Heavyweight spars as he preps for “Dr. Ironfist”
Circle September 26 on your calendar. This is the date when L.A.’s favorite heavyweight Chris Arreola meets Vitali Klitschko for 12 scheduled rounds at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles.
The anticipation is growing as “The Nightmare” hopes to make history as the first Mexican-American to wear the heavyweight crown. He and the nearly 6′ 8″ Vitali will vie for the WBC title currently owned by Klitschko.
Arreola’s official media workout was held last Wednesday, but I was also fortunate to have watched a recent sparring session with Arreola and three heavyweights of various shapes and styles last week.
While entering Joe Goossen’s San Fernando Valley gym, there was a bigger crowd than I expected at the workout. It seems like all the local boxing aficionados are really pulling for Chris to score an upset (he’s the big underdog in this bout).
Waiting for the sparring to begin, I say hello to female judge/referee Gwen Adair who loves the sweet science and has watched Chris’ career from the earliest days. I also see some fixtures on the amateur circuit, trainer Nacho Saucedo and his nephew, 9-year-old Jose, a talented amateur fighter. Nacho says sparring partner Lance Whitaker is from their Westside Boxing Gym.
Promoter Ken Thompson is also there. Jose Lopez, a top fighter in his stable, was doing a light workout in preparation for his fight that took place last Friday. His discipline paid off as he stopped Anthony Mora early in their fight. Lopez and stablemates Hector Serrano and Jonathan Arellano all work with Henry Ramirez, Arreola’s trainer. “Teco” Serrano says he’s planning to fight on November 6 at the Ontario Doubletree; young pro fighter Arellano is hoping to get his fourth victory on October 9 also at the same venue. “When I was a kid with Ontario PAL, we volunteered and set up chairs at Chris’ main event fight at the Doubletree. It’s a dream come true that now I’ll be fighting there too!”
Next I meet Darryl Hudson, Chris’ new strength and conditioning coach and inquire how camp is going. “We’re working hard and we’re gonna keep working hard,” the well-regarded trainer says with a smile. “I’m never satisfied!”
Testing out my Spanish skills I chat with Edison “Pantera” Miranda. The Colombian boxer (known for breaking the jaw of “King” Arthur Abraham) was also training during our visit. Miranda says he’ll be fighting on October 22.
Then I look up and see another familiar face. A very famous face in the sports world. It’s Pete Rose, baseball’s “Hit King.” Both my boyfriend (who just happens to be wearing a Dodgers shirt) and I love baseball so it’s a bonus to see the legend in the gym! Turns out the all-time MLB leader in hits is a good friend of promoter Dan Goossen and it’s a known fact that he’s a follower of the fight game. He introduces us to his son, Tyler. I note the son’s wearing a Cincinnati Reds shirt. I ask if he also plays baseball. The handsome young man shakes his head as his proud dad tells me Tyler is a very good basketball player. The elder Rose mentions that he lives nearby and is a longtime buddy of James Toney who fought recently at Pechanga.
Trainer Henry Ramirez, cutman “Indian” Willie Schunke and Arreola get ready near the ring. Chris plays DJ for the night and chooses Eminem for background music. He’s wearing a new black T-shirt but someone makes a decision that he’ll need a little more breathing room while he spars. Always on his toes, Ramirez swiftly grabs a pair of scissors and voila! Arreola’s now sporting a sleeveless tee. This is a no-nonsense group.
Ramirez says training is going well. I ask him if it’s been crowded with extra visitors leading up to the fight. Ramirez takes it all in stride, “Yeah, when I first walked in here I thought for a moment that this was media day and maybe I got the dates mixed up!” The amiable trainer says he’s going to have to close the sessions soon. “But tonight it’s all people we know, it’s friends here so it’s kinda hard to ask people to leave,” he says with a small chuckle.
He says Team Arreola has been sparring three days a week and working out six days a week leading up to the fight.
As Schunke begins wrapping his hands, I get a chance to chat with Chris who will be later outfitted in a bright pink headgear, protective cup and matching gloves.
He’s loose–in his usual cool mode–and we chat about various topics. Since everyone is asking him about the Klitschko bout, Chris seems to want to talk about other things like the Dodgers (he’s a little disappointed with them right now), his admitted obsession with Oreo cookies (the original version, NOT Double Stuf he makes very clear!), and the buzz about Juan Manuel Marquez’ special drink of choice.
For those of you who missed seeing the second installment of HBO’s “24/7” broadcast featuring Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Juan Manuel Marquez, let’s just say that after a hard workout Mexican warrior Marquez was not drinking lemonade. The 36-year-old claims he drinks his own urine as a way of replenishing lost proteins and vitamins. I ask Chris if he would ever do that.
“I can understand it. To each his own,” Arreola replies, nodding. “If he thinks he’s getting extra vitamins and nutrients then it gives him an edge. And if he believes it, then it does give him an edge…Anything to win!”
So are you going to try it before your brawl with Klitschko?
“NO!” he says with a laugh. I then ask cutman “Indian” Willie if he’ll do it and Schunke shouts, “No way!” Well, either “urine or you’re out.” Guess Juan Manuel can corner the market sipping his own tasty cocktail.
