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The Hauser Report: A Sad Night for Fans of Chris Arreola

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The August 3 fight at Barclays Center between Chris Arreola and Adam Kownacki highlighted what’s enthralling about boxing and also a sad side of the sport.

When Arreola turned pro in 2003, he seemed destined for success. He was a heavyweight with a good amateur pedigree, power, solid ring skills, and a crowd-pleasing, hit-me-and-I’ll-hit-you-back style. He was media-friendly and likable with refreshing candor and a good sense of humor. His Mexican-American heritage was a plus. And he was guided by Al Haymon at a time when HBO Championship Boxing and Boxing After Dark were all but programmed by Haymon, with Arreola, Victor Ortiz, Andre Berto, and Robert Guerrero being anointed “stars of the future.”

There were times when Arreola trained less diligently than he should have. A fighter doesn’t get more out of boxing than he puts into it, and Chris was rarely in top shape. Indeed, Henry Ramirez (who trained Arreola for most of his ring career) acknowledged, “Sometimes I don’t think he gives us the best chance to win. Sometimes he comes in a little too far out of shape.” But that was part of the package.

“Who gives a f*** if I’m fat?” Arreola asked rhetorically. “There’s plenty of guys who look like Tarzan and fight like Jane.”

Other “Arreolaisms” included:

*          “Boxing is two guys in the ring who hardly know each other, beating the crap out of each other. The crowd oohs and aahs, and I want to get my oohs and aahs in. Then it’s over and you shake hands and hug each other. Go figure.”

*          “My defense has to get better. I’m ugly and I don’t want to get any more uglier.”

*          “I’m not big-headed. I’m one of the guys, a regular Joe Schmo. But it makes me angry when people think I’m dumb, when they talk down to me, when they think I’m a meathead because I’m a fighter.”

Ten years ago, Arreola’s record stood at 27-0 with only one opponent going the distance against him. Then, on September 26, 2009, he challenged Vitali Klitschko for the WBC heavyweight crown. Chris fought with honor but was outclassed from the opening bell. The outcome of the fight was never in doubt. Klitschko out-landed him 301 to 86 and turned him into a human bobblehead doll. Ramirez called a halt to the beating after ten one-sided rounds.

Arreola has been on a long downhill slide since then. Seven months after losing to Klitschko, he was outpointed by Tomasz Adamek. “He beat my ass,” Chris said in a post-fight interview. “I look like f****** Shrek right now.”

After being complimented on his “toughness” after losing a twelve-round decision to Bermane Stiverne in 2013, Arreola responded, “It doesn’t matter how tough you are. I lost the fight.”

Subsequent title opportunities against Stiverne (2014) and Deontay Wilder (2016) ended in knockout defeats.

Asked prior to fighting Wilder if he thought that, given his recent ring performances, he deserved another title opportunity, Arreola replied, “Let’s be honest, man. Do I deserve it? Come on. No. But when a title shot comes knocking, you don’t turn it down.”

The gaping hole in Arreola’s ring resume is that he has never beat a world-class opponent. His biggest win was a first-round stoppage of former Michigan State linebacker Seth Mitchell (who was 26-1-1 at the time). “He better bring his helmet if he expects to beat me,” Chris said before that fight. He also stopped a faded 39-year-old Jameel McCline short of the distance.

Readying to fight Kownacki, Arreola was 38 years old with a 38-5 (33 KOs, 3 KOs by) ring record that arguably wasn’t as good as it looked.

At the June 18 kick-off press conference for Kownacki-Arreola, Chris had a pensive look in his eyes. He was born with a fighter’s face that has been forged further in the fire of combat, adding scar tissue and a nose that has been ground every which way while being broken multiple times.

Once upon a time, Arreola was the A-side in main events. Not anymore. The 30-year-old Kownacki had built a 19-0 (15 KOs) record against the same class of fighter that Chris used to beat. Adam is a big strong guy who throws punches with abandon, wears opponents down, has minimal defense, and is being groomed as an opponent for Deontay Wilder.

Arreola was seated on the B-side of the dais. His name was listed after Kownacki’s on all promotional material. On fight night, he would be in the red (designated loser) corner. If the powers that be at Premier Boxing Champions thought he had a realistic chance of beating Adam, they wouldn’t have made the fight.

“How did Arreola feel about being the B-side of the promotion?”

“I’m okay with it,” Chris said. “It’s part of the game. Once I was a young lion and now I’m the old veteran. Boxing humbles you. But I’m not a stepping stone for anyone.”

How did he feel about Andy Ruiz upsetting Anthony Joshua to become boxing’s first Mexican-American heavyweight champion?

“I’m happy for Andy. The difference between Andy and me is, he made the best of his opportunities and I didn’t. Good for him. The first time we sparred together, Andy was seventeen years old. Back then, he wanted to be like me. Now I want to be like him.”

Kownacki’s fortunes have also changed but he’s going in a different direction. In 2015, Adam had made his Barclays Center debut in a swing bout on the undercard of Amir Khan versus Chris Algieri. Now he anticipated beating Arreola which, in his words, “would make me a top ten heavyweight on everyone’s list.”

“On paper, it’s the perfect fight,” Adam added. “Now it’s in my hands to do what I gotta do, which is get a knockout and put on a great performance.”

There were more sound bites from Arreola as the build-up to the fight progressed:

*          (when asked to define himself): “I’m brash but respectful of other people. I’m a kind-hearted, old-school in a lot of ways. I’m at peace with myself. I’m me.”

*          (about being a role model): “People ask me, ‘What do you say to kids?’ And I tell them, ‘I don’t say shit to kids. I talk to their parents and tell them to be there for their children.”

*          (about his family): “My wife and I have two children, a 17-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. That’s thirteen years apart. But same father, same mother. Make sure you write that.”

*          (about fighting Kownacki): “It’s not personal. I like Adam and I think he likes me. But I’m going to try to punch him in the face and knock him out, and that’s what he’s going to try to do to me.”

“How big a puncher is Adam?” Chris was asked.

“I’ll find out on Saturday night,” Arreola answered. “He’s fought some good fighters, but I’ve fought better.”

But the better fighters that Arreola had fought beat him.

The most pressing question in advance of the fight was, “How much did Chris have left?”

At a certain age, a fighter knows what to do in the ring better than he did before but he can’t do it anymore. And at 38, a fighter doesn’t take punches as well as he did when he was young. Arreola used to hate the rigors of training but liked sparring. Now he acknowledged, “I don’t mind training but I hate sparring. My body isn’t the same anymore. When I get hit now, it hurts more and the pain lasts longer.”

Arreola’s weight – an issue in the past – was down. He would enter the ring at 244 pounds, a better number than Kownacki’s career high 266. But was Chris in fighting shape? And with what he had left, would it matter?

Kownacki was a heavy betting favorite and noted that Arreola was “a little bit past his prime.”

“This is my last chance,” Chris responded. “If I lose this fight, I’ll retire, plain and simple. Not because of the media or anything like that. This is my last chance because I say so. If I lose, there’s no reason for me to be in the sport of boxing. I’m in boxing to be a champion. If I lose, it brings me all the way back to the bottom, and I don’t want to keep crawling back up and crawling back up again. I’m too old to be doing that. So it’s a make or break kind of fight. If I lose, I go home, no matter if it’s a great fight or it could have gone either way. Plain and simple; I lose it, I go home, I stay home. One and done, no more.”

Old athletes are surpassed by young ones in every sport. But it’s more painful to watch when the sport is boxing and the older competitor is getting beaten up.

