On July 16 in Birmingham, Chris Arreola will challenge undefeated WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder. Let’s be clear, this fight is a disappointment. Wilder was originally supposed to face Alexander Povetkin ins the Spring, but the Russian tested positive for a banned PED.
Wilder vs. Povetkin was one of the fights I was most looking forward to in 2016. Both are legitimately top five in the division. Povetkin would have represented a huge step up in competition for Wilder, who has knocked out 35 of 36 opponents.
Wilder vs. Arreola just doesn’t generate the same enthusiasm. It would be a stretch to call Arreola a top 20 heavyweight. At this point in his career, putting him somewhere between 25 and 50 is reasonable.
But it’s hard not to feel a rooting interest for Arreola in all of this, as well. Arreola has spent his adult life putting on entertaining heavyweight fights, in an era when entertaining heavyweight fights have been hard to find.
Chris Arreola is a two-time title challenger and former top 10 contender. In 2009, he made a game stand against Vitali Klitschko, only to be stopped in his corner after Round 10. He lost for a second time by majority decision to Tomasz Adamek in 2010.
Arreola went on a three-year win streak after that, including a thrilling, Round 1 KO of Eric Molina. In April 2013, he faced Bermane Stiverne in a WBC title eliminator. It ended up being Stiverne’s coming out part, as he battered Arreola, dropping him in Round 3 and breaking his nose on the way to a unanimous decision.
Arreola reacted to that set back with determination. In September 2013, he brought the Seth Mitchell hype train to a screeching halt when he knocked the former NCAA football star out in the first round. His next bout was a return fight with Stiverne, this time for the WBC strap vacated by Vitali Klitschko at the end of 2013.
Chris Arreola came into the fight as lean as he had been in his entire career. He stuck to a smart, determined game plan and used a very good and ring generalship to win the majority of the early rounds. But in the sixth, Stiverne caught up to him with a perfectly timed right hand. Arreola was stopped for the first time in his career.
That was over two years ago. Arreola has fought three times since then, and looked like a shell of his former self. In July 2015, he drew with stepping stone Fred Kassi, the sort of opponent he would have stopped inside of six rounds a few short years ago. He won a controversial split decision over fringe contender Travis Kauffman last year, only to have the bout overturned when Arreola tested positive for marijuana.
It will be treated as a huge upset if Arreola defeats Wilder and I don’t personally give him much chance at this point. But it wasn’t that long ago I might have viewed Chris Arreola as an even-money opponent. If he can find some of his old ability, he’s got the heart to turn July 16 into one of the most exciting nights of boxing in 2016.