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Avila Perspective, Chap. 133: Chris Arreola and More News

David A. Avila

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Few if any heavyweights of Mexican descent are sought by major boxing promoters and that’s the world Chris “the Nightmare” Arreola entered back in 2003.

Arreola was a tall, skinny stick figure of a light heavyweight originally from East L.A. who surprised the amateur boxing landscape by winning the National Golden Gloves. I asked his trainer at the time how he did it?

“He knocked everybody out,” said Juan West who worked his corner back then.

Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KOs) will try to prove his relevance against fellow Mexican-American heavyweight and former world champion Andy Ruiz (33-2, 22 KOs) in a non-title fight on Saturday May 1, at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson, Calif. It will be shown on FOX pay-per-view.

Though early on Arreola could have succeeded as a light heavyweight, he blew up weight-wise into a full-fledged heavyweight. Never the Charles Atlas figure, he was shopped around and the promoters gave him a look. None were impressed.

All the major boxing promoters passed on Arreola; even the second-tier promoters. Despite delivering 10 consecutive knockout wins against opponents chosen by the promoters themselves, they still were not impressed.

Arreola was featured on the undercard of a nationally televised boxing show in Palm Springs, California against a tricky fellow Mexican named Kenny Lemos. The main event was former light heavyweight champion Julio Gonzalez who was the first Mexican to win a world title in that weight division. It was Cinco de Mayo 2005 and despite being 100 miles from Los Angeles, many stars like James Toney were in attendance.

It was around this time that Arreola caught the attention of Wes Crockett and Al Haymon. That night the heavyweight now living in Riverside, California, would win by technical knockout in the fourth round over the tricky Lemos.

Southern California was not a hotbed for heavyweights during the early 2000s, but aside from Arreola there was another good heavyweight named Damian “Bolo” Wills knocking out the competition. Fans of both camps were clamoring for a showdown.

Wills was sponsored by actor Denzel Washington who was often in attendance for his fights. Whenever Wills fought, a slew of Hollywood celebrities would show up like the Wayan brothers, Cedric the Entertainer, and DL Hughley.

Goossen-Tutor Promotions began working with Arreola and the build-up of his career started in earnest. Wins over Andrew Greeley, Domonic Jenkins, Curtis Taylor, Lee Manuel Ossie, Sedreck Fields and Damian Norris convinced both the promoters and television that it was time for a heavyweight showdown between Arreola and Wills.

Las Vegas

On November 4, 2006, Floyd Mayweather met Carlos Baldomir in a unification fight for the welterweight championship. It was the main event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. On this same fight card Riverside’s Arreola would finally meet L.A.s Wills in the boxing ring.

Arreola and Wills brought a large number of fans to the event and many of those fans were excited to finally see this showdown between Southern California heavyweights after all the talk.

Though not all the seats were filled, tension filled the air when the two heavyweights entered the boxing ring. Arreola hugged Wills which seemed to surprise and disarm the L.A.-based heavyweight and the fight began.

Both heavyweights were careful, but Arreola seemed more comfortable in the ring. For some reason Wills seemed overly cautious. Little by little Arreola took control of the fight and hurt Wills several times including a knockdown. The fight was stopped in the seventh round.

It was a huge victory for Arreola who celebrated after the fight across the pedestrian bridge at the Luxor Hotel. Many of his fans from the Riverside area partied with him at a night club and the highlight was watching Arreola make it rain dollars. People scrambled for the dollar bills and toasted the winner.

Ironically, maybe one year after the fight, Wills and Arreola met for sparring in a Riverside boxing gym. It was a surreal scene taken right out of the pages of the Rocky 3 playbook. Wills tore into Arreola like he stole his girl.

“I think he was still a little upset at me,” said Arreola.

World Title Challenges

When WBC heavyweight titlist Vitali Klitschko chose Arreola as his next opponent it was a shocking surprise but it made sense. The giant Ukrainian fighter had problems drumming up interest in his fights and fighting a Mexican-American in an area dominated by Mexican-Americans was just the right call.

