Paul Williams, above: Boxing elite’s skinniest. Chris Arreola: Boxing elite’s fattest.
Paul Williams and Chris Arreola had trouble with their opponents early, but turned the tables to knock them out. In so doing, Williams enhanced his stock with me, but Arreola hurt his. Williams never was in any major trouble, but lost a round to Verno Phillips before firmly taking control and exhibiting new dimensions en route to notching one of the three best wins of his career. It was his third weight class of the year, junior middleweight (154 lbs). Arreola, by contrast, showed up fat again for the second straight fight, this one against an opponent, Travis Walker, that he definitely shouldn’t have showed up fat against. It’s a troubling trend that now has the looks of a permanent condition for the best American heavyweight, one that suggests Arreola’s more destined for “action hero” status than the kind of pound-for-pound greatness Williams is heading toward.
CHRIS ARREOLA – TRAVIS WALKER
I once thought the ceiling for Arreola was “anybody short of the Klitschko brothers.” I wouldn’t necessarily pick him against any other top 10 heavyweight, but I would have thought him credible against any of them. Now — no. And it’s because Arreola is, candidly, determined to be a fattie. For his last fight, Arreola showed up at a career-high 258, but you could maybe write that off to the fact that his opponent was not very threatening. Walker? Walker was threatening. Some might argue it was his best opponent. But Arreola showed up at 254. It’s inexecusable, and very disappointing, and it now looks like a bad habit Arreola will never shake, because even at his least fat, he’s never been as un-fat as he should be. He needed to be better than ever. Instead, he was almost his worst.
The consolation prize is that Arreola is going to be a great action fighter no matter what, perhaps in part because of his vulnerabilities. After a feeling-out 1st round where Arreola did not much of anything but Walker threw a whopping 106 shots, Walker took the momentum into the 2nd round and knocked down Arreola with a very nice right hand. So far as I can discern, it was the first knockdown of Arreola’s career, and he was legitimately hurt. But he mixed holding on with punching back, and before long, he caught Walker and hurt him. In fact, he knocked him down twice in the round. It was one of the most fun rounds of the year.
Walker clearly never recovered, because in the 3rd, Arreola caught him early with a beatiful left hook that dropped Walker, prompting the ref to stop the fight. It was a reasonable stoppage, and as the ref told Walker afterward, he had nothing to be ashamed of, because he fought well early before he got stopped. Arreola acknowledged in the post-fight interview that he now knows he needs to work on his weight, which is an improvement from the pre-fight interviews he did where he said he never even stepped on a scale. But frankly, I don’t believe he is capable of caring as much as he should. The least-blubbery version of Arreola, as I said before, was still too blubbery. He most likely will never fulfill his potential. But it won’t be boring watching him become a heavyweight version of Arturo Gatti.
Next for the winner: Arreola won this IBF title eliminator, setting up a potential bout with Wladimir Klitschko. During the post-fight interview, Arreola asked the crowd if he was ready for a Klitschko, and the crowd cheered. Wrong reaction. Arreola gets murdered by a Klitschko. I’d still like to see him in against just about any top heavyweight, and since David Haye is looking for a spring opponent, howsabout the two best young heavyweights — Haye and Arreola — square off? It’s a Fight of the Year candidate because both men can punch and both men have flaws. Let’s make it happen.
Next for the loser: I think I underrated Walker, who is better than I thought. I think he’d be a credible test for any sub-Klitschko heavyweight, and in all three of his fights that I’ve seen, he’s brought excitement, win or lose. To paraphrase a recent Librado Andrade quote: If he loses, this is the way I want him to lose — going down in flames shooting for the knockout. (I wonder if he tired himself out with his early punch output, a strategic mistake, but among the more fan-friendly strategic mistakes.) I don’t think he’s title material, but is he good television? Hell yeah. And he deserves another shot at the big time off this admirable effort.
PAUL WILLIAMS – VERNO PHILLIPS
Williams may still be learning, which really should make the rest of the boxing world scared. He’s already sniffing the list of the top 10 fighters in the world of any size, and the notion of him actually getting better cheers me, a Williams fan, and probably chills everyone who isn’t in his corner.
If you asked me before this fight to name Phillips’ top trait, it would be: “He never stops coming.” Williams MADE him stop coming, with the ring doctor apparently recommending a stoppage at the end of the 8th that Phillips and his corner didn’t much resist. I say this without any disdain for Phillips. He fought bravely, but he was taking a serious beating that lesser fighters would not have been able to sustain for far fewer rounds. At 39, Phillips didn’t need to take any more of that business.
Early on, Phillips had some success. I barely gave Williams the 1st round and gave Phillips the 2nd, owing to Phillips’ excellent counter-punching — much as Carlos Quintana did so skillfully in Williams-Quintana I — and occasional lead right hand. An unintentional head butt that maybe should have led to the conclusion of the fight clouded Williams’ vision, which made his rebound round in the 3rd all the more impressive. Williams, on the advice of his corner, made adjustments that kept Phillips from countering so well. That is, he came in with much better head movement, and focused a little more on when Phillips timed his shots. Offensively, be began opening up to Phillips’ body, and it was phenomenal work. You don’t see tall fighters like Williams, around 6’2″ to Phillips’ leprechaun-like height by comparison, punch to the body that well.
In subsequent rounds, Williams was out-landing Phillips 30-something to 10-something, and by the 6th and 7th, Williams was starting to hurt Phillips, a real statement considering that Phillips’ chin hasn’t been truly dented since 19-freaking-88. Phillips tried to rough-house Williams a little and land some good body shots, but they were far fewer than Williams’ own shots, which were swamping Phillips.
Williams still gets hit too easily, and gives away his height too often, but he showed he could focus on defense if he wanted, and he fought through adversity by overcoming a very bad cut. This was an excellent statement win. If you don’t like Williams yet, I don’t know what to tell you. He’s exciting and increasingly versatile, and there’s no one, literally no one, I’d count him out against from 147 lbs. to 160 lbs.
Next for the winner: Anyone he can get his damn hands on. At 147, a rematch with Antonio Margarito is one of the best fights that can be made in boxing, but frankly, I don’t think Margarito or his team wants any, no matter how much money Williams’ team throws at him. At 154, I think Williams against Vernon Forrest is a very interesting bout — Forrest can neutralize Williams’ height somewhat with his own, and he offers Williams one of the biggest names in his “W” ledger much as Williams offers Forrest a very nice name on his borderline Hall of Fame resume. But Williams will fight anyone, and besides the two I just mentioned, I’d love to see him against just about any of them, especially Andre Berto, Joshua Clottey, Daniel Santos, James Kirkland, Alfredo Angulo, Kelly Pavlik and Arthur Abraham.
Next for the loser: Phillips may want to consider retirement; it’s not that I’d count him out against most of the other top 154-pounders, it’s just that he’s 39 and he’s just been forced to quit for the first time in his career. I doubt his next payday is as big as the one he earned against Williams. But if one of the youngsters at 154 wants a dipstick to see how far up he’s come, he could do a lot, lot worse than Phillips.