There was a time when Arreola fought mostly in Southern California before crowds that were solidly behind him. Now he was in Brooklyn in a promotion aimed at Polish-American fans. Kownacki, who had fought at Barclays Center on eight previous occasions, was the house fighter. The announced crowd of 8,790 booed when Chris entered the ring and cheered wildly for Adam.

It was an exciting fight with little subtlety about it. One of boxing’s cardinal rules is, “Never give an opponent a free shot.” That said; both men fought like they didn’t understand that holding up their hands, slipping punches, and otherwise defending themselves is an integral part of the sweet science. They punched and mauled for twelve rounds in a non-stop slugfest that resembled two mastodons locked in battle for supremacy of the herd.

In the early rounds, it appeared as though Kownacki might walk through Arreola. He was a bit quicker, had a bit more on his punches, and seemed better able to absorb punishment. Then, in the middle rounds, Adam slowed a bit and one had to consider the fact that Chris had gone twelve rounds on four occasions and ten rounds thrice while Kownacki had gone ten rounds once. In other words, Arreola had been down this road before and might be better able to navigate the terrain as it got increasingly more rugged.

Then, in round nine, Arreola tired noticeably. From that point on, it seemed as though he was fighting from memory. But he never stopped trying to win. On the few occasions when Kownacki tried to slow the pace, Chris forced the action. One can question Arreola’s ring skills. One can question his judgment. His courage and heart aren’t in doubt.

The judges were on the mark with scorecards that favored Kownacki by a 118-110, 117-111, 117-111 margin. His limitations as a boxer showed in the fight and he lacks the one-punch knockout power that might compensate for them at the elite level. But Kownacki-Arreola was a barn-burner. According to CompuBox, Adam landed 369 of 1,047 punches while Chris connected on 298 of 1,125. That set CompuBox records for total punches landed and thrown in a heavyweight fight.

“Adam is relentless,” Arreola said in a post-fight interview. “He just keeps coming. I know I got him with some good punches and he got me with some good ones. I was more than ready to go all twelve, but Adam came in and won the fight.”

Then Chris went to the hospital to check on the status of his left hand and possibly more. Just before entering the ambulance, he acknowledged, “I’m a little dejected. I lost. This ain’t the way I wanted to go out, but I gave my all. Much respect to Adam. We were in a proverbial phone booth beating the shit out of each other, and it was fun. It was fun for me and it was fun for him and I hope the fans enjoyed the fight.”

Photo credit” Nabeel Ahmad / Premier Boxing Champions

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His next book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing  – will be published later this summer by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Thomas Hauser is the author of 52 books. In 2005, he was honored by the Boxing Writers Association of America, which bestowed the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism upon him. He was the first Internet writer ever to receive that award. In 2019, Hauser was chosen for boxing's highest honor: induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Lennox Lewis has observed, “A hundred years from now, if people want to learn about boxing in this era, they’ll read Thomas Hauser.”

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Anderson Cruises by Vapid Merhy and Ajagba edges Vianello in Texas

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Jared Anderson returned to the ring tonight on a Top Rank card in Corpus Christi, Texas. Touted as the next big thing in the heavyweight division, Anderson (17-0, 15 KOs) hardly broke a sweat while cruising past Ryad Merhy in a bout with very little action, much to the disgruntlement of the crowd which started booing as early as the second round. The fault was all Merhy as he was reluctant to let his hands go. Somehow, he won a round on the scorecard of judge David Sutherland who likely fell asleep for a round for which he could be forgiven.

Merhy, born in the Ivory Coast but a resident of Brussels, Belgium, was 32-2 (26 KOs) heading in after fighting most of his career as a cruiserweight. He gave up six inches in height to Anderson who was content to peck away when it became obvious to him that little would be coming back his way.

Anderson may face a more daunting adversary on Monday when he has a court date in Romulus, Michigan, to answer charges related to an incident in February where he drove his Dodge Challenger at a high rate speed, baiting the police into a merry chase. (Weirdly, Anderson entered the ring tonight wearing the sort of helmet that one associates with a race car driver.)

