Cris Arreola: 'I just love fighting'

Heavyweight contender Cris "The Nightmare" Arreola is an emotional fighter. He can go from weeping openly in the ring (after losing his title bid to Vitali Klitschko in 2009) to kissing a fallen opponent on the cheek (as he did to Joey Abell in January) before breaking into joyous celebration in the ring. He also has been questioned for his work ethic since ballooning to a career-high 263 pounds after the Klitschko loss. But in his last ring appearance on May 14, Arreola was a slim 234 pounds (his lowest weight in almost four years) and was impressive in a stoppage win over Nagy Aguilera. Less than two weeks after that victory, he will be back on ESPN2's "Friday Night Fights" in order to stay busy and sharp, this time against Kendrick Releford in a fight scheduled for 10 rounds from the Reno Events Center in Reno, Nev. We caught up with Arreola for an interview during a break in his final days of training.

You looked very trim against Aguilera. Have you taken a new approach to training to get into such good shape?
The main thing is just hard training. For one, I have been in the gym probably more than ever before. I am working hard, working and working -- that's all I do. I want to give myself the best opportunity I can to win a big fight and to be the heavyweight champion.

You seem to have improved your intensity without losing punching power. Do you notice any other changes now that you're lighter?
Actually, I do. I can move a lot better. I have more head movement, body movement. Everything just came together for me.

Has your strategy or approach changed since last year's setbacks [a loss to Tomasz Adamek and a lackluster decison over Manuel Quezada]?
It changed a lot. The main thing is that I am working harder, making sure, like I said before, that I give myself the best chance to win, because in the past I really hadn't been working as hard as I am supposed to. As far as the fighter that I am and the boxer that I am, I have to give myself another opportunity to prove myself. So I am getting in great boxing shape. When I started the training camp for Aguilera, I came in weighing 250 pounds, which is something a lot better for me.

Have your sparring or training habits changed, too?
Sparring partners change all the time, but now the difference is that when they come from out of state or anywhere, now they know it's gonna be a lot of work. Before, they would come for a vacation. But now they have to come over here and work hard. This adds a lot to my motivation and my drive.

What sort of challenge do you expect from Releford?
Releford is a good old boxer. He is a boxer-puncher. He'll throw a lot of different combinations, and my idea is not to get confident, because he's a difficult fighter. But mainly I will keep the pressure on him and make him fight at my pace.

You are fighting less than two weeks after your last fight. What do you want to accomplish with this quick turnaround?
The thing with me is that I love boxing. This is what I like to do. And the reason why I want to fight so often is because it doesn't give me time to think or time to try to do anything that I shouldn't be doing. I have five more years left in my career, and in those five years I am going to work my [butt] off and keep myself busy, because after those five years, what else is there? So I am going to give myself the best opportunity I can to become world champion.

What would be a realistic goal for you this year?
I want to be a champion by the end of the year. That's pretty realistic to me. I already fought for the title once. I want to deserve it again, I want to deserve the chance again. I can see myself fighting for the title by the end of the year. David Haye and [heavyweight titlist] Wladimir Klitschko are fighting in July, and that gives you a whole five or six more months to have another fight. Vitali Klitschko will be fighting Adamek in [September], so they both have a lot of time. By the time this year is over, I will be a world champion, I guarantee you that. I am going to work my [butt] off to be a world champion. That's what I am going to do.

What's your take on the upcoming fights pitting the Klistchkos against Haye and Adamek?
On [Vitali] Klitschko-Adamek, I like Klitschko. You can't beat Klitschko's size. And Klitschko is a great fighter. I know that firsthand, because he beat my [butt] for 10 rounds. He is just a smarter fighter, there's nothing else to it. As far as [Wladimir] Klitschko-Haye, I gotta give it to Haye, man. I believe there is something in Haye that will allow him to pull it off. [Wladimir] Klitschko is a smart fighter, don't get me wrong. But so is David Haye, and I think that Haye has enough speed and power to upset Klitschko.

What do you think of the current heavyweight landscape right now?
I believe I am the best American heavyweight contender out there. I am going to prove that by working and by fighting the best out there. I am the best American heavyweight out there; I am the one who will take the title home. But that being said, I want to and need to fight a European fighter. I need it. The current American heavyweight situation is not my problem; I just need to become the best world heavyweight fighter.

Do you see yourself fighting a top-10 heavyweight like Eddie Chambers, Tony Thompson or Odlanier Solis before getting another title shot?
I would love to. It doesn't matter who it is. Any top-10 fighter out there, I am willing to fight him. I'm not going to call out any names -- I never have and never will -- but I just want to fight any top-10 fighter to prove myself and solidify myself as a top contender in the heavyweight division.

How do you see Friday's fight developing?
I am a fan-friendly fighter, man. I just love fighting. I am going to bring the heat and I will come out with a great victory. I am going to give the fans what they want.

No kissing this time?
[Laughs] Well, you never know. I am a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy. You never know what comes up next. You just have to watch the fight and see.

Diego Morilla is a contributor to ESPNdeportes.com.