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Avila Perspective, Chap. 58: The Journey of Chris Arreola and More

David A. Avila

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Chris Arreola knows this could be his final walk into the prize ring when he faces Adam Kownacki on Saturday at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

It’s been 16 years since his pro debut and the circle of boxing is near completion.

Arreola, 38, who quickly rose to fame from the California desert city of Riverside, knows all about victory, fame and defeat. He doesn’t want the journey to end.

“Nothing negative against Adam Kownacki, he can knock me out and I can knock him out, we both know how to fight,” said Arreola. “We both just need a little opportunity to knock somebody out. Were both exciting fighters that put everything on the line.”

In a battle that could be the end or the continuation of his career, Arreola (38-5-1, 33 KOs) battles Kownacki (19-0, 15 KOs) who now lives in Brooklyn but is originally from Poland. They meet on Saturday. FOX will televise.

During the turn of the 21st century the city of Riverside was quickly transitioning from a sleepy town more famous for citrus fruit, toward a refuge for Los Angeles residents seeking more affordable housing.

The family of Arreola was one of these families that moved 60 miles from East Los Angeles to the growing town of Riverside near the 60-Freeway and 91-Freeway. Before World War II, Riverside was more defined by its many railroad crossings than freeways.

Arreola was one of the dozen or so talented youngsters that saw boxing as a way to pass the time. Riverside’s closest mall on Central Avenue and Riverside Avenue was mostly avoided until it was rebuilt into the now bustling Riverside Plaza. Back in the 1990s kids like Arreola, Josesito Lopez and Henry Ramirez visited the Lincoln Gym. That was their refuge despite soaring temperatures in the summer.

Those same kids and a few others helped spark a boxing revolution in the Inland Empire. It’s now an area that is home to several powerhouse boxing camps in Riverside, Indio, Big Bear and San Bernardino. That doesn’t include the many more boxing gyms that are scattered from Pomona to Coachella.

As an amateur, Arreola was a tall skinny light heavyweight who caught the rest of America by surprise during a National Golden Gloves tournament in the early 2000s. He grabbed the championship by knocking everyone out.

Arreola quickly grew into a heavyweight but Mexican heavyweights had never been a commodity. Though he packed a punch and was always entertaining, the promoters were wary about spending time and money on him.

Even Thompson Boxing Promotions, a company famous for discovering hidden talent in the Inland Empire, passed on Arreola. They signed Josesito Lopez and took a flyer on Arreola.

It was boxing scout Wes Crockett who urged Al Haymon to take a look at the Mexican heavyweight. He was subsequently signed by Goossen-Tutor Promotions and his career began to take off.

Championship Potential

Dan Goossen, the president of Goossen-Tutor Promotions, was always in pursuit of a heavyweight world champion. He stockpiled heavyweights hoping one would win a world title and help carry the company to the next level.

Goossen also saw something in Arreola.

Years ago during an informal press conference inside the Casa Vega Restaurant in the San Fernando Valley, the Southern California promoter Goossen whispered aside that Arreola was a promoter’s dream who possessed the gift of gab like Muhammad Ali.

It was a quality you can’t teach.

Early in Arreola’s pro career, mentor Andy Suarez, who trained fighters at the Lincoln Gym, worked the corner of Arreola and would point out the other Riverside fighters who had potential. He always saw championship quality in Arreola.

Another who worked Arreola’s corner was Willie Schunke who served as the cut man and hand wrapper for years. He was a Native American so everyone called him “Indian Willie” to differentiate him from the other Willie in Riverside, a trainer named Willie Silva.

Indian Willie built a gym on his hillside manor so that Arreola and Josesito Lopez could train there exclusively. It had the most spectacular views in the entire area. No boxing gym ever had a comparable panoramic view.

Fighters like Mikey Garcia, Ronny Rios, Damian “Bolo” Wills, and even new WBA, IBF and WBO heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz visited the hillside gym to spar in the gym with a breathtaking setting.

On many occasions an old veteran boxing journalist named Bill O’Neill would trudge up and down the steep driveway to the gym to watch Arreola prepare for world title combat.

O’Neill had covered boxing from the 1960s and was the foremost expert on the career of the great Jerry Quarry. He owned orange tree orchards and would often bring several bags of the largest and juiciest oranges you ever saw or tasted. He had seen many Mexican heavyweights pursue the world championship and always felt Arreola would one day grab the belt.

First Title Shot

Arreola first fought for the world title against Vitali Klitschko in 2009, but few believed he could defeat the Ukrainian giant at the time. He was 28 years old but still in a learning process. Yet, the fans flocked to the Staples Center in hopes of watching the crazy Mexican-American heavyweight capture lightning with a Mexican left hook.