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, a battle between six-foot-six former Olympians, Italy’s Guido Vianello started and finished strong, but Efe Ajagba had the best of it in the middle rounds and prevailed on a split decision. Two of the judges favored Ajagba by 96-94 scores with the dissenter favoring the Italian from Rome by the same margin.

Vianello had the best round of the fight. He staggered Ajagba with a combination in round two. At the end of the round, a befuddled Ajagba returned to the wrong corner and it appeared that an upset was brewing. But the Nigerian, who trains in Las Vegas under Kay Koroma, got back into the fight with a more varied offensive attack and better head movement. In winning, he improved his ledger to 20-1 (14). Vianello, who sparred extensively with Daniel Dubois in London in preparation for this fight, declined to 12-2-1 in what was likely his final outing under the Top Rank banner.

Other Bouts of Note

In the opening bout on the main ESPN platform, 35-year-old super featherweight Robson Conceicao, a gold medalist for Brazil in the 2016 Rio Olympics, stepped down in class after fighting Emanuel Navarrete tooth-and-nail to a draw in his previous bout and scored a seventh-round stoppage of Jose Ivan Guardado who was a cooked goose after slumping to the canvas after taking a wicked shot to the liver. Guardado made it to his feet, but the end was imminent and the referee waived it off at the 2:27 mark.

Conceicao improved to 18-1 (9 KOs). It was the U.S. debut for Guardado (15-2-1), a boxer from Ensenada, Mexico who had done most of his fighting up the road in Tijuana.

Ruben Villa, the pride of Salinas, California, improved to 22-1 (7) and moved one step closer to a match with WBC featherweight champion Rey Vargas with a unanimous 10-round decision over Tijuana’s Cristian Cruz (22-7-1). The judges had it 97-93 and 98-92 twice.

Cruz, the son of former IBF world featherweight title-holder Cristobal Cruz, was better than his record. He entered the bout on a 21-1-1 run after losing five of his first seven pro fights.

Cleveland southpaw Abdullah Mason, who turned 20 earlier this month, continued his fast ascent up the lightweight ladder with a fourth-round stoppage of Ronal Ron.

Mason (13-0, 11 KOs) put Ron on the canvas in the opening round with a short left hook. He scored a second knockdown with a shot to the liver. A flurry of punches, a diverse array, forced the stoppage at the 1:02 mark of round four. A 25-year-old SoCal-based Venezuelan, the spunky but out-gunned Ron declined to 14-6.

Charly Suarez, a 35-year-old former Olympian from the Philippines, ranked #5 at junior lightweight by the IBF, advanced to 17-0 (9) with a unanimous 8-round decision over SoCal’s Louie Coria (5-7).

This was a tactical fight. In the final round, Coria, subbing for 19-0 Henry Lebron, caught the Filipino off-balance and knocked him into the ropes which held him up. It was scored a knockdown, but came too little, too late for Coria who lost by scores of 76-75 and 77-74 twice.

Suarez, whose signature win was a 12th-round stoppage of the previously undefeated Aussie Paul Fleming in Sydney, may be headed to a rematch with Robson Conceicao. They fought as amateurs in 2016 in Kazakhstan and Suarez lost a narrow 6-round decision.

Photo credit: Mikey Willams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Ellie Scotney and Rhiannon Dixon Win World Title Fights in Manchester

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England’s Ellie Scotney started slowly against the long reach of France’s Segolene Lefebvre but used rough tactics and a full-steam ahead approach to unify the super bantamweight division by unanimous decision on Saturday.

“There’s a lot more I didn’t show,” said an excited Scotney (pictured on the left).

IBF titlist Scotney (9-0) added the WBO title by nullifying Lefebvre’s (18-1) reach and dominating the inside with a two-fisted attack in front of an excited crowd in Manchester, England.

