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BILL DWYRE

Arreola-Klitschko has plenty of potential

There's a lot riding on the outcome of Saturday's heavyweight title bout, but it could also end up being another laugher.

September 26, 2009|BILL DWYRE

Tonight's heavyweight boxing match at Staples Center has a fighting chance to be both entertaining and significant.

The entertaining part is easy.

Vitali Klitschko will fight Cris Arreola. If opposites attract, then this should draw like the Super Bowl. In attitude, tone, lifestyle and boxing style, one is from Mars and the other from Venus.

Klitschko speaks four languages, quotes philosophers and loves to talk about boxing as if it's a chemistry lab. He says his tactics for this fight include probing a bit here and there and having a "Plan A, then a B, and even a C."

Arreola speaks three languages, English, Spanish and street. The main philosopher he quotes is his trainer/friend Henry Ramirez, who calls this fight "the meeting of two battering rams." Arreola's Plan A is probably similar to his Plan B and C -- get inside immediately and whale away. He calls the heavyweight division "the hurt game."

Both are lucky to be alive. Klitschko grew up Kiev, Ukraine, which is 100 miles from the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl. Arreola has spent much of his life in the smog in Riverside.

Klitschko is 6 feet 7 and looked sculpted when he weighed in Friday at 252 pounds.

Arreola is 6-3 and looked nicely rounded when he weighed in at 251 pounds -- after stepping on the scale with a concealed weight vest that revealed both 20 pounds more and a practical jokester.

Klitschko, 38, is not the tattoo type. Arreola, 10 years younger, is covered with them.

Klitschko was asked about Arreola's tattoo that says, "The Good Die Young." He responded, diplomatically, "For me, it is only a tattoo. It doesn't say what he is." Klitschko had no way of knowing, shy of his own research department, that the tattoo actually says everything about what Arreola is.

It was put there a few years ago after he tried to stop the bleeding of a bullet wound suffered by his best friend in a random backyard shooting in Riverside. His fingers couldn't stem the flow and the tattoo is his memorial.

Klitschko is the greatest knockout performer in the history of the heavyweight division, taking 36 of his 37 victories that way. Many of those, especially recently, have come as a result of a methodical wearing-down of an opponent with jabs and body shots, a gradual destruction that brings the end in the second part of the fights.

Arreola is close behind in the knockout-to-win ratio, with 24 of 27. But he has gone as many as eight rounds only once, and eight of his last nine fights have been four rounds or less. Ten of his knockouts have come in the first round.

"This one ain't going the distance," says Ramirez, the philosopher.

The significance of this fight is a little tougher to define.

Dan Goossen, one of the promoters, predicts "one of the special nights in heavyweight boxing since Mike Tyson." Were that not coming from a man whose job it is, often, to put wrapping paper on a pile of dung, it would resonate more.

But this time, Goossen may be selling the real package.

Ramirez, less inclined to gift-wrap, says, "It's great to see a heavyweight fight with buzz."

Others agree, noting that, of the four recognized heavyweight titles, all belong to former Soviet Bloc fighters -- the WBC that Vitali will defend, plus the IBF and WBO held by his brother, Wladimir, and the WBA belt held by Russian giant Nikolay Valuev.

Heavyweight boxing is clearly a bigger deal, as it was most recently in the Tyson era, when a United States boxer is prominent. The reality, as well as the arrogance that comes with it, is that American money and media move the needle more in most sports other than soccer.

With Arreola, the package comes with a bonus. His Mexican heritage.

Klitschko's promoters have pushed the fact that this is his third fight at Staples, more than any other boxer. That matters to almost nobody and merely skirts the real issue, which is that Klitschko fights in a lot of AEG facilities worldwide and is throwing them a bone on this one that may grease the skids for a much-bigger fight and payday in Europe, where he and his brother are god-like.

Sure, Klitschko lives in Los Angeles, and sure, this has a hometown feel to him. But his big paydays have been, and will be, on the other side of the pond.

Were Arreola to win, the goose bumps will rise along Madison Avenue. Ad agencies will have a United States citizen of Mexican descent -- who is well-spoken once you train him to stop dropping obscenities at news conferences -- and a likable storyteller who, Ramirez says, understands the importance of what his victory would mean to both his American and Mexican heritage.

Even more, he is a brawling boxer who operates at the same speed and depth as today's market-target audience: Do whatever you are doing fast and then text-message your friends about it.

Most likely, Klitschko will try to get a rhythm, establish weaknesses and enact a plan to probe those for several rounds. Arreola will attempt to put Klitschko on the canvas while he is establishing and enacting.

If that doesn't work, look for Arreola to have a long and painful night and for Klitschko to be explaining to the media afterward the science of what he did.

Klitschko says, "I have all the skills to be a world champion, but not him."

Arreola said, "I want to make him the answer to the pop culture question -- Who did Cris Arreola beat to become the first Mexican American heavyweight champ?"

Boxing fans could end up talking about this one for years. Or they could giggle for a few days and file it away as yet another farce in a sport that has had many.

That's why they strap on the gloves. Or, in California, that's why they strap on the gloves with plaster of Paris in them.

--

bill.dwyre@latimes.com.

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