Fit Arreola re-enters title picture

Former heavyweight title challenger puts in work to stay in contention for belt

Updated: September 8, 2013, 3:45 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola sounded as though he had utter disdain for Seth Mitchell in the buildup to their fight. It's as though he was insulted by the mere fact that he would even be matched with an opponent he felt was inferior to him.

"I'm going to make a statement and make sure that everyone remembers my fight," Arreola said a few days before Saturday's bout. "I'm going to embarrass this kid, Seth. That's my job in there."

[+] EnlargeSeth Mitchell-Cris Arreola
Tom Hogan/Hoganphotos/Golden Boy PromotionsSeth Mitchell's oft-criticized chin failed him again, this time crumbling under Cris Arreola's power.

And it didn't end there.

Arreola, insulted by Mitchell's remarks that he had lost whenever he had stepped up to face a serious opponent -- Vitali Klitschko (in a 2009 world title fight), longtime contender and former cruiserweight champ Tomasz Adamek and contender Bermane Stiverne all beat him -- said that he would consider retirement if he lost to Mitchell.

Arreola also belittled Mitchell by saying that he was not a step up for him, but rather "I'm stepping down to you. You're way down here. You're a step down, and remember that. ... He's going to regret he took this fight."

Arreola was prophetic, because he laid waste to Mitchell, destroying him in a first-round knockout victory at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino in Indio, Calif.

The win resurrected Arreola's career and set him on a path that could lead him to another world title shot.

Arreola had met Stiverne in a title elimination fight on April 27, with a shot at Klitschko at stake, and was heavily favored. But Stiverne is the one who earned the title opportunity, dropping Arreola with a big right hand in the third round and breaking his nose in four places with the blow. Although Arreola survived, he couldn't breathe properly for the rest of the fight and lost a lopsided decision in the upset. Nose surgery followed.

But in preparation for the fight with Mitchell, Arreola did something he hasn't done in a long time: He legitimately trained for a fight. He got himself in great shape by leaving his hometown of Riverside, Calif., and relocating with trainer Henry Ramirez to Phoenix for a tough training camp.

It obviously paid off.

"I want to thank God and I want to thank myself for working hard," Arreola said in yet another of his highly entertaining postfight television interviews, this one with Showtime's Jim Gray. "I'm the one who put the work in, not God. I was busting my ass off every day.

"I respect Seth for his power. He hits hard, [but it was] easy work because I put in the hard work in Arizona. No disrespect to Seth, but I came here on a mission and my mission was to win."

Mitchell (26-2-1, 19 KOs), 31, of Brandywine, Md., with the well-earned reputation of having a poor chin, had no chance against Arreola's powerful arsenal. After a first minute of the fight in which both men had some success, Arreola took over. He badly rocked Mitchell with a clean right hand. Mitchell's legs were gone and he was smart enough to grab on to Arreola, but he eventually went tumbling to the mat -- although referee Jack Reiss ruled it a slip.

But the fight looked like it would be over very shortly. Arreola violently rocked Mitchell again with another right hand, followed by a left and another right, and this time Mitchell legitimately went down. Mitchell is brave, though, and on shaky legs, he beat the count. But Arreola walked right to him and measured him for another series of big shots, including yet another booming right hand that sent Mitchell staggering into the ropes. He was done, and Reiss jumped in to stop the carnage at 2 minutes, 26 seconds.

As big of a win as it was for the 32-year-old Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs), it was a devastating defeat for Mitchell, who has now been knocked out inside three rounds in two of his past three fights.

Last November, Mitchell, the former Michigan State linebacker whose NFL dreams were snuffed out by a knee injury, was the heavy favorite when Johnathon Banks dropped him three times in the second round for the upset knockout victory. In the fight before that, Mitchell had nearly been knocked out by Chazz Witherspoon.

And when he met Banks in a rematch in June, Mitchell again was staggered multiple times, although he won a lopsided decision in an extremely cautious performance in which Banks barely threw any punches.

As good of a guy as Mitchell is, and as tremendous of an athlete as he is, it must be clear to everyone by now that he simply doesn't have the chin to compete in the upper echelon of the heavyweight division.

Although Mitchell gently protested Reiss' stoppage, it was clear he couldn't continue.

"I got caught. I'm very disappointed right now," Mitchell said. "I was very confident in my ability to win this fight, but Cris Arreola did what he was supposed to do. My heart just hurts right now."

Mitchell's chances of fighting for a heavyweight title are likely dead and buried, but Arreola's are alive and well.

[+] EnlargeCris Arreola
Craig Bennett/FightWireImages.com/USA TODAY SportsCris Arreola wants another shot at Vitali Klitschko -- or at least a second chance at his heavyweight belt.

The 42-year-old Klitschko is out because of an injury until at least early 2014, and it still remains to be seen if he will ever fight again. If he does, he owes Stiverne an overdue mandatory fight.

But if Klitschko elects to retire -- and there is serious talk that he will do just that and make a run at president of his home country, Ukraine -- the title would become vacant and Stiverne could very well wind up meeting Arreola for the belt.

Although the title situation will become more clear in time, one thing that is quite clear is that an in-shape Arreola is a scary beast.

"It's good to see him inside the ring in tip-top shape," said Dan Goossen, Arreola's promoter, who has been waiting for this day for a long time. "That was the biggest victory we've had in his career so far. He's got his mind set to keep on getting in better and better shape. In tip-top shape, I don't think there's any heavyweight who can beat him. We've seen how tough he is when he's not in top shape. Being in shape has always been the missing ingredient."

Goossen said Arreola's team will now wait to see what Klitschko decides to do, although there was a prefight suggestion from Mitchell promoter Richard Schaefer, of Golden Boy, that the Arreola-Mitchell winner could next meet top American prospect Deontay Wilder (29-0, 29 KOs), the powerful 2012 U.S. Olympic bonze medalist.

But that wasn't something on Goossen's mind.

"I think everything hinges on what Vitali Klitschko will do," Goossen said. "If he fights, it will be against Stiverne and we will be sitting there to fight the winner. If Vitali decides not to fight again, Cris would love to fight Stiverne for the vacated belt. My guess is that it's 50-50 that [Klitschko] defends his title one more time. He's been a great champion and is entitled to make any decision he wants to make."

Arreola knows what he wants to do. By beating Mitchell, he picked up a regional belt -- but Arreola doesn't care about that one.

"I want the big one," Arreola said. "I want the world title; that's what I'm looking for."

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.