The Nightmare Diary: Walking on Glass

By P.H. Burbridge - The career of a professional boxer is very much like that of a professional gambler. When you’re up one door after another opens for you but when you’re down a lot of doors get slammed in your face. After what happened on April 24th at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA, Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola (28-2, 25 KO's) may be finding himself on the wrong side of the door!

The stage was set for Arreola to announce to the rest of the field that this was going to be his year but instead he helped legitimize the heavyweight aspirations of former light heavy and cruiserweight champion, Tomasz “Goral” Adamek (41-1, 27 KOs.). Adamek showed a great deal of discipline and toughness in scratching out an ugly yet impressive victory in his third fight at heavyweight. He’s now 3-0 in the division. Tomasz is a world class fighter and although few see a legitimate shot against either Klitschko brother it’s clear that he will make for some interesting future match ups in the division. He’s a grinder and puts in his work. He’s no easy fight for anyone and by fighting a dangerous puncher like Arreola he has delivered proof of his tremendous self confidence. You simply don’t underestimate a fighter with his credentials and you don’t show up on fight night without two things, #1 - a plan and #2 - the conditioning to execute that plan!

Well, Arreola showed up on fight night with only one of those required elements. I’m sure I’ll get a bunch of emails from readers who state emphatically that Arreola showed up with NONE of the required elements but let me go ahead and shoot out a pre-emptive disagreement on that. I know Henry Ramirez and the plan was solid. I’m pretty confident in my own ability to break down a fighter’s strengths, his weaknesses, mark his trigger points to quantify reactive tendencies designed to establish a tactical fight plan and the plan that Henry devised was the correct one in my view. The process first began with a fact finding field trip Ramirez took to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, to see Tomasz beat Jason Estrada back in February. Its one thing to break a fighter down on tape which is pretty much the norm but seeing your opponent “live” just adds another dimension to your planning. I spoke to Henry after that trip and he acknowledged that Adamek would create some issues for Chris early but beating him was well within Arreola’s scope of ability. This was supposed to be a take him into deep waters and drown him fight which I agreed with after seeing Tomasz fade towards the end of the Estrada bout. The key from Arreola’s perspective was that he needed to stay within jabbing range and he had to get that punch working. Once you get your jab working everything else generally tends to fall in place. You can move your opponent in the direction you need him to so you can land your secondary shots. In this case, he also needed to get to Adamek’s body early and often. It seems simple but the actual execution when you have a guy moving and changing direction second by second makes it VERY frustrating especially if you’re not in shape to keep up with him as Arreola didn’t appear to be.

I knew there was a problem when the weights were announced because it was my expectation that Chris would be coming in somewhere in the low 240’s. That’s what he stated numerous times in the press leading up to the fight. In fact, he told the LA Times a couple of weeks before that he would be coming in at 239! When it was announced that he weighed 250.5 lbs I thought to myself “how is it possible that Chris can have one of the best strength and conditioning coaches in the sport, Daryl Hudson and not be making SIGNIFICANT progress?”….. The answer is all too obvious and underlines a deeper more complex issue. But, we’ll get to that soon enough. I’ve watched the fight no less than 12 times breaking down each round and assessing the performance. This was a very close fight for the first 6 rounds with both fighters enjoying their own kind of success. For Adamek, he was able to move in spots, maintain his distance and flurry while getting underneath Arreola’s shots and at times making him miss badly. The key to beating this version of Arreola is no secret. Vitali moved and gave him angles all night and Adamek to a lesser extent replicated that tactic. It works….For Arreola, every time he raised the intensity and let his hands go he appeared to stun Adamek and looked to be on the verge of taking control of the fight. There were sequences where I thought he had found his distance and it was only a matter of time. But, what became apparent was that Arreola could not sustain his attack or stay close enough to man handle Adamek. If weight is good, it’s only good for one thing and that’s man handling your guy on the inside and leaning on him to bring his energy level down. Well, Chris couldn’t get close enough to do that consistently to make any kind of real difference. The fact that he’s injured both hands certainly contributed to his problems but in the final analysis the reason he hurt his hands was due to an overall lack of conditioning. The injured hands were a direct result of that.

When a fighter knows he didn’t go full out in training camp and didn’t stay true to his work out regimen he gets desperate in fights. Fighters and their teams may not be fully forthcoming when answering questions about how camp is going but the bottom line is that they can’t change the truth. The truth always reveals itself one way or the other especially when the opponent is world class. The injuries took place because Chris threw punches when he wasn’t supposed to. PERIOD! Rather than having the confidence in his conditioning to pull back and wait for his trigger points he tried to over compensate by unloading every time he thought Adamek might be hurt. Conditioned fighters are always looking for their set up shots so they can land the punches that were identified by their trainers as the most likely to succeed. They want to win one exchange at a time. Poorly conditioned fighters are always looking for the fastest, easiest way to end a fight and in doing so often throw caution to the wind. That’s why fighters hit the tops of heads. That’s why fighters tend to throw low blows late in fights because they’re fatigued and forcing matters by reaching rather than doing what they’re supposed to do to properly set their shots up. Arreola showed his frustration numerous times in the fight by stopping his pursuit and gesturing to Tomasz to stop “running”. When you see a fighter do that he’s basically announcing to his opponent that he can’t keep up with him. That’s all.

