Cristobal Arreola, who has fought for a heavyweight world title once and been knocked out, is anxious for another opportunity. Seth Mitchell is still working toward his first title shot. They both know how critical winning their fight against each other is in order to realize the dream.
Two of America's top heavyweight contenders -- and there are not many -- meet in a significant fight in the division on Saturday night (Showtime, 10:30 ET/PT) at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif.
"We are two heavyweights with something to prove. Neither of us can afford to lose," Mitchell said. "But I believe in myself. I feel like I haven't accomplished anything in the heavyweight division. I wanted to have some financial security and win belts and I don't have either of those right now. I truly believe if I take care of business then I would like to fight for the title. Whoever wins this fight should fight for the title next."
Said Arreola, "If there is one word that describes me for this fight that word is 'motivated.' I'm motivated, much more than in the past. I'm motivated to beat this guy, to put him on his butt and in his place. There's no way this man should beat me."
In the co-feature, former bantamweight and junior featherweight champion Rafael Marquez (41-8, 37 KOs) of Mexico squares off with Efrain Esquivias (16-2-1, 9 KO's) of Gardena, Calif., in a 10-round junior featherweight fight. The bout is Marquez's first since his recent signing with Golden Boy Promotions with the plan for him to win a fight or two and then fight for a world title.
Arreola and Mitchell, both action-oriented fighters with tremendous punching power, are in agreement on the stakes. Arreola is calling their fight a "must-win," while Mitchell is referring to it as "do or die."
Both have good reason for that attitude.
Arreola (35-3, 30 KOs), 32, of Riverside, Calif., who was stopped in the 10th round of his 2009 title shot by Vitali Klitschko in a one-sided fight, is trying to bounce back from another lopsided loss. He was the significant favorite in April when he squared off with Bermane Stiverne in a title eliminator with a shot at Klitschko on the line.
Arreola, clearly not in the best condition -- a problem he has had for a number of his fights -- got wiped out and saw his seven-fight winning streak end. Stiverne dropped the usually sturdy-chinned Arreola in the third round with a right hand that badly broke his nose. Arreola, whose nose was broken in four places, had trouble breathing for the remainder of the fight and although he managed to make it through the 12 rounds, he was not competitive.
Arreola, who had nose surgery in May, is determined to bounce back against Mitchell, the former Michigan State linebacker, whose NFL aspirations bit the dust because of a knee injury before he picked up boxing in his early 20s.
"This is a must-win fight," Arreola said. "I respect his conditioning and his determination to be somebody. Mitchell was a good football player, but I've been in this game too long to lose to somebody like that. If I lose to some guy like Seth Mitchell I would seriously contemplate retirement. I'm not a gatekeeper, and I never want be that guy you beat so my name looks good on your resume. I'm not that kind of a fighter. I'm a world-class athlete, a world-class boxer."
He hasn't always looked like it. Trainer Henry Ramirez and promoter Dan Goossen have sometimes raged at Arreola for his lack of dedication and conditioning. Finally, for this fight, Arreola decided it was -- at last -- time to get serious about training and he surprised Ramirez by suggesting that they relocate to Phoenix so he could escape the distractions of home.
"It took me until I was 32, but I've finally grown up a little," Arreola said. "For once, I'm doing what it takes to give myself the best chance to win. I've always been my own worst enemy, but this time it's not like that. I've got to make sure I walk the walk, and that everything I say I'm going to do happens.
"I've always been my own biggest problem, my own worst enemy. I can't blame anybody else. I work my butt off once I'm in the gym, but getting to the gym wasn't always automatic. I'd always come up with excuses for not going. Out in Phoenix, we only had one car, and Henry did all the driving. He also had the only key. So relocating paid off. I put in the time. I did my training camp the way I've always supposed to be doing it. All I did was concentrate on boxing."
Arreola spent six weeks in Phoenix and said he got the most out of the camp.
"When I'm in Riverside, I find reasons not to train. In Phoenix, I didn't have the opportunity to go out," he said. "I was in Phoenix for six weeks. It was disgustingly hot and muggy. It was like a sweatbox, but it made me work and I like it that way. Training in Phoenix kept me under the radar. Not many people knew I was there. I was at the gym twice a day. I did my boxing in the morning, my cardio in the evening. All I did was box. I feel amazing and I trained and sparred with guys who worked my butt off."
Ramirez supported the decision to move camps, was happy to go along and swears that this time Arreola put in the work he so often skimped on before other fights.
"Chris can't train at home, simple as that," Ramirez said. "His preparation before the last fight was nowhere near what a professional fighter at that level should have -- nowhere near. Mitchell is a good fighter. I don't necessarily feel he's at that top, upper echelon level that some are putting him at, but he's still a dangerous opponent. He's coming off a victory over a guy that knocked him out. So, mentally, he's overcome a hurdle.
"I would expect him to be fully confident and to be the best Seth Mitchell that there is. What that is, I really don't know. But I know it's not enough to beat Chris. It's been a different Chris for this camp. I knew everything he was doing. We went to the gym together. He didn't have access to a car. There weren't any missed days. Chris showed up for workouts twice every day. Mitchell is not going to benefit from an unprepared Chris Arreola, I can guarantee that."
Mitchell (26-1-1, 19 KOs), 31, of Brandywine, Md., was a fast-rising contender before running into Jonathan Banks last November. Mitchell was the huge favorite but got knocked down three times and stopped in the second round in a major upset.
They met in a June 22 rematch and although Mitchell was rocked a few times, he stayed on his feet, dropped Banks in the second round and cruised to a very cautious decision win to avenge his defeat while going 12 rounds for the first time.
Beating Arreola, a more highly regarded contender than Banks, will go a long way to putting Mitchell back into the title hunt and help him further distance himself from the disaster of the first Banks fight.
"I look at this as a crossroads fight for both of us," Mitchell said. "He's coming off of a loss, and I just avenged my loss to Banks. This fight would have had more steam if he hadn't lost to Stiverne and I hadn't lost to Banks, but this is a fight I've been talking about. I think our styles complement each other and mesh well. It's going to be a great fight. He's a hell of a fighter and I'm a hell of a fighter. The only thing I give him the advantage of is experience.
"I don't concede anything else. As far as speed, power or boxing IQ, I'm just as good or better than him. He does have more experience, but I know that I'm learning each and every fight. It's a do-or-die fight. I don't mean that if you lose this fight, your career is over. But it is a huge, huge setback. I've gotten tremendously better over the last 15 months and I just want to show that. This sport is so unforgiving you have to be a quick learner. If I want to stay where I'm at, I have to continue to learn and continue to win. I had to win the second Banks fight to show I've improved from fight to fight."