For the first two rounds Lefebvre used her long reach and smooth fluid attack to keep Scotney at the end of her punches. Then the fight turned when the British fighter bulled her way inside with body shots and forced the French fighter into the ropes.

Aggressiveness by Scotney turned the fight in her favor. But Lefebvre remained active and countered with overhand rights throughout the match.

Body shots by Scotney continued to pummel the French champion’s abdomen but she remained steadfast in her counter-attacks. Combinations landed for Lefebvre and a counter overhand right scored to keep her in the contest in the fifth round.

Scotney increased the intensity of her attack in the sixth and seventh rounds. In perhaps her best round Scotney was almost perfect in scoring while not getting hit with anything from the French fighter.

Maybe the success of the previous round caused Scotney to pause. It allowed Lefebvre to rally behind some solid shots in a slow round and gave the French fighter an opening. Maybe.

The British fighter opened up more savagely after taking two Lefevbre rights to open the ninth. Scotney attacked with bruising more emphatic blows despite getting hit. Though both fired blows Scotney’s were more powerful.

Both champions opened-up the 10th and final round with punches flying. Once again Scotney’s blows had more power behind them though the French fighter scored too, and though her face looked less bruised than Scotney’s the pure force of Scotney’s attacks was more impressive.

All three judges saw Scotney the winner 97-93, 96-94 and a ridiculous 99-91. The London-based fighter now has the IBF and WBO super bantamweight titles.

Promoter Eddie Hearn said a possible showdown with WBC titlist Erika Cruz looms large possibly in the summer.

“Great performance. Great punch output,” said Hearn of Scotney’s performance.

Dixon Wins WBO Title

British southpaw Rhiannon Dixon (10-0) out-fought Argentina’s Karen Carabajal (22-2) over 10 rounds and won a very competitive unanimous decision to win the vacant WBO lightweight title. It was one of the titles vacated by Katie Taylor who is now the undisputed super lightweight world champion.

An aggressive Dixon dominated the first three rounds including a knockdown in the third round with a perfect left-hand counter that dropped Carabajal. The Argentine got up and rallied in the round.

Carabajal, whose only loss was against Katie Taylor, slowly began figuring out Dixon’s attacks and each round got more competitive. The Argentine fighter used counter rights to find a hole in Dixon’s defense to probably win the round in the sixth.

The final three rounds saw both fighters engage evenly with Carabajal scoring on counters and Dixon attacking the body successfully.

After 10 rounds all three judges saw it in Dixon’s favor 98-91, 97-92, 96-93 who now wields the WBO lightweight world title.

“It’s difficult to find words,” said Dixon after winning the title.

Hometown Fighter Wins

Manchester’s Zelfa Barrett (31-2, 17 KOs) battled back and forth with Jordan Gill (28-3-1, 9 KO-s) and finally ended the super featherweight fight with two knockdowns via lefts to the body in the 10th round of a scheduled 12-round match for a regional title.

The smooth moving Barrett found the busier Gill more complex than expected and for the first nine rounds was fighting a 50/50 fight against the fellow British fighter from the small town of Chatteris north of London.

In the 10th round after multiple shots on the body of Gill, a left hook to the ribs collapsed the Chatteris fighter to the floor. He willed himself up and soon after was floored again but this time by a left to the solar plexus. Again he continued but was belted around until the referee stopped the onslaught by Barrett at 2:44 of the 10th.

“A tough, tough fighter,” said Barrett about Gill. “I had to work hard.”

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O.J. Simpson the Boxer: A Heartwarming Tale for the Whole Family

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O.J. Simpson passed away on Wednesday, April 10, at age 76 in Las Vegas where he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. For millions of Americans, news of his passing unloosed a flood of memories.

The O.J. Simpson double murder trial lasted 37 weeks. CNN and two other fledgling cable networks provided gavel-to-gavel coverage. On Oct. 3, 1995, the day that the jury rendered its verdict, CBS, NBC, ABC, and ESPN suspended regular programming to cover the trial. Worldwide, more than 100 million people were reportedly glued to their TV or radio.