It didn’t happen but Arreola was still young.

Perhaps the closest the Riverside heavyweight came to achieving his heavyweight title dreams was in May 2014 at the Galen Center at USC when he fought Bermane Stiverne for the second time on a Goossen Promotions card.

“With Stiverne I was ready for that fight and ready to take that title,” said Arreola who was ahead on two score cards when Stiverne caught him with a knockout blow. “I was winning the fight.”

It would be Goossen’s last heavyweight title fight card and also the last time anyone would see the beloved Southern California promoter. At the time very few were aware the gregarious promoter was suffering from cancer. Months later, Goossen would pass away.

Other supporters of Arreola would pass away too.

Back when Arreola first started his heavyweight journey his original trainer Andy Suarez died in 2006. Goossen passed away in September 2014, cut man Willie Schunke died in 2015 and journalist Bill O’Neil in 2018.

All believed Arreola could be a heavyweight world champion when he started boxing professionally in 2003.

Hilltop Gym

Those memories of Arreola training in that hilltop gym as Schunke and O’Neill discussed boxing history and the old days remain permanently etched in the minds of everyone who was there. Or the lunches held at Sisley’s Italian Kitchen in Sherman Oaks at the foot of the office building that Goossen called headquarters.

Maybe that’s why Arreola chose to train with Joe Goossen the brother of the late great promoter Dan Goossen.

“The reason I went with Joe Goossen, I’ve known Joe for many years ever since the Jose Luis Castillo-Diego Corrales fight,” said Arreola on Goossen who trained Corrales for that epic fight in 2005. “I’ve always wanted to keep it in the family. He’s old school, very old school. He is very methodical every minute of training camp. It was a great experience.”

Or maybe it was an attempt to rekindle moments from the past, those unbreakable ties and memories like Indian Willie’s two bull dogs “Sherman” and “Tank” who passed away during a scorching Riverside heat wave. The two canines would often scurry around the gym licking the small children who entered the boxing facility including Arreola’s then young daughter. Or perhaps it was listening to O’Neill describe some of the battles Jerry Quarry had with little known heavyweights like George “Scrap Iron” Johnson who was small but fearsome.

Some moments are more valuable than championship belts.

“If I lose there’s no reason to be in the sport of boxing, I’m too old to be doing that. It’s a win or go home thing,” said Arreola. “I know Adam worked his head off to get me out of this sport of boxing but I’m not ready to go home.”

On Saturday, the Riverside heavyweight looks to continue the journey of a thousand memories.

Boxing Notes

Roy Englebrecht Events presents a boxing card at the Gardens Casino in Hawaiian Gardens, Calif. on Saturday. Aug. 3.

A number of gifted prospects including Michael Norato and Triantafyllos Mavidis are ready to perform in separate bouts at the casino located off the 605-Freeway.

Englebrecht has been providing boxing shows for decades and also teaches a class on the art of promoting.

Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information call (949) 760-3131 or go to this link: www.battleintheballroom.com

Ramirez-Hooker Another FOY Candidate

Several recent fights have propelled boxing to another level including last week’s super lightweight unification world title fight between Jose Carlos Ramirez and Maurice Hooker. It’s definitely a candidate for Fight of the Year.

It was also one of those rare instances when two world champions crossed over to other media realms to challenge each other.

Top Rank’s Ramirez who holds the WBC super lightweight title was allowed to crossover from ESPN to DAZN to challenge WBO titlist Hooker in Arlington, Texas. What transpired was an incredible battle between two equally talented fighters in a fight that lasted six incredible rounds.

It was breathtaking while it lasted.

Ramirez won by knockout but until that final moment no one knew who would ultimately win.

“It just wasn’t my night,” said Hooker. “Ramirez is a great fighter, but it was his time. I’ll be back and better than ever in my next fight – I can tell you that.”

Cheers to both media outlets for allowing the fight to happen and for the rival promotion company’s willingness to work with each other.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. UFC Fight Pass 5:30 p.m. PT – Erik Walker (18-2) vs Jose Abreu (14-5).

Fri. UFC Fight Pass 7 p.m. PT – Eva Wahlstrom (22-1-1) vs Ronica Jeffrey (17-1).

Fri. Telemundo 11:35 p.m. PT – Yomar Alamo (16-0) vs Salvador Briceno (16-4).

Sat. ESPN+  2 p.m. PT – Michael Conlan (11-0) vs Diego Alberto Ruiz (21-2).

