to find out if he's for real.

Arreola will square off with Chazz Witherspoon (23-0, 15 KOs) at FedEx Forum on Saturday in Memphis, Tenn. Witherspoon is not ranked in the top 10, but he should provide Arreola with his stiffest test to date.

In the ring Arreola has a crowd-pleasing, in-your-face demeanor.

"His style of fighting, it suffocates a lot of heavyweights," said his trainer, Henry Ramirez. "They're not used to that pace. When Chris is in the best shape and prepared and focused, he is a very hard guy for any heavyweight in the world to deal with."

Ramirez, 32, describes Arreola as a big kid outside the ring, but a mean hombre inside it.

"We try to push the pace and basically try to take their heart, break their spirit," Ramirez said.

Ramirez went on to say that "the only person who could stop Chris is Chris." Indeed, Arreola has been known for erratic training habits. However, Arreola insists that when he has a solid opponent in front of him, he goes all out.

"I put that extra effort, where I'll go an extra two, three rounds," Arreola said. "I'll run that extra mile. I do that extra 10 minutes on the treadmill."

According to Ramirez, Arreola's approach has improved.

"He didn't think boxing was going to do anything for him, but he started winning and now he can see the big picture," Ramirez said.

Ben Lira is not so sure. The astute Lira, who later in June will be inducted into the California Boxing Hall of Fame, has been a trainer in Southern California for more than 30 years. Not only does he know all there is to know about Southern California fighters, he trains heavyweight Manuel Quezada (23-4, 15 KOs). Quezada has sparred at least twice with Arreola.

"To me, he's a question," Lira said of Arreola. "There are some good things about him and then there is a little doubt about him. He seems to be strong enough to deal with the bigger and quality guys that are out there. But I question how big a puncher he is. For the heavyweight division, I see a guy that has to throw a lot of punches to really hurt you."

Lira said he isn't sure about Arreola's overall hunger, either.

"My other question is dedication as far as his work habits," Lira said. "To me, they're poor. I don't see a guy that really, for that desire and goals that he has put forward, he doesn't seem to do that in his work ethic. He gets real heavy. He gets a little flabby.

"Heavyweights can get like that, but if you know you want to be the best at what you are going after, you put that hard work into it. I don't see that with him."

Arreola is 6-foot-4 and he fought as high as 256 pounds in September 2005.

During a stretch of four fights during 2006 to 2007, he was between 229 and 233 pounds. He was at 245 and 244, respectively, for his past two fights.

Goossen said he could get Arreola a title shot "tomorrow." But in reality, he said he and Haymon are looking for mid-to-late 2009 before that transpires. If Arreola gets by Witherspoon, Goossen said former contender David Tua could be next.

"We just want to keep him rising in those ratings and fighting every possible big name out there until we're ready for that heavyweight championship," said Goossen, who, in contrast to Lira, referred to Arreola as having "a knockout punch that will rival any great heavyweight."

Arreola was asked if he was confident he could make history and indeed become the first heavyweight champion of Mexican heritage. He recalled a recent conversation with a young amateur boxer. The amateur was about to step into the ring with a tough opponent and he asked Arreola what he thought his chances were.

"I told him, 'You know what? If you don't think you could beat somebody, you shouldn't be in this game,' " Arreola said. "That's the way I feel. If I don't think I could beat somebody, if I think that there's anybody out there that will beat me, then I shouldn't be in this game. Honestly, I think I [can] beat anybody."

If so, then that pride he spoke of will fill his Mexican veins.

"I can't wait to make the Mexican fans proud to have a Mexican heavyweight champion."

Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.