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Improved Arreola set to make history

From late November through early March, heavyweight contender Chris Arreola found himself under house arrest as a result of a plea bargain in a DUI case. He had 100 days to serve and plenty of time to think about what he was doing with his life.

Arreola has been one of the top heavyweights for several years but whenever he would blast his way into a big-time fight, he would come up short because, in part, he was not in top shape and did not give himself the best chance to win.

It happened when he was routed in a 2009 world title fight by Vitali Klitschko, who stopped him in the 10th round. It happened again in 2010 when he was heavily favored but lost a decision to Tomasz Adamek in a fight he barely trained for, instead leaving trainer Henry Ramirez at the gym day after day wondering if he would show up.

And it happened again last April, when Arreola faced Bermane Stiverne in a title elimination fight, but got dropped in the third round, suffered a badly broken nose on the knockdown, survived to the final bell and lost a lopsided decision.

Arreola bounced back from the loss in September, knocking out Seth Mitchell in the first round in a fight for which he was in his best condition in years, which he credits to getting away from the distractions of home in Riverside, California, and training in Phoenix.

Arreola thought a lot about the ups and down while he was cooped up in his house, knowing he needed to change his ways and put his party lifestyle behind him. It was time to focus on his wife and daughter and to, once and for all, take his job as a prizefighter seriously.

"I did something stupid getting a DUI and being home all that time I learned a lot, man," Arreola told ESPN.com. "I learned, you know what? Friends don't mean s---. They come around when they want something from you. And then I'm home alone and none of them came to visit me or called me. I only had my wife, my daughter, and that's it.

"Very rarely did anyone call me, 'Want to have lunch,' do this or that. Now I don't give a f--- about friends. They are acquaintances. It's hurtful. I paid for tickets for my friends to come see my fights and they can't come to my house and visit and barbecue with me? F--- 'em, seriously. I only care about myself and my family and this fight I'm gonna win for my family and for myself. I will win it for [manager] Al Haymon. Al said, 'I never ask you for much,' but he said, 'Be in tip-top shape for this fight and leave your mark in this sport,' and I plan to do that."

"This fight" is a chance for redemption and revenge when Arreola faces Stiverne in a rematch for a vacant world title Saturday night (ESPN, 8 ET) at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

"No excuses. In the past I would give myself a reason to have an excuse," Arreola said. "I wouldn't show up at the gym. I wouldn't do what I'm supposed to do as a professional. And times have changed, man. I feel like I'm a mature fighter, I have what it takes between my ears and in my heart. Now it's time for me to let it all hang out.

"I hate using excuses, I hate doing excuses. The last time, Bermane beat me. I don't want to say that it was because I wasn't in shape or blah, blah, blah, whatever, whatever. He beat me. He was the one that broke my nose. The fact that I wasn't in shape doesn't change the fact that he broke my nose. That's the main thing. [Saturday] there are no excuses. There's not going to be one, 'He should've done this, he should've done that.' I'm doing everything that I'm supposed to do in the gym, and [Saturday] we're going to show who is the better man."

A victory would make Arreola the first heavyweight titleholder of Mexican descent and also give the United States its first heavyweight titlist since Shannon Briggs lost a belt in 2007.

"I've been working too much, too long, to just let this slip through my fingers," said Arreola, who relocated to San Diego to train for the fight. "Getting away again was important. So was getting my mind straight. Just like we did when we trained for the Mitchell fight, it was one car and one key, and Henry had the key. So I couldn't go anywhere without him. The nearest store was two miles away."

Said promoter Dan Goossen, "All of that stuff [the house arrest] is always scary because you're one step away from being locked up rather than having a bracelet on your ankle. You come to reality -- is this how you want to live your life? He made a decision he didn't want to live his life like that and it has helped him as a person and helped him work hard for this fight."

In the scheduled eight-round co-feature, junior welterweight prospect Amir Imam (13-0, 12 KOs), 23, an Albany, New York native living in Pompano Beach, Florida, will take a significant step up in competition when he takes on Yordenis Ugas (15-2, 7 KOs), 27, a 2008 Cuban Olympic bronze medalist who defected and is based in Miami.

Based on beating Arreola last year, Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KOs), 35, who lives in Las Vegas but can become the first Haitian-born heavyweight titlist, was supposed to be Klitschko's mandatory challenger. But Klitschko, after putting off the fight time and again, relinquished the title and retired in December to focus on his political career in Ukraine, where he is the leader of an opposition party.

That left Stiverne to face the next leading available contender, which turned out to be the 33-year-old Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs) -- and Arreola is grateful for the opportunity to win a world title and avenge his defeat.

"As far as what's important to me, because of the kind of person that I am and the character that I have, the dude I am, the guy that I've grown up being -- I hate losing. And the fact that I get to avenge my loss, to me that means the world, but you've got to add to it that I'm going to fight for the world title," he said. "Now how sweet could that be, man, avenge a loss and win the title at the same time and making history?

"It all comes together, and it's going to be a great night. Bermane did what he was supposed to do in the first fight, and this fight now, I have to do what I have to do, which means bring the fight to him and put him on his heels."

Ramirez said he was very pleased with Arreola's dedication to training for this fight, like he was for Mitchell.

"Chris is out here busting his behind," Ramirez said. "I don't have to sit at the gym to wonder, 'Damn, is he going to show up today,'" he said. "[There's] not a doubt in my mind Chris is going to come out victorious because, honestly, he's training like a desperate man right now, a man very desperate."

Arreola agrees -- he is desperate.

"Absolutely. I'm very desperate," he said. "You know, I've done a lot of dumb stuff in my life, and it's time to stop. It's time to stop the excuses. It's time for me to man up and handle my responsibilities in more ways than one, in the boxing gym, in my fight, and life in general, man.

"It's just time for me to man up and just do what I'm supposed to do as a man -- work hard."