O.J.’s life can be neatly compartmentalized into two halves. The dividing line is June 12, 1994. On that date, Simpson’s estranged wife, the former Nicole Brown, and her friend Ronald Goldman were found stabbed to death in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood at the home that Nicole shared with their two children.

Before then, O.J. was famous. After then, he was infamous.

Simpson first came to the fore on the gridiron. In 1968, his final season at the University of Southern California, he was so dynamic that he won the Heisman Trophy in a landslide, out-distancing Purdue’s Leroy Keyes by 1,750 votes. This was the widest margin to that point between a Heisman winner and runner-up and a milestone that stood for 51 years until surpassed by LSU quarterback Joe Burrows in 2019.

In the NFL, among his many achievements, he became the first and only NFL running back to eclipse 2,000 rushing yards in a 14-game season, a record that will never be broken.

But one can’t appreciate the depth of O.J.s celebrityhood by citing statistics. He transcended his sport like few athletes before or since. Owing in large part to his commercials for the Hertz rental car chain, he became one of America’s most recognizable people.

O.J. Simpson was raised by a single mother in a government housing project in the gritty Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. Unlike many of his boyhood peers, he was never quick to raise his fists. Weirdly, he once said that running away from fights proved useful to him when he took up football. It helped his stamina.

Although he never boxed in real life, O.J. portrayed a boxer in a made-for-TV movie. Titled “Goldie and the Boxer,” it aired on NBC on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1979, two weeks after O.J. played in his last NFL game. Co-produced by Simpson’s own production company, it starred O.J. opposite precocious Melissa Michaelson who played the 10-year-old Goldie.

In promos, the movie was tagged as a heartwarming tale for kids and their parents. Associated Press writer John Egan described it as “a cross between the Shirley Temple classic ‘Little Miss Marker’ and a low-budget ‘Rocky.’”

Here’s a synopsis, compliments of New York Times TV critic John J. O’Connor:

“The year is 1946, and Joe Gallagher is returning to Louisiana as an army veteran. He is quickly ripped off by a succession of thugs and finds himself broke and battered in Pennsylvania where he is befriended by a young Goldie. Her father is a boxer and Joe joins the training camp as a sparring partner. When the father dies, Joe takes his place on the fight circuit and Goldie becomes his manager…”

The consensus of the pundits was that O.J. the actor was very much a work in progress, but that he had great potential. And the movie, despite its hokey plot, attracted so many viewers that NBC wanted to turn it into a series.

O.J. had too much on his plate to commit to doing a regular series. Among other things, he had signed on to become part of NBC’s main stable of reporters at the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, a gig that evaporated when the U.S. under President Jimmy Carter joined 64 other nations in boycotting the Games as a protest against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, the movie did spawn a sequel, “Goldie and the Boxer Go To Hollywood,” with Simpson and Michaelson reprising their roles.

I never met O.J. Simpson, but have a vivid memory of finding myself walking behind him into the outdoor boxing arena at Caesars Palace. If memory serves, this was the Hagler-Hearns fight of 1985, in which case the lady on his arm would have been Nicole as they were married earlier that year. She was quite a dish in that tight-fitting pantsuit and I remember thinking to myself, “of all the trophies this dude has won, here is the best trophy of them all.” (Forgive me.)

Simpson had cameo roles in several movies before leaving USC. When he finally turned his back on football, the world was his oyster. O.J., wrote Barry Lorge in the Washington Post, was “bright, affable, charming, articulate and credible, a public relation man’s dream-come true.”

No one would have foreseen the swerve his life would take.

When the jury, after only four hours of deliberation, returned a verdict of “not guilty,” there was cheering in some corners of America. The overwhelming consensus of the white population, however, was that the verdict was an abomination, a gross miscarriage of justice.

We’ll leave it at that.

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