In the summer of 2009, at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, Klitschko and Arreola met with a large pro-Arreola crowd praying for a victory.

Few heavyweights of Mexican descent are ever offered an opportunity to fight for the world title. A short list of L.A.-based heavyweights such as Eddie “the Animal” Lopez, Joey Orbillo and Manuel Ramos all fought in the heavyweight division. Only Ramos fought for a world title when he battled Smokin’ Joe Frazier for the New York version of the world heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in 1968. Muhammad Ali had been stripped of the world championship for refusing to be inducted into the military but was undefeated. So, New York created its own version.

Arreola was entering rare territory; the kind history books don’t forget. On Sept. 26, Klitschko proved too big, too strong and too experienced for Arreola who never stopped trying. But for 10 rounds Klitschko snapped back the head of Arreola so many times it looked like it was going to come off. Despite the screams of support from fans, Klitschko forced a stoppage at the end of the 10th round with a constant battering.

It would take another four years to obtain another world title shot for Arreola, and he would lose in 2013 and 2014 in world title bids against Bermane Stiverne. Two years later in 2016 he would meet Deontay Wilder for the same title and lose by stoppage.

Most thought Arreola’s career was over following the loss to Wilder, but the Mexican heavyweight knocked off younger challengers. In his last fight against Adam Kownacki he shocked the boxing world with an eye-opening battle that saw both fighters break television numbers for most punches thrown in a heavyweight fight. It was a tremendous surprise to see Arreola firing blow after blow like a machine gun. He credited new trainer Joe Goossen (pictured on the right) for the resurgence.

Now, Arreola is poised to fight the first heavyweight of Mexican descent to actually win a world title in Andy “the Destroyer” Ruiz. The circle is complete.

“It’s my time and my turn to change history and prove I’m a great Mexican heavyweight,” Arreola said.

A decade ago, they last met each other at a hillside backyard in Riverside. At the time Ruiz was just a young buck looking to make a name. Arreola was a heavyweight contender looking for someone to help him prepare for a battle. That night they got a taste of each other’s talent. It didn’t last long but each fighter got his blows in. Neither was hurt but each learned a lot about each other.

On Saturday we shall see who learned the most.

“I knew the day would come. He is a dangerous man,” said Arreola of Ruiz. “At one point, he wanted to be like me. And now, I want to be like him.”

Fights to Watch (Pacific Coast Time)

Fri. ESPN+ 11 a.m. Moruti Mthalane (39-2) vs Sunny Edwards (15-0); Michael Conlan (14-0) vs Ionut Baluta (14-2).

Fri. Estrella TV 7 p.m. Miguel Marriaga (29-4) vs Jorge Garcia Jimenez (14-3-1)

Sat. DAZN 10 a.m. Dereck Chisora vs Joseph Parker; Katie Taylor vs Natasha Jonas

Sat. FOX 4 p.m. Erislandy Lara (27-3-3) vs Thomas LaManna (30-4-1).

Sat. FOX pay-per-view 6 p.m. Andy Ruiz (33-2) vs Chris Arreola (38-6-1); Sebastian Fundora (16-0-1) vs Jorge Cota (30-4); Omar Figueroa (28-1-1) vs Abel Ramos (26-4-2).

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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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 135: Danny Roman and Super Bantamweights Perform in L.A.

The super bantamweight division was virtually unknown by most fans of prizefighting for the last decade.

Then Danny Roman arrived and re-booted the 122-pound division virtually by himself by challenging and defeating world champions from Japan and the United Kingdom.

Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) no longer holds the world titles but itches to regain his footing when he fights Ricardo Espinoza (25-3, 21 KOs) at Dignity Health Sports Park on Saturday May 15. Showtime will televise the battle on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

“Everything I do in boxing from here on out is to regain my status as a world champion,” said the normally ultra-reserved Roman, 31.

