On Saturday, April 27, in Ontario, California, Mexican-American heavyweight Chris Arreola (35-2, 30 KOs) returns to action against Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs). The fight will be broadcast live on HBO.
In the wide open American heavyweight scene, Chris Arreola is a rarity: a fighter with a fanbase and a track record of big fights. He has beaten recognizable journeymen like Travis Walker, Brian Minto and Jameel McCline. He's knocked off undefeated prospects like Damian Wills and Chazz Witherspoon.
Arreola's only two professional losses came in a world title fight against Vitali Klitschko and against former cruiserweight and light heavyweight champion Tomasz Adamek, who was then ranked among the top five in the world at heavyweight.
He remains among the most popular and highly rated American heavyweights, a dangerous puncher with a likable personality. So long as he keeps winning fights in impressive manner, another shot at the belt should come around for him.
"My goal is to be champion," he told me, when I spoke to him on the phone last weekend. "I already paid my dues. I fought a lot of very good fighters and proved myself...I want whoever has a belt."
In his customary blunt, humorous manner, Arreola clarified who he means when he talks about belt holder:
"Povetkin (WBA "regular" champion, Alexander) doesn't have a belt. That's like a watch or something somebody gave him. It's a silver medal. Everybody knows the world champions are the Klitschkos, so that's who I want. My goal is to be undisputed.
Arreola's first crack at the belt ended in a Round 11 TKO loss. But since his setback against Adamek, he has appeared to rededicate himself to the sport, improving his year-round conditioning and more consistently fighting at an optimum weight.
Arreola told me that he tries to keep his weight close to 250 year round, and that he tries to come in for a fight between about 238 and 243:
"Between 238 and 243, that's where I feel best. I keep the speed and power I need against the big boys."
There can be no question that an Arreola run as heavyweight champion would be great for the entire sport. Simply having the belt around an American waist again would be a big deal. And Arreola has the type of engaging personality to draw in the casual fan.
Indeed, as a Mexican-American, Arreola would be an important historical champ, bringing the title back to the U.S. while at the same time being the first fighter of Mexican heritage to ever win the biggest title in sports.
It's a dual representation that Arreola is proud to carry:
"It's way added motivation. I'm blessed to be an American, that my parents came here to give us a better life. I'm lucky to have Mexican blood, to have that heritage, but I love being an American, too, and know I'm lucky to be one. The reason I'm so tall is because of free lunches. I ate everybody's leftovers, extra milk. I was that kid. And it makes me want to be able to give back."
But before Arreola can ever be in a position to bring the titles home, he must first get past a very determined Bermane Stiverne. With 20 KOs in 24 fights, there can be no doubt that Stiverne packs a heavyweight punch.
Against then-undefeated Kertson Manswell, Stiverne showed a busy jab and very good hand speed, knocking out Manswell in two. It is the biggest win of his career; though since then, Manswell has pretty quickly moved from undefeated prospect to trial horse.
Stiverne has looked less than impressive against less than impressive talent. In 2009 he drew with 17-17-1 Charles Davis. His sole career loss came by way of Round 4 TKO to 11-15 Demetrice King.
But Arreola is not looking past him:
"The same fighter never comes to the same fight twice. This is his big shot. This is his Rocky moment. He's going to want it, so screw what he's done in other fights."