Sat. FOX 6 p.m. PT – Chris Arreola (38-5-1) vs Adam Kownacki (19-0).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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Gvozdyk vs. Beterbiev: Point Counterpoint

Ted Sares

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Gvozdyk vs. Beterbiev: Point Counterpoint

Putting pineapple on pizza is not a good idea but it IS an example of point counterpoint, and when these two boxers meet on Friday in Philadelphia with the WBC and IBF world light heavyweight titles at stake, it also will be a contrast—but not of tastes as much as styles..

There are, however, many similarities. Both are Eastern European boxers though one, Gvozdyk, is a Ukrainian and the other, Beterbiev, is a Russian and this particular regional difference has sparked a lot of conversation. (Interestingly, Beterbiev has never fought professionally in Russia, nor has the English-speaking Gvozdyk ever fought in the Ukraine.)

Both have superb amateur credentials but this has a flip side in that too many amateur fights can add to the wear and tear of these Eastern Euro warriors when they become professionals. Beterbiev is 34; Gvozdyk 32.

Both are undefeated with outstanding knockout percentages. Gvozdyk, aka The Nail, is 17-0 with 14 KOs. Beterbiev (14-0) has won all of his fights inside the distance.

Both are excellent finishers and when they have their man hurt, it’s all over.

Both have excellent corners and handlers and will be fit and ready to rumble.

“This could very well be the fight of the year…These are two evenly matched, undefeated light heavyweight champions. There is nothing better in the sport of boxing,” says promoter Bob Arum.

Styles

The 6’0” Beterbiev’s style is one of a stalking aggressor and he is especially dangerous when his opponent engages him in a heated exchange as that allows him to land one of his heavy-handed bombs. To use an old cliché, Artur has “bricks in his fists.” He also is dangerous when he is stunned as Callum Johnson discovered.

Some say Beterbiev’s chin is a question mark but his style allows an opponent to nail him (no pun intended) as he moves in. That may well be more a function of his go-forward movement than it is any weakness in his chin.

Conversely, The Nail is a very accurate and powerful puncher and is technically (and defensively) more sound than the bludgeoning Russian. He uses a super-fast jab and counters with sharp stuff. This 6’2” slickster combines exceptional speed and deceptive power. He is patient, relaxed, and fluid.

Intangibles

Has Gvozdyk’s psyche been altered by the events of his December 2018 fight with Adonis Stevenson wherein Adonis (thankfully now recovering) was severely injured? While The Nail was somewhat stymied by his last opponent, Doudou Ngumbu, the thinking here is that that had more to do with Ngumbu’s awkwardness than anything else—and that the Stevenson matter is mostly in the past. In short, the Nail’s focus on Friday should be right where it should be.

With a KO percentage of 100%, Beterbiev has answered the bell for very few rounds, only 52 to be exact. This could weigh against him.

Prediction: Gvozdyk’s superior boxing skills should begin to bear fruit in the mid to late rounds when a frustrated Beterbiev is forced to take risks for which he will pay dearly. I see “The Nail” winning by late stoppage or by UD.

A Russian vs. a Ukrainian — one who lives in Canada and the other who lives in California.  Heck, it’s the battle of ex-patriots. If ever a fight was much anticipated, this is the one.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Terence Crawford is Bob Arum’s Yuletide Gift to New York

Arne K. Lang

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Terence Crawford is Bob Arum’s Yuletide Gift to New York

Throughout history, boxing promoters have shunned the weeks before Christmas. The conventional wisdom is that the typical fight fan has little money at his disposal for a frivolity such as a night at the fights, having exhausted his funds buying Christmas presents. But don’t tell that to Top Rank promoter Bob Arum who has flouted this dictum and profited handsomely.

Back in 1995, Arum secured Madison Square Garden for the night of Dec. 15 for a show that pitted Oscar De La Hoya against Jesse James Leija in the main event. The cynics said the date was all wrong, let alone the location for a match between two Mexican-Americans from out west, one from LA and the other from San Antonio. But lo and behold, the show was a big money-maker, attracting a crowd of 16,027, more than 15,000 paid.

Arum anticipates another box office bonanza on Dec. 14 when he plants an ESPN and ESPN Deportes tripleheader in America’s most famous sports arena, an event headlined by Terence “Bud” Crawford’s WBO title defense against Egidijus Kavaliauskas. Crawford, who turned 32 several weeks ago, moved up to welterweight after grabbing all the belts at 140 and will be making his fourth welterweight title defense.