Ironically, both Roman and Espinoza turned their careers around with numerous battles at boxing shows in Ontario, California. They entered as boys and emerged as battle-tested men.

For the last 20 years Thompson Boxing Promotions has been pumping out world champions and contenders at a furious rate despite their small size in Southern California. They do not pamper or cajole their prospects.

Both Roman and Espinoza suffered their first losses as professionals at Thompson Boxing’s bloody battles at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario. But despite losing, they continued to learn and evolve. Now they meet in Los Angeles on the big stage.

When Roman lost to Japan’s Takashi Okada in 2011 and Juan Reyes in 2013, that could have derailed the Los Angeles-based fighter for good. Instead, he re-grouped and reloaded to become a unified world champion. Roman traveled to Japan and won the WBA super bantamweight world title by stoppage of Shun Kubo in 2017. A couple of years later after several defenses, he clashed with WBO super bantamweight titlist TJ Doheny to win an incredible battle by decision in Los Angeles. It was perhaps the Fight of the Year in 2019 and gained Roman the WBO belt.

Though Roman lost both the WBA and WBO titles to Murodjon Akhmadaliev, it was a disputed split decision. Many felt Roman was the true winner. So now he must battle back toward the top.

Espinoza also fought many bloody affairs at the Doubletree Hotel in Ontario including his first two losses. He lost to Sam Rodriguez in 2016 and Christian Nieto in 2017. Then the power-punching fighter from Tijuana, Mexico knocked out 12 of 13 of his opponents to gain a world title fight that he lost in April 2019. Since then, he has returned to his winning ways and upset undefeated Brandon Valdes last year.

“Danny Roman has fought some really quality opponents that are high in the rankings, but this is my time. This is when I show that I can step up in competition and prove that I belong with the best,” said Espinoza who is very familiar with Roman.

The Tijuana fighter is a punching machine.

“This is not going to be an easy fight because I know my opponent is a tough fighter from Tijuana who is coming with everything he’s got. He’s got a lot of power, so I must be smart on how I throw my combinations,” said Roman who lives within 10 miles of the event. “I believe my experience in big fights is going to be the difference on May 15. I’m expecting a rough fight and I’m ready for an intense battle.”

Now the two veterans of the Ontario, California wars finally meet each other to see who advances toward a world title fight. They won’t have to look far. The main event pits two titleholders against each other.

Unification Battle for Super Bantam Belts

Mexico’s Luis Nery holds the WBC super bantamweight world title and faces Texan Brandon Figueroa who holds a version of the WBA super bantamweight title in the main event on the Dignity Health Sports Park card on Saturday. Showtime will televise.

Nery formerly held the bantamweight title too. But the Tijuana-based fighter had problems making weight and wisely moved up a weight division. So far, the extra pounds hasn’t been a problem.

The problem facing Nery is Figueroa has a solid chin.

Figueroa may look like a pretty boy but he fights like he’s ugly. The Weslaco, Texas native has firepower and a rock chin but does he have the skills to match Nery?

“I come forward. I bring the pressure and I’m definitely going to bring the power, the size and all the advantages I have to make sure that we give the fans a great show. I do respect him as a fighter but we’re just going to have to find out Saturday,” said Figueroa whose brother Omar Figueroa fought in the same venue two weeks ago.

Nery has quickness and agility to supplement his power. He also has experience in world class opposition and that’s something Figueroa lacks.

“Brandon’s style really fits with what I want to do in the ring,” said Nery, a boxer-slugger. “This is going to be an all-out war from the first round on. People are going to be talking about it for a long time after.”

The winner of this clash will hopefully meet the winner of Roman and Espinoza. That would really heat up the super bantamweight division to blue hot levels.

Some of my favorite fighters of the past occupied the super bantamweight division like Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez, Marco Antonio Barrera and Israel “Magnifico” Vazquez who twice fought in this same venue. His third fight with Rafael Marquez on March 1, 2008 was voted Fight of the Year for its brutal but spectacular display of super bantamweight power.