Yes, Chris had a bit of resurgence or got his second wind in round 10 and 11 but by then it was way too late. He couldn’t land any real game changing shots at that point because BOTH his hands were pretty much done. Plus, Adamek has far too much championship experience to blow a lead like that. He just put his movement into over drive and his conditioning did the rest which is what you would expect from a fighter of his ilk. Still it was reasonably close and victory was at least within Arreola’s grasp. Overall, it had to be a very frustrating experience for the whole team. They left that fight with a diminished reputation, injured hands and more questions about the future. Officially, this is the first time that I can honestly say Arreola gassed out in a fight. If you challenged me on that point prior to this outing I would have told you that “he’s NEVER gassed out in a fight” and you would have been hard pressed to find any evidence where he did. Well, not any more. The punch out put was down (especially to the body), the footwork has never been nimble but it was down right plodding and the intensity was sporadic and remarkably inconsistent after round 6. Arreola came in shape to fight 6-8 rounds and that’s exactly what he did. He had a willing partner who I still believe would have succumbed to his aggression had it been more consistent.

HBO because of his ratings loves Arreola despite his profanity laced post fight interviews but HBO also loves a winner and they DEMAND a winner so if things don’t change immediately you may be witnessing another potential superstar BS his way out of a career.

You know it’s quite conceivable that we won’t see the best of Chris Arreola until he’s no longer relevant in the division. When he’s no longer considered a viable challenger for the title. After he loses lets say another 2 fights or so. This recent set back dropped Chris from #6 in the Ring ratings down to #10 and Adamek has jumped all the way to #4. Adamek wasn’t even in the top 10 a week prior to this fight so you see how fragile all this can be and just how quickly fortunes can change. There will be a point when fans throw their hands up and say “that’s it!!” and focus their energies on another prospect. The attendance in Ontario was lower than expected and is a clear indication that some have already done just that. I was going to make a comparison between Arreola and another California fighter who too was famously uncommitted and who never reached his full potential, the “Livermore Larupper” Max Baer. But, the reality is Max Baer WON the championship.

That means he at least got it together long enough to win the prize. If he hadn’t a lot of you wouldn’t know who the hell he was. Baer was an AMAZING puncher who had all the tools EXCEPT the will to maximize his talent. This guy had STAR written all over him with a great personality and who was well liked especially by women. He took FULL advantage of his celebrity in every way you can imagine. He was a man about town and EARNED the moniker “Madcap Maxie”. Baer had a good time, a DAMN good time! Too good a time for a professional fighter. When he lost his belt to Jimmy Braddock he “accepted” that he lost it due to poor conditioning. The fact that he lost to an inferior fighter didn’t seem to bother him that much and maybe that in itself was Max Baer’s biggest problem. He CASUALLY lost the title. He never did regain the championship but by all reports become a better fighter once the expectations were gone. Once people stopped talking about him as if he were a great fighter and once people no longer believed he had what it took. By age 32, Baer was no longer considered relevant in the division.
He’s one of the more fascinating fighters in our history and aficionados still wonder what MIGHT have been if Maxie had just applied himself. God graced Baer with everything he needed to become one of if not THE greatest heavyweight of all time and he laughed it all away.

Let me close out with one final anecdote. I was present at the Memorial Auditorium in Sacramento, California back in December of last year to scout the Big “O”, Oleg Maskaev during what many considered a “tune up” fight against the unheralded Nagy Aguilera. I didn’t want to go to this fight but I was working on an article that implied Arreola should challenge Maskaev next and I wanted to see him up close and in person so I could more accurately make the case. At the time Oleg was the mandatory challenger for the WBC title and the fact that Aguilera was no where near his caliber suggested in my mind that this was going to be a non eventful evening. It was pouring down rain in Sacramento that night and because of a problem with the electronic parking meters I was completely soaked waiting for a lot attendant to take my payment. When I finally did get into the auditorium I was completely drenched and surprised at how few people were in attendance. By the time the main event rolled along there was a crowd of maybe 1300-1400 fans cheering Oleg on. He lives in West Sacramento where there’s a vibrant Russian community so he had some of the home folks there ready to celebrate his victory. Well, Oleg got starched seconds into that fight and it just took the air out of the whole place. There was a collective sigh when the first Aguilera left hook landed and when Oleg went down people were shocked. Its cliché but when Oleg went down he literally fell like “an old man”. He went down with a thud as opposed to a bounce. But, what shocked me more than anything else was just how fast people grabbed their coats and headed off into the cold, rainy Sacramento night. It seemed as if half the crowd was gone before the MC even announced the time of the stoppage. (1:54 of the first round)

I entered the auditorium that night thinking of Arreola’s career prospects and I left mourning Maksaev’s. This man had won the heavyweight championship of the world and had the kind of work ethic trainers dream about and THIS is how he ends up! At 39, still trying to keep his head above water in the most unforgiving sport known to man only drawing a handful of people in his adopted home town. I was one of the last people to leave the auditorium that night and I was absolutely saddened by the whole experience and thought to myself this guy gave everything he had and THIS is the way HIS dream ends! So, if a man who sacrificed like Maskaev did and whose talent brought him across the globe suffers this kind of fate what can a guy like Arreola expect?

The Nightmare Diary by current definition deals with the trials and tribulations of the much maligned Cristobal Arreola. It was conceived as a chronicle of the first Mexican-American fighter to win the heavyweight championship of the world. Over the period since it started Arreola has gone from being considered one the most dangerous heavyweights on the planet to every boxing forums favorite whipping boy.

Because of his powerful backers and because of his trainer he’s an interesting subject in my view and although I would much prefer to chronicle his successes “The Nightmare Diary” has evolved into a chronicle of his failures.
And frankly, lately it’s becoming a little bit like walking on glass!

(Please feel free to contact P.H. Burbridge via email at with any comments or feedback.)

Article posted on 20.05.2010

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