The opening bout on the telecast pits featherweight Michael Conlan against former amateur rival Vladimir Nikitin. Conlan will be making his sixth appearance at the Garden. In the co-feature, Richard Commey defends his IBF world lightweight title against Teofimo Lopez.

Although many rate Terence Crawford the top pound-for-pound fighter in the world, he has been something of a forgotten man lately. Almost 10 full months have elapsed since he last fought. Oscar De La Hoya, who had a bitter break-up with Arum late in his boxing career, recently took a swipe at Arum for not keeping Crawford more active, suggesting Arum’s “inertia” might be keeping Crawford out of the Hall of Fame.

The Crawford-Kavaliauskas match-up serves as Arum’s retort as it will shine a bright spotlight on Crawford, the pride of Omaha, Nebraska, as Arum’s show will air on ESPN directly following the Heisman Trophy presentation. Now it behooves Arum to pull some strings so that the Heisman Trophy show doesn’t run too long as has happened in the past.

At the moment, parlaying Terence Crawford (35-0, 26 KOs) to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa seems like a safe bet, but Egidijus Kavaliauskas, a two-time Olympian who was profiled on these pages in July of 2016, is no slouch.

True enough, Kavaliauskas (21-0-1, 17 KOs) didn’t look all that sharp in his last outing when he was held to a draw by Ray Robinson, but Philadelphia’s Robinson had an awkward style (think former heavyweight contender Jimmy Young) and was fighting in his hometown.

If Kavaliauskas were a horse, we would say that he comes from a great barn. The 31-year-old Lithuanian is a stablemate of the Big Three in the barn of Egis Klimas: Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, and Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

Richard Commey (29-2, 26 KOs) hails from Ghana but now hangs his hat in Brooklyn. His losses were both by split decision in back-to-back fights with Robert Easter and Denis Shafikov and he has won five straight since then, most recently an eighth-round stoppage of veteran Ray Beltran in the first defense of his IBF title.

Teofimo Lopez, 10 years younger than Commey at age 22, is moving up in class, but will yet go to post the favorite. In his last start, Lopez won a unanimous 12-round decision over Masoyoshi Nakatani, ending a skein of highlight reel knockouts. In December of last year, Lopez scored a one-punch knockout over Mason Menard in a bout that lasted all of 44 seconds. It was named the TSS Knockout of the Year.

Lopez (14-0, 11 KOs) grew up in Davie, Florida, but was born in Brooklyn and currently has a home there, giving the show even more of a local flavor. He and his Honduras-born father of the same name are not shy when it comes to boasting of his prowess and Teofimo’s braggadocio has enhanced his appeal with young fans.

Michael Conlan (10-0, 7 KOs) and Vladimir Nikitin (3-0, all by decision) met in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Nikitin got the decision, a jaw-dropper that spawned the most indelible moment of the Games when an enraged Conlan gave the judges a two-middle-finger salute.

The rematch between them was hatched at that moment although it took awhile for Arum to rope the Russian into the fold. They were originally slated to fight on Aug. 3 at an outdoor show in Conlan’s hometown of Belfast, but Nikitin suffered a torn bicep in training and had to pull out.

This is the kind of match that Bob Arum can really get his teeth in. The crusty octogenarian and former attorney would have it that all people of good character ought to be rooting for Conlan in the interest of seeing an injustice rectified.

Regardless, Arum’s Dec. 14 show is a nice Christmas present for Big Apple boxing fans.

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Three Punch Combo: Gvozdyk-Beterbiev Thoughts and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Three Punch Combo — For hardcore fans, one of the most attractive fights of the year takes place on Friday when undefeated light heavyweight champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO’s) and Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KO’s) battle in a title unification bout. This contest will headline an ESPN televised card from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA. Here are a few subtle things that could play a factor in how this fight plays out.

A Tactical Fight?

Twenty years ago, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad met in a welterweight title unification fight. It was a super fight between two explosive punchers. Everyone expected fireworks, but as we all know, it turned into an all-out chess match for twelve rounds.

When two big punchers meet, sometimes we get fireworks and sometimes each fighter respects the other’s power so much that they both become somewhat tentative inside the ring.

Keep in mind we have seen in several Gvozdyk fights a somewhat cautious approach. He will take what is given and nothing more. As for Beterbiev, he has typically been a very aggressive fighter (more on that later) but has had his moments where caution has entered his mindset. Just take a look back at his 2017 fight with Enrico Koelling.

I know it is the unpopular opinion but we could certainly see a very tactical chess match between these two on Friday.

Beterbiev’s Defense and Chin

Beterbiev, as noted, is a very aggressive fighter. But with that aggression comes an almost complete lack of focus on the defensive side of the game.