The winners of this quasi-super bantamweight tournament can equally achieve the same kind of greatness those former stars achieved. This is a good start.

Fights to Watch (All times are Pacific Coast)

Friday UFC Fight Pass 5:30 p.m. Heather Hardy (22-1) vs Jessica Camara (7-2); Melissa St. Vil (13-4-4) vs Olivia Gerula (18-18-4).

Friday Telemundo 11:30 p.m. Denilson Valtierra (14-0) vs Emanuel Lopez (30-12-1).

Sat. DAZN 10 a.m. Lerrone Richards (14-0) vs Giovanni De Carolis (28-9-1).

Sat. Showtime 7 p.m. Luis Nery (31-0) vs Brandon Figueroa (21-0-1); Danny Roman (28-3-1) vs Ricardo Espinoza (25-3).

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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Charr vs Lovejoy: Better Late Than Never, or Not

Phil Woolever

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COLOGNE – There are many questions to be answered regarding Mahmoud Charr’s scheduled fight against Christopher Lovejoy this Saturday night at a training facility along the Rhine. The most primary point to be determined is whether the contest actually occurs.

Charr has been idle since capturing a WBA title belt against Aleksandr Ustinov way back in November 2017. Since then numerous delays and cancellations, many of them out of Charr’s control, have kept the erstwhile ranked heavyweight out of the championship picture and far from the international public eye.

The most recent of such situations found Charr unable to obtain a travel visa for a defense against Trevor Bryan in Florida last January. Machinations by Don King and the WBA in relegating Charr to “in recess” status further tarnished both the promoter and the organization’s already disgraceful reputations.

King has also had a hand in keeping Lovejoy off the rumbling radar, after the boxer previously claimed retirement as a way out of King’s contractual clutches. When Lovejoy attempted to face Dave Allen in London on the undercard of Usyk-Chisora, King contacted Matchroom’s Eddie Hearn with enough of a claim that Lovejoy’s appearance was cancelled.

According to Lovejoy, King has also attempted to block Saturday’s fight, so uncertainty remains until the first bell rings this weekend. That said, everything else about the relatively low key card seems to be well in place, and there is plenty to look forward to, questions and all. A subscriber-based live stream on German news outlet Bild.de will broadcast the bout.

How the long layoff, which began way before the coronavirus pandemic, has affected Charr is probably the most crucial factor, but what the rarely seen Lovejoy brings to the table is as compelling as it is curiously noteworthy. His record of 19-0 with 19 quick knockouts, compiled completely off-grid in frequent madhouse Tijuana could mean damn near anything.

Charr, 31-4 (17), has been stopped three times and in two of those KOs (by Maris Briedis and Alexander Povetkin) he was blasted into one-shot oblivion. Under Saturday’s scenario one of the few possible surprises might be if Lovejoy doesn’t try to get Charr out of there immediately.

Lovejoy, listed at 6’4”, looks substantially larger than 6’3” Charr, but not any taller. An uneducated guess indicates a strong possibility that the more proven Charr is capable of wearing Lovejoy down, especially considering how he did it against a respectable version of Ustinov.

When Lovejoy refused to shake Charr’s hand and insulted his courage during their press conference photo op, there was a slight but very significant twitch in Charr’s almost constantly upbeat countenance. If Lovejoy doesn’t indeed carry huge power in his punches, he may have inspired a painful night.

To put Charr’s simmering anger in perspective, it must be remembered that he still looked like he was calmly waiting for his food while being carried out on a stretcher after getting shot four times in the lower abdomen during a 2015 ambush in nearby Essen. When his assailant, a former boxing protégé, confessed by saying he only meant to shoot him in the leg, Charr told an emotion packed courtroom bygones were bygones, saying “I am a man who forgives.”

