The Nightmare Diary: Chris Arreola: On the doorstep of heavyweight history or oblivion?

By P.H. Burbridge - A few weeks ago in an article entitled ”Is Cristobal Arreola the next great American heavyweight” I wrote that I was reserving judgment of his trainer, Henry Ramirez until after I saw what he looked like against Travis “Freight Train” Walker on Nov 29th. Well, I’m ready to damn Ramirez now! Yes, Arreola got rid of Walker in dramatic fashion and he again reminded us of why he’s considered “THE MAN” on this side of the pond. But I can’t ignore this sense that Arreola is fighting on borrowed time and if he doesn’t get some key things in order soon then American fight fans like my self hoping for representation at the highest level of the heavyweight division can go right back to sleep!

Chris ArreolaThe Walker fight even though it only lasted 3 rounds was a two way mirror that reflected the good and the bad that is Chris Arreola. In my opinion, the story of the fight was not Chris showing his ring smarts in taking a knee when he got hurt or even his Sonny Liston-like clubbing power which eventually ended the fight it was his defensive deficiencies. And, that one issue just got moved up the priority list of “what to fix next!” Truly, he could have come in at a toned 235 lbs and it wouldn’t have made a difference. If he’s going to get hit with punches that aren’t only telegraphed but sent UPS-Ground then the future looks bleak. The obvious starting point of this discussion is the weight. He was only 4 lbs lighter at 254 lbs than he was at his heaviest against Israel Garcia one fight prior.

Henry Ramirez, that’s unacceptable!

Frankly, it doesn’t sound like the appropriate changes have been made in his training camp since the Garcia fight. It appeared that Chris didn’t put in all the work you would expect leading into such a critical fight and I’m not talking about his physique I’m talking about his hand speed and his footwork. Considering his ranking and all that’s at stake I expected Arreola to come in much better condition for the Walker fight. I expected to see sharpness and intense focus. It’s the head trainer who plans and executes all matters related to not only the physical conditioning of his fighter but the mental preparation as well. He devises a tactical plan and determines who to surround the fighter with. He picks the supporting cast and monitors THEIR performance relative to the overall fight plan and schedule. You’ve got to be in COMPLETE control at all times to ensure no stone is left unturned. That’s the gig!

Literally, all these things are the difference between Chris becoming a legend and gaining a major share of the boxing consumer base or becoming an obscure piece of trivia. There is NO urgency to this camp and no amount of declarations to the contrary holds water. The proof is in the WEIGHT. Arreola is too smart a guy not to realize that there are serious problems with his team and he’s also smart enough to realize that his personal commitment to the goal has to be more intense. There is a personal friendship between Arreola and Ramirez that I’ll compare to the relationship that existed between Ricky Hatton and his long time trainer, Billy Graham. Well, it took a loss to expose elements of Hatton’s game that were under developed due to substandard training methods and hopefully the same experience will not be required of Arreola before he makes a change. I understand the sense of loyalty that exists between those who believed in you first and have been there from the start and I’m sure that’s a factor for Arreola. Frankly, the best thing for Ramirez to do if he really wants the best for Chris is to make the change himself. I’m not suggesting that Henry Ramirez be terminated or quit I’m suggesting that his role be altered so a more senior world class caliber trainer can come in and start correcting some of these deficiencies. He’s only 27 years old which is quite young for a heavyweight and I honestly feel that all these areas of concern can be fixed. I believe in this kid’s talent. Ramirez could maintain a supporting role and still be available to Chris in an appropriate capacity. There are trainers out there who could deliver a version of Arreola that CAN become world champion. The obvious choice would have been Emanuel Steward but unfortunately he’s all booked up with the enemy. I frankly, think there’s a guy who’s already tied to the team at least in name that could do the job. Joe Goosen! Joe Goosen is one of the most underrated trainers in the sport. I’ve never once heard him give bad advice. His resume is solid! The fact that his older brother Dan already has promotional ties to Arreola makes this seem like a no brainer but who knows. Obstacles sometimes pop up in the most unusual places especially in professional boxing.

Who ever it is will walk into a lot of positives but they must get right to work. As of December 16th, Chris Arreola was ranked #2 by the WBC, #4 by the IBF & WBO and #8 by the WBA. Oddly enough that’s a big problem from a logic perspective. Yes, it’s great from a business perspective because it means that he’s going to get his million dollar shot but can he win?? Can he get into the kind of physical condition that Wladimir is in every single time out? Will he have enough head and lateral movement to make Wlad reach for him so he can counter? And the biggest question of all, will he be able to get up if the right hand landed by Walker is delivered by either one of the Klitschko brothers?