The talk continues about the upcoming Mayweather-Marquez matchup taking place this weekend. I tend to root for the underdogs so I ask Chris his thoughts on the fight. “I think Mayweather will win,” states the Riverside boxer. “I’m gonna say 7 to 5 for Mayweather…But it’s not gonna be easy!” He then turns to some visitors to his right and polls them on who they think will win. It’s unanimous that they want Marquez to win, but think Mayweather will actually win. Still, just like underdog Arreola, you never know what to expect in boxing!
With all the ruckus leading up to the biggest fight of his career, how does the hulking heavyweight handle all the pressure? “Easy!” Chris counters quickly glancing up at the ring. “Up there, it’s just me. I tune it all out.” He insists the outside distractions do not get to him.
Chris is focused throughout his workout but before and after training takes time to say hi to well wishers. I decide that the outspoken and entertaining Arreola, 28, could have his own reality show! You could call it “Everybody Loves Chris” (in homage to the Chris Rock series) or how ’bout “Real Men Wear Pink”?
As we all observe Arreola in the gym, all attention is focused on the heavyweight.
Pete Rose points out to us that that’s exactly the way it should be. “You can have a guy who’s great in the clubhouse–but only hitting .222. They may love him in the clubhouse, but he can’t be a leader on the field too!” he emphasizes using a baseball analogy. The switch hitter owns three World Series rings so I make sure to listen to every bit of what he says. When “Charlie Hustle” talks, I listen.
“You have to be both a leader in the clubhouse AND on the field,” relays the Cincinnati “Hit King” as we observe one of boxing’s “Knockout Kings” go to work. “You have to set an example and lead by experience!” states Rose. “Like Chris…He’s a leader in the gym while training, but once he gets in the ring he’s the leader in there too.”
With just a few trainers, fighters and a smattering of writers and photographers gathered around, Chris begins nine straight rounds of sparring. As invited onlookers settle in chairs along the ring, I position myself right on the apron next to Ken Thompson, co-promoter of champ Timothy Bradley. I want to be as close to the action as possible. Passionate for pugilism, Thompson and I are safely ensconced in one of the corners, but on high alert when the two combatants (more than 500 pounds of flesh!) get within a few feet of us.
Arreola has fought on Thompson’s card several times in the past and the promoter observes, “It’s great to see him with a variety of sparring partners. He can handle any style.” Regarding a prediction, he says confidently, “I say Chris is going to knock out Klitschko in five rounds!”
As I sit on the apron, a pal warns me to be careful of my clothing. I am sitting on one of the painted logos to avoid the blood, sweat and tears that have splattered and stained the canvas. “I’m okay,” I say, trying hard to prove I’m no girlie-girl. “I’m sitting on the paint. I’ll be fine.” Somebody else jokes and says, “That’s not paint!” Let’s just say there’s always going to be a lot of dormant DNA found in any respectable boxing gym. After all, it’s not called the “hurt business” for nothing.
Calling himself a “balls-to-the-walls” kind of fighter, Arreola takes on three sparring partners for three rounds each: Lance Whitaker, Malik Scott and Cisse Salif.
First up is the 6′ 8″ Whitaker (34-5-1, 28 KOs) who spends a lot of time working his jab to emulate Klitschko. Lance also taunts Chris, making for a spirited exchange in last ten seconds of the rounds.
The next challenger was the shorter Malik Scott (32-0), who told me earlier in the evening that his own next fight may be on October 22. Scott was fast, throwing a lot of punches, and crowding Chris as they worked on some close, inside action.
And the final gladiator was Las Vegas resident Cisse Salif (23-15-2, 21 KOs). “I’ve been working with the camp for four years now,” the 6′ 4″ slugger told me. “Training’s been very good.” His style is familiar to Chris, who told him at the beginning of their round, “Don’t hold back!”
During the total nine rounds we watched, no one held back. His camp says he was about 260 (as of last week) and they are hoping for a 245 mark. And after the sparring was over, Chris continued onto the heavy bag and speed bag.
So just what are his chances of taking away the Ukrainian’s WBC championship belt?
Speaking with Javier Adame, a Goossen gym mainstay and friend of sparring partner Whitaker, says of course, every boxer has a puncher’s chance to win. “It’s easy to say he’s got a puncher’s chance,” comments Adame, who is also a member of undercard John Molina’s camp. “Anybody has a chance. It’s either gonna be yes they’re gonna knock him out, or no he’s not.”
And his take on the fight remains realistic, “Either way, someone is going to be able to say, ‘See? I told you so!’ Whether it’s the fans, the media, the fighter…Someone is gonna be able to say, ‘Shut up! See? I told you so!'”
Catching up with Chris’ cutman “Indian” Willie just this morning, the cornerman confirms training is going great. “I feel this is our best camp ever,” says the respected Schunke. “Chris is really putting in a lot of effort–a lot of effort,” he points out. “Not that our other sparring partners before weren’t great, but this group is really top notch. They’re really giving Chris some good work.” Camp will continue through early next week.
Now we wait for weigh-in day when Arreola gets on the scale. The 6′ 4″ Arreola is often criticized for his weight, so if he’s ever going to make a statement he’s gotta do it for this high-profile title fight.
Will “The Nightmare” be able to silence all his critics?
September 26 is his chance to be in the best possible condition ever–Arreola really needs to be “in the pink” if he plans to make history!
Photos by Michele Chong and Steve Harpst
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