A refugee at five years old whose father was killed in the Lebanese civil war, Charr seems to clearly envision a bigger picture than just his boxing career, and he consistently posts positive motivational copy on social media, including an end of Ramadan message stressing nonpartisan hope for the current Gaza conflict.

The 10-round fight carries no title designation but whatever they may or may not step into the ring with, one thing Charr and Lovejoy share is the potential for a make-or-break performance.

If Charr wins, people will dismiss Lovejoy’s merit in the first place but it still keeps a bit of shine on his championship claims, increasing his leverage regarding Bryan or even bigger game. If Lovejoy wins, especially by dramatic KO, he has definitely upped his recognition factor marketability.

The only safe bet is that the winner will probably hear from somebody representing Don King.

And maybe even Fres Oquendo.

Questions, questions.

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The Tartan Tornado Invades Las Vegas, Harkening Back to Sugar Ray Robinson

Arne K. Lang

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On Sunday, Feb. 26, 1961, Sugar Ray Robinson arrived in Las Vegas for his match six days later with Gene Fullmer at the two-year-old Las Vegas Convention Center. Reporters on hand to greet Robinson at the airport were taken aback by his large entourage. With him were his manager George Gainford, his trainer and his trainer’s assistant, his mother, his traveling secretary, his personal physician, his dietician, his bodyguard, his personal barber and a sparring partner – eleven bodies in all including Robinson.

Flash forward 60 years. When WBA/IBF world super lightweight champion Josh Taylor arrived in Las Vegas on April 24, his party also numbered eleven. Arriving with him from Edinburgh were his trainer Ben Davison, his former amateur coach Terry McCormack (pictured on the right) and assorted others including a videoanalyst, a physiotherapist, and several longtime friends and gym mates including undefeated (10-0) European bantamweight title-holder Lee McGregor and sparring partner Chris Kongo.

Once he was settled in, Sugar Ray had less than a full week to finish off his preparation for his title fight with arch-rival Fullmer. By contrast, Josh Taylor and his team arrived in Las Vegas a full month before Taylor was set to square off against WBC/WBO counterpart Jose Ramirez in the biggest fight in Las Vegas since Fury-Wilder II, a lapse of 14 months.

There are other differences between Team Robinson and Team Taylor which touch on the way that boxing has changed from a promotional standpoint. Sugar Ray and his party stayed at the Dunes Casino Resort on the Strip where Robinson picked up some loose change holding afternoon pre-fight workouts in the hotel’s showroom at $1 a head. Team Taylor is staying as a group in a large, luxury home in the “burbs” where there are fewer distractions and when he is ready to spar at the Top Rank Gym, “foreigners” are shooed away. Which isn’t to say that Josh Taylor isn’t friendly. Quite the opposite; the Tartan Tornado has been very approachable and unstinting of his time with the few local reporters that have been hep to his whereabouts.

Taylor hails from Prestonpans, a town eight miles east of Edinburgh, Scotland’s second-largest city. His dad works as a landscape gardener and his mother as a receptionist. He has one sibling, a younger sister. This past December he became engaged to hairdresser Danielle Murphy, his longtime girlfriend. They have known each other for 10 years.

On Wikipedia, Prestonpans is portrayed as a small fishing village, but that is highly misleading. For a better reference, think of towns in the American rust belt that have been bruised by the loss of manufacturing jobs. Taylor and his neighbors will tell you that the policies of Margaret Thatcher, British PM from 1979 to 1990, compounded the damage.

At age 17, Taylor, now 30, found his way to McCormack’s Lochend Boxing Club in Edinburgh. At this humble gym — a little shack situated smack against a public housing project — he honed the skills that made him an elite amateur, a globetrotter who culminated his tenure with a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

Taylor turned pro for Barry McGuigan’s Cyclone Promotions. McGuigan entrusts his fighters to his trainer/son Shane McGuigan. The McGuigans already had Carl Frampton in the fold. Under the McGuigans stewardship, Frampton became a champion in two weight classes.