Let’s look deeper into the Walker fight and study the specific circumstances surrounding some of the more telling exchanges to better grasp what’s being missed in the gym. Chris came out in the first round of the Walker fight looking pretty tentative and flat. He was content to wait and see what Walker had to offer but the problem was that he showed no lateral movement nor did he move his head. He retreated STRAIGHT back into the ropes. He also didn’t throw jabs with any conviction. It was more of a pawing jab that he left out there and opened himself up for fast counter rights which Walker had no problem landing. He looked puzzled and getting hit that cleanly raised a red flag for me. The concept of defense is pretty simple in boxing. You move your head and use lateral movement to minimize or “take the power” off of your opponents punches. The bottom line is that you’re going to get hit but you should always be moving away from a shot so when you do you’re taking the steam off of it. Obviously, the execution of that principal is much more difficult than it sounds and early on in the 1st round Chris had a tough time following those guidelines. I was very surprised that he didn’t move his feet once he was hit and allowed Walker get off with 2 and 3 punch combinations. Arreola should have been able to break Walker’s rhythm with his jab. He didn’t do that. He waited with his hands up hoping to catch shots off in the air looking for Walker with a counter. Picking off shots in the air with your gloves is a useful technique in certain instances but it cannot serve as your main approach to defense because it limits your countering opportunities. Your hands are occupied picking off shots when they should be free to land counters. That’s why head movement is the key. There was no greater example of this or lack of this than in the 2nd round when Walker split Arreola’s gloves with a three punch combination that he finished with a hard straight right hand. That shot forced Arreola down to a knee. It was Walker’s best sequence of the fight and it’s a sequence that I’m sure fans of the Klitschko brothers will point to as Arreola’s potential undoing in future fights against either. That right hand took the breath out of all the Arreola supporters including myself.

Arreola wouldn’t have been hit with those shots if he was bouncing on his toes and using even the slightest amount of lateral movement. But, he did do something that I interpret as positive and unusual for a young fighter. When he got hit he instinctively knew he was in danger and he took a knee preventing any follow up blows by Walker. If he didn’t do that who knows how it would have turned out. I know a lot of fans don’t like to see their fighters go down intentionally to avoid further punishment and would prefer to see their man fight his way back but I think the fact that Arreola used this tactic is a positive. It showed that he’s thinking his way through the fight. It’s kind of like watching a quarterback take the sack. You always want to see the QB try to make something happen but at times it makes more sense to take the sack than to throw it into coverage. Well, Arreola took the sack and regained his composure. That was a good sound move. Another positive is his recuperative powers. He took those hard shots and was still able to get back the lead by hunting Walker down later in that same round. He mugged Walker all the rest of the way and caught him with a beautiful left hook right on the point of the chin in the opening minute of the 3rd and final round ending the fight.

Very impressive and that’s why Arreola is a goldmine. But, don’t let that deter you from this obvious conclusion.

Chris should approach the ring as a boxer-puncher regardless of his knockout record and if he’s to succeed at the highest level he’ll be required to go 12 rounds routinely. His Eastern European colleagues are built to go rounds and they condition their minds and bodies to do it. The fact that Chris has had so much early success in his career has as much to do with match making as it does with his talent. My concern is that his many knockouts have given him a greater sense of his own power than truly exists. You can’t rely on your power in today’s heavyweight division. The European heavyweights will flat out box circles around you all night long. The funny thing is that “boxing” is Chris’ strong point and because of his extensive amateur back ground he would do well to take that approach but he can’t because of his conditioning deficiencies. He’s almost taking the George Foreman approach to conserving energy by lack of movement. (The 2nd version of Big George) So, he’s left to rely on his power. Chris can’t afford to be viewed by his opponents as that one dimensional.

With the news that Arreola’s team is lining up a possible title shot against Wladimir Klitschko sometime in April or May of 2009 it really doesn’t give a new trainer that much time to work.

So, if Chris doesn’t make a change in his team and I mean DAMN quick then as the great Angelo Dundee would say,

“YOU’RE BLOWIN’ IT, KID, you’re blowin’ it!”

Yup…….Big Time!!

Article posted on 28.12.2008

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