BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Chris Arreola openly acknowledged that he didn’t deserve to face Deontay Wilder Saturday night. He did, however, promise to leave everything in the ring in his attempt.
He was right on both accounts.
Wilder (37-0, 36 KO) defeated Arreola (36-5-1, 31 KOs) via an 8th round stoppage to retain his title, battering — and, at times, humiliating — his challenger in front of a crowd of 11,974 at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
Aided by long periods of inactivity from his opponent, Wilder showcased an improved (albeit still imperfect) offensive toolset. The Bronze Bomber’s jab was accurate and stiff, serving as a legitimate weapon rather than simply being deployed as a rangefinder for his hellacious right hand. After injuring said right hand at some point in the fourth round, he stayed active with hooks and uppercuts, the accuracy of which helped mask still-flawed footwork.
Arreola was the perfect target for Wilder to continue to fine-tune his craft. The 35-year-old California native showed big heart, but little else. He started slowly and seemed to only step on the gas when Wilder took his foot off the pedal.
With losses in all three of his heavyweight title bouts, this likely is end of the road for Arreola as a legitimate contender. Without any obvious meaningful fights to be made, it might be as good of a time as any for the durable “Nightmare” to hang them up.
Despite the dominant showing, there are more questions about Wilder’s immediate future than certainties. The extent of the damage done to his right hand is unclear. He complained post-fight about both a broken bone as well as a torn muscle before heading directly to a local hospital for a formal evaluation. Given his injury history, he might be facing a lengthy absence.
It’s a shame, too. Despite his mandatory defense against Alexander Povetkin falling through, a step-up in competition (finally) seemed inevitable. What he still lacks in skills, he makes up for with a fan-friendly approach to the larger fight game.
Saturday night’s in-ring shimmies, hip swivels and sexual crooning delighted the hometown crowd seemed to have irked many at-home viewers, but to me, it’s a sign that Wilder’s pugilistic talents have caught up to his personality’s. He didn’t just beat Arreola; he clowned him. Combined with his impressive showing against Artur Szpilka in January, 2016 was shaping up to be the year where Wilder finally reached his ceiling.
Just how high or low is that ceiling? It’d take a matchup against a legitimate top-five heavyweight to find out. Based off the immediate prognosis from Wilder’s team, it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll be able to find out any time soon.
DIAZ DISSECTS VASQUEZ IN CO-MAIN EVENT
On the undercard, Sammy Vasquez (21-1, 15 KO) looked to continue his rise up the welterweight ranks, but instead was upset by Felix Diaz (19-1, 8 KO) in a 10-round tilt that featured PBC’s first on-air “miscalculation.”
Vasquez — who entered the fight ranked higher, hyped louder and standing five inches taller — was expected to receive a stiff-but-passable test from his opponent. Instead, he played the role of the piñata at Diaz’s coming out party.
Vasquez tried to establish his jab in the first two rounds, but rarely threw anything of significance behind it to keep Diaz at bay. Emboldened by his adversary’s lack of firepower, Diaz launched attacks from the inside and out, changing levels and landing clean power punches with increasing effectiveness as the fight progressed. Meanwhile, Vasquez simply could not sustain any offense in close quarters and had even fewer answers defensively for Diaz’s speedy onslaught.
Bleeding from the nose, mouth and corner of his eye, Vasquez was deducted a point in the final round for repeatedly losing his mouthpiece. There was a problem, though. None of the three judges actually subtracted this point from their official scorecards — and it somehow proved to be a costly oversight, too.
After the final bell, scores were read as 96-94 Diaz and 95-95 twice, resulting in a majority draw. A chorus of boos erupted, with seemingly everyone in the arena agreeing that Diaz had won decisively. (Queensberry Rules scored the fight 97-92 in favor of Diaz.)
Both fighters remained in the ring as officials bustled below. Minutes later, the combatants reconvened in the middle of the ring and an announcement was made that the scores had been “recalculated.” The new totals read 96-93 and 95-94 twice, all in favor of Diaz.
While it might seem appropriate to make an “Alabama math” or even “Alabama decision” joke, personally, I’m glad the Alabama crowd was knowledgeable enough to recognize the shameful decision and voice their displeasure so emphatically.
So where do we go from here?
Vasquez showed great toughness, but should be removed from any conversations involving elite 147-pounders for the time being. Already a relatively simple fighter, the Iraq war veteran failed to make any in-fight adjustments and was categorically dissected tonight. He obviously has “some” talent and, barely four years into his pro career might have room for additional improvement yet. I just think we should temper expectations in the meantime.
On the other hand, Diaz now seems poised for bigger fights, whether at 147 or 140, where his power might play better. (Ironically, this comes on a night where it was thought that Vasquez would leap into title conversations with a victory.) At 32 years old, the former Olympic Gold medalist is by no means young, but he has a strong pedigree, fast hands and deceptive strength. There’s no denying his talent based off his recent performances. Let’s hope he just attracted top opposition, rather than scared it away.
(BIRMINGHAM, Ala — Deontay Wilder fights Chris Arreola in a title defense at Legacy Arena at the BJCC on July 16; Photo by David A. Smith/Getty Images)