by Damon Ealy (aka PghWindmill)
This weekend’s HBOs “Boxing After Dark” show from Ontario, California, is about Paul Williams vs. Verno Phillips, a WBO junior middleweight title fight with its own story lines. But I’ll be tuning in for the opener, Cristobal Arreola versus Travis Walker. And I’m not making any promises, but I’m suggesting you show up on time, too, and give the heavyweights a chance to set the stage for the main event—and just maybe outshine it.
It’s rare anymore that the heavies even get on the pay-cable broadcasts, and the division is automatically derided by purists, by casual fans—other fighters don’t even respect the division. Paulie Malignaggi, in an “ooh”-evoking dis (well, I went “Ooh,” anyway) leading up to last weekend’s junior welter showdown, said of Ricky Hatton: “Hatton is a limited fighter. He can’t box. I’m not going to criticize him personally, because I really like Ricky. I just don’t think he’s much of a fighter, or was ever much of a fighter. I’m not just talking out of I disagree here. He’s the John Ruiz of the junior welterweight class.”
Hell, the heavyweights themselves goof on the division. American heavyweight Lamon Brewster: “I think the heavyweight division is watered down … I think the American heavyweights are lazy.”
But Arreola-Walker is a compelling fight if for no other reason than it features two examples of what everybody and their favorite boxing commentator say is missing from the game today: Young. American. Heavyweights. Both Arreola and Walker are under 30, and they’ve got exactly one pro loss between them.
That loss is Walker’s. It came to 11-1, 282-pound T.J. Wilson in an October 2007 fight broadcast on Showtime. Wilson felt Walker out for all of three seconds or so, then backed him into a corner and started whaling away. Walker might tell the story differently, but the video shows him getting caught flush, firing back with a couple of get-off-me wild ones, stepping back, dropping his hands, and catching a couple more clean in the gob. Fifteen seconds into the fight is when ref Raul Caiz Sr. jumps in and waves it off. He’s protecting a fighter when he does it.
Still, Walker wasn’t cut, he wasn’t staggered—and for crying out loud, give us at least a round, ref. A heavyweight bout on Showtime is about as rare as a Paul Malignaggi cross that someone actually feels. (Not to kick a guy when he’s down, but that one’s for John Ruiz.)
Walker got his wish for a rematch with Wilson later that winter and stopped him in the second round. Since then, he’s fought only 27 more for-money seconds, stopping 8-19-1 Wallace McDaniel in September of this year. And Cris Arreola made sure to point that out at this fight’s press conference.
But the shine might be coming off of Cris Arreola just a little bit. Last time out, he made quick enough work of Chazz Witherspoon, winning probably every of the nine minutes of the fight. But for as hard-charging a reputation as Arreola has as a fighter (25 wins, 22 by stoppage—and two wins by DQ over guys who were going to fall sooner or later), he’s a relatively low-key personality. And living up to the inevitable Tyson comparisons is hard when your midsection looks even a little soft, even if you do knock guys out and even if you do talk hard when you’re supposed to. There’s pressure on Arreola to be the guy—not just the American who saves the heavyweight division, but the first Mexican-American to do that. He might be feeling it. It’d be the sport’s loss if trying to live up to his press was part of his undoing.
Walker’s resume won’t blow you away. You can’t take seriously a guy who allowed himself to be buzzed in the opening seconds of a big-time fight? I can’t say I blame you. For what it’s worth, though, Walker’s got top-15 rankings from the WBC and the IBF. (Arreola averages about #5 across the big four sanctioners and is ranked #13 among Heavyweights in the BTBC’s World Rankings) There aren’t any Hall of Famers in Arreola’s wake either, and Walker does own a win over Olympian Jason “Big Six” Estrada, one of only a handful of guys whose name comes up when young, quality American heavyweights are the topic. The 2006 majority-decision win for Walker still stands as Estrada’s only pro loss.
But Walker may just have learned some practical lessons that will make him Cris Arreola’s most legitimate test to date. If Walker wins, you can say you saw the heavyweight upset of 2008. If he loses, you can say you knew about Cris Arreola back when he was still knocking out bums.