So far, Beterbiev’s offense has been his best defense as many times his opponents have simply been too fearful of opening up. But at times the cracks have shown. Callum Johnson, for example, wasn’t afraid to throw in spots and when he did, his punches landed.

In that fight, we saw Beterbiev get hurt and dropped. Beterbiev showed a ton of heart to come back from that moment and later stop Johnson, but his chin is certainly a question mark. And Gvozdyk, aside from carrying one-punch power, is a very sharp and accurate puncher who has shown excellent finishing skills thus far in his career.

Gvozdyk’s Mindset

A little more than ten months ago, Gvozdyk wrested away the title from Adonis Stevenson. But on what was supposed to be the night where Gvozdyk’s dream came true, things almost turned tragic as Stevenson suffered a brain bleed that nearly took his life.

Gvozdyk has had one fight since against journeyman Doudou Ngumbu. Though Gvozdyk won easily, there was something about his performance that just didn’t feel right. Gvozdyk had a fighter in front of him who offered little resistance but seemingly didn’t want to fully step on the gas.

In order to compete with Beterbiev, we have to see the same Gvozdyk that we saw against Stevenson. But has Gvozdyk’s mindset permanently been altered by the events of that evening?

Under The Radar Fight

A pivotal crossroads bout in the welterweight division between Luis Collazo (39-7, 20 KO’s) and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KO’s) is also on Friday’s ESPN broadcast. The winner will be in prime position for a title shot in 2020.

Collazo, a world welterweight titlist back in 2005, is in the midst of yet another career resurrection. After getting stopped by defending WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman in 2015, Collazo has won three straight. And these wins were not against subpar opposition. Two were against up-and-coming young fighters in Sammy Vasquez and Bryant Perrella; the other against fringe contender Samuel Vargas.

At age 38, Collazo has proven he still has plenty in the tank and has clawed back up the rankings in the welterweight division. But to get one more shot at a title, Collazo must find a way to get past another young up-and-comer in Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov.

Abdukakhorov, 26, is coming off the biggest win of his pro career this past March when he won a 12-round unanimous decision over former 140-pound title challenger Keita Obara. That win boosted Abdukakhorov into the number one position in the IBF at welterweight and in line to one day be the mandatory challenger for current belt-holder Errol Spence Jr.

Stylistically, I love this matchup. Abdukakhorov is an aggressive boxer-puncher. He will look to press the attack and won’t be afraid to lead looking to land his best punch which is the overhand right. Collazo is a southpaw who is a natural counterpuncher. He will look to make Abdukakhorov’s aggression work against him and should find plenty of opportunities to do so.

I think we are going to get an action-packed, competitive fight. This should serve as an excellent appetizer to Gvozdyk-Beterbiev.

What’s Next For Dmitry Bivol?

This past Saturday, Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s) successfully defended his WBA light heavyweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Lenin Castillo (20-3-1, 15 KO’s). Though it wasn’t the most exciting performance, the win keeps Bivol in line for bigger opportunities down the road. So, what’s next for him?

Saturday’s title defense marked Bivol’s second consecutive appearance on the streaming service DAZN. DAZN needs future opponents for its two biggest stars in Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Clearly part of the reason for DAZN showing interest in Bivol is geared toward him potentially getting one or the other down the road.

Though Alvarez is fighting at light heavyweight in November, this appears to be a one-time appearance for the Mexican superstar in that division. He is likely headed back to middleweight or the 168-pound weight class. As for Golovkin, he has fought his entire 13-year career at middleweight. A move at some point soon to 168 would not be a surprise.

Bivol and his team have made it very clear that he can get down to 168. With DAZN’s two biggest stars hovering around that division, a move down to 168 seems likely.

The WBA champion at 168 is Callum Smith who is slated for a title defense in November against UK countryman John Ryder. Assuming Smith prevails, he would make a logical opponent for Bivol in the spring of 2020.

Smith-Bivol would be a big fight between two young undefeated fighters and the winner would then be in position for a mega fight later in 2020 against either Alvarez or Golovkin.

But what if Smith goes a different direction following the Ryder fight? If that is the case, Bivol may instead just look to dip his toes in the water at 168 with someone like Rocky Fielding.

Fielding is a tough, gritty competitor who is popular in the UK and has name recognition in the US based on his fight last December with Canelo. But as we saw in that fight, Fielding is very limited.

Fielding is just the type of opponent who could bring out the best in Bivol. A spectacular knockout would help erase some of Bivol’s recent lackluster performances. And this would, of course, make Bivol much more marketable for a future date with Alvarez or Golovkin.

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