Taylor’s fight with Jose Ramirez will be his fourth in the United States. Josh made his pro debut in El Paso and also fought at Barclays Center in Brooklyn and at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. The common thread in all three fights is Frampton who also appeared on those cards, the last two as the headliner with Leo Santa Cruz in the opposite corner.

As a pro, Taylor is undefeated (17-0, 13 KOs). Ramirez, the pride of Central California’s vast San Joaquin Valley, home to more than 4 million people, is also undefeated (26-0, 17 KOs), but the Scotsman is considered to have fought the stronger schedule. Taylor’s last five opponents were collectively 110-1 at the time that he fought them with the lone blemish inflicted by Terence Crawford.

Taylor’s signature win was his Oct. 26, 2019 conquest of Regis Prograis at London’s O2 Arena. Both came in undefeated, both owned a share of the world super lightweight title, and the match had the added allure of being the final round of a World Boxing Super Series tournament with the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy, an impressive piece of hardware, bestowed on the winner.

The fight was expected to be highly entertaining and it overachieved. The noted historian Matt McGrain called it “the inarguable 140lb fight of the decade.” At the end both fighters were marked-up, especially the victorious Taylor who sported a beauty of a shiner over his right eye. “I have never been prouder of an injury,” Taylor told this reporter.

pontrepans

His relationship with the McGuigans unraveled after this fight. Shane McGuigan took it hard. “I’ve invested four-and-a-half years of my time and energy in someone who just doesn’t deserve it,” he said. “If you want loyalty in boxing, buy a dog (a saying previously credited to the late British boxing promoter Mickey Duff).”

“Don’t buy a dog and then put it in the kennel,” replied Taylor, noting that he had been left alone for long periods by Shane McGuigan when training in England and that he wasn’t provided a key to the gym when his trainer was out of town.

Veteran British boxing scribe Colin Hart took the McGuigans’ side in a story that ran in the Sun, faulting Josh for his disloyalty. What Hart failed to note is that in every deal that Taylor has signed, he has insisted that his amateur coach be included. McCormack assisted McGuigan in the corner and continues in that role under Davison, the young trainer who reinvigorated Tyson Fury before their amicable split.

“I have never been so happy as I am now,” says Taylor. “I am content and relaxed.” And he insists that he harbors no hard feelings toward the McGuigans. “I’m grateful for what they did for me.”

This olive branch, of sorts, stands in stark contrast to his pal Carl Frampton whose break from the McGuigans was scarred with unbending acrimony. (Shane McGuigan’s latest protégé is Lawrence Okolie who turned in a sensational performance while blasting out Krzyzstof Glowacki to win the WBO world cruiserweight title on March 20. There’s no question that Shane is one of the sharpest young trainers in the sport, but if he were a physician, one might say that he needs to work on improving his bedside manner.)

The Taylor-Ramirez fight will be held at the Virgin Hotel (formerly the Hard Rock which was closed for 13 months while the new owners of the property, in their words, “reimagined” it). The winner will be the undisputed 140-pound champion, holding all four meaningful belts. If that be Taylor, who is a small favorite, that would put him on the same pedestal as Ken Buchanan who became a national hero when he won the world lightweight title from Ismael Laguna in 1970, a diadem he lost on a controversial punch to Roberto Duran who refused to give him a rematch.

Now 75 years old and residing in an assisted living facility in Edinburgh, the city of his birth, Buchanan was among the first to predict that Taylor would become a world champion. The two are well-acquainted. Buchanan pops in occasionally at McCormack’s gym. He has visited Taylor at his family home where, Josh notes, his mother welcomed him as she would any honored guest, meaning she put on a spot of tea.

Taylor vs Ramirez is a sellout. The bout will be televised free in the United States on ESPN. It’s a very compelling attraction.

Check out more boxing news on video at the Boxing Channel

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