Deja vu, son. This weekend, a fighter of Mexican descent will attempt to pull what would be a monumental upset against a style nightmare of a boxer who has a legitimate claim to calling himself “the best,” but who divides public opinion between love and loathe. Some are talking up the chances of the action hero underdog, who will almost surely be fighting at a weight Saturday night a good deal higher than he ought to. Most people know better, but will probably tune in just to see if it can maybe, just maybe, come to be.
This weekend is Vitali Klitschko-Chris Arreola, the latest heavyweight fight to raise expectations. You could be forgiven for thinking it is Floyd Mayweather-Juan Manuel Marquez, last weekend’s welterweightish fight, where expectations got popped like a Mexican Independence Day “FIESTA!” balloon at a Hot Topic spiked-collar manufacturing plant. Hell, the replay of Mayweather-Marquez is even airing in conjunction with Klitschko-Arreola on HBO.
I’ve never once said any boxer “can’t” win a fight. It’s boxing. A lot can happen. There are rational reasons for thinking Arreola can beat Klitschko, and they deserve due consideration and review. But I think, in all honesty, what Klitschko-Arreola offers is a greater chance for an exciting fight than either Klitschko brother, the twin-headed rulers of today’s heavyweights, have been in for five years or more. Not a surefire kind of chance. A greater one.
Vitali is arguably the better of the Klitschko brothers, and divisional champion Wladimir is pretty good, so that should tell you something about anyone’s chances of beating Vitali. He isn’t as athletic or agile as little bro, but he has a better knockout ratio (36 KOs in 37 wins to 47 KOs in 53 wins) and a much better chin. Vitali has two KO losses on his record to Wladimir’s three, but Vitali’s are the result of an injured shoulder and a cut, while Wladimir’s are a result of getting clobbered. He shares little bro’s insane height — both run about 6’6″, 6’7″ — and the ability to capitalize on it to the great frustration of his opponents with a nasty jab/straight right and impeccable control of distance. For a while, it also looked like Vitali had a chance of being a heavyweight champion who could be fairly popular in America. His slugfest with Lennox Lewis in 2003 was just flat-out action between two massive men, and his 2004 bouts with Danny Williams and Corrie Sanders had their moments.
But he suffered a protracted injury layoff, ran for mayor a couple times and lost, then came back to fight nearly as cautiously and boringly (except in Germany, which loves the Klitschkos) as little bro had taken to doing, whose most exciting fight after Vitali left was an awkward, knockdown-and-foul-filled battle with Sam Peter in 2005. At 38, Vitali is two fights back into a boring but successful alphabet title reign, having defeated that Peter fellow and Juan Carlos Gomez by KO. If you’re looking for a weakness in Vitali, there’s not much to be found, except in his age and injury history. Let’s say he gets old overnight, turns slow and loses a step, and the right young gun is there to pounce. Or he endures another injury, perhaps to his back, and can’t continue. Thin gruel, that.
Arreola is, hypothetically, such a young gun. He is, of course, a young gun; the only question is whether he is the young gun who can do it. At 6’4″, he’s the tallest opponent Klitschko has fought since Sanders, albeit if only by a half-inch or so. Arreola’s knockout ratio is comparable to Vitali’s: 24 in 27 wins, with one of those non-KOs a DQ that was effectively a KO, although the level of competition has been much lower. He’s got more skills than people give him credit for, at least on offense; he’s got a nice overhand right, and there aren’t many heavyweights who put together combinations like Arreola these days. He’s also faster than he looks, which his not to say he’s fast. When he wants it to be, his defense isn’t half-bad. And most of all, he’s aggressive. A lot of Klitschko opponents find that rushing in on the brothers gets one nothing but flush counters, so they try to pick apart the Klitschkos from the outside. Arreola fights like, talks like, and his team promises that he will knockout Klitschko or get knocked out trying. It is here where Klitschko-Arreola could get raw in ways other Klitschko fights never could.
But aside from Klitschko’s strengths, there are other reasons “fun while it lasts” is the best available forecast for Klitschko-Arreola. Arreola’s chin is a question mark. He got dropped by Travis Walker, a decent heavyweight but no standout, and staggered by an ancient, semi-retired Jameel McCline. And here’s the thing Arreola’s backers really hate anyone talking about: He’s a fattie. Fattie or no, he’s fun to watch, but let’s not pretend being a fattie doesn’t matter. He looks less mobile the higher his weight goes, and while his stamina has never come into question, he also hasn’t really fought an elite opponent, and everything about elite opposition requires that much more stamina. Reports are inconclusive from two weeks ago of Arreola’s status for this fight as a non-fattie (Southern California boxing media types: “See, he looked svelte in the public workout and he’s at 260 already!”) or non-fattie (People who have heard the Arreola-won’t-be-fat-this-time line before: “But he suspiciously wore a shirt in his public workout and since when is 260 svelte?”). Arreola was at his best at about 240 against Chazz Witherspoon and even then he was rocking the love handles. Against Klitschko, he needs to be even better, and he won’t get there unless he’s got a miracle diet. Lastly, there’s a massive experience gap here. Arreola’s never fought anyone in the division’s top 10, let alone the man who’s ranked #1 in the division by Ring magazine.
I was going to wait originally to post this preview until I saw Arreola’s weigh-in, but look, it don’t matter. Arreola’s got a puncher’s chance, or a Klitschko-gets-injured chance, but that’s it. I hate to just out-and-out quote another writer, but I absolutely couldn’t say it any better than Eric Raskin just did
. “Ask 100 people who follow boxing what they think is going to happen in Saturday night’s fight between Vitali Klitschko and Chris Arreola, and about 98 of them will tell you the same thing: Arreola will come to fight, make it fun for a little while and ultimately get beaten up and knocked out. And here’s an indication of how low American fight fans’ expectations for the heavyweight division have sunken: If that’s how it plays out, we’ll take it.” That’s what I predict. And I’ll take it.
Let’s for a second contemplate the nearly unthinkable, though. Let’s say Arreola wins. Suddenly, he will be huge — not just literally, but figuratively, too. He’d be the first man of Mexican descent to win a heavyweight title, which would drive our friends south of the border crazy with delight. He’s Mexican-American, so up here in the U.S. of A. we’d welcome the return of even a piece of the heavyweight pie to the greatest country in the history of mankind, America f@#k yeah. People would wonder, “Who is this outgoing fat man who has restored America to its pugilistic glory?” and things would be good until he fought another Klitschko, the rematch kind or the Wlad kind, at which point you have to think he gets knocked out unless he’s just way better than virtually anyone knows, and then he knocks out David Haye in the Heavyweight Fight of the Century — Arreola-Haye’s the fight I want anyway — and then…
Sorry, I got transported to Imaginationland
there for a second, but the terrorists just came and bombed it all to hell and Freddie Krueger was there and also those woodland animals who seem so cute but can’t stop talking about urinating in Strawberry Shortcake’s eye socket. Klitschko by KO in six or less.