Heavyweight contender Chris Arreola trained with Ronnie Shields in Houston as a step toward taking training more seriously.
Chris Arreola knows that people believe he won’t amount to much because of his work ethic, or lack thereof. He’s known more for his flab than his ability or accomplishments.
And he accepts responsibility for that. After all, it was his decision to miss half his workouts leading up to an important fight against Tomasz Adamek last April, a fight he lost by a majority decision. No one was surprised when word got out that he hadn’t done the work.
Arreola is a relatively young heavyweight, though. He’ll be 30 on March 5. Much of his career lies ahead him.
And he can go one of two ways: continue on his current path of underachievement or wake up and do what it takes to realize his considerable potential before it’s too late. He swears he has chosen the latter, believe it or not.
The first step to change both his habits and perception was to hire Ronnie Shields to work with longtime trainer Henry Ramirez. The second was to work with Shields in Houston, far from the myriad distractions at home in Southern California.
The rest remains to be seen.
“I did a lot of soul searching over the holidays,” said Arrreola, who faces Joey Abell on Friday in Temecula, Calif., on ESPN2. “I was in a big slump and I didn’t understand why, why I had such a sh—y year last year. It became clear that it’s just me; I’m a self-destructive guy, very self destructive.
“I knew I needed a change, to do something different. So I went to Houston. This is my way to get a fresh start.”
Why hasn’t Arreola put in the effort to succeed? As he put it, “I was full of myself.” He convinced himself that he didn’t have to work hard to succeed, that he could win fights solely as a result of his undeniable punching power.
And it worked for a long time. He won his first 27 fights (all but three by knockout) before titleholder Vitali Klitschko outclassed him in September 2009, the one fight for which he reportedly put in the proper work.
Arreola’s handlers knew, however, that he would never realize his potential if he didn’t stay in reasonable shape between fights and then give 100 percent during his training camps. Ramirez, as much a psychologist as a trainer, tried mightily to get Arreola to understand but it never sunk in.
“I’d tell him, ‘Chris, you’re one of the rare fighters today who actually has an opportunity to make enough money to last you a lifetime,’” Ramirez said. “Not all fighters can say that, especially smaller fighters. I said, ‘If you do what’s necessary, you can set yourself up for life.’
“He said, ‘Yeah, I know, I know.’ He’s been his own worst enemy. And until he can learn to defeat himself, he’s going to have problems. He’s going to be 30. You would hope the maturity factor would kick in.”
Arreola learned against Adamek that innate ability isn’t always good enough, especially when you’re up against one of the hardest-working fighters in the world. Hence the alleged revelation and decision to make some changes, including the camp in Houston.
Ramirez wanted to believe Arreola but didn’t take any chances. He roomed next door to his fighter and gave him no access to a car. Ramirez took him to and from every workout and kept tabs on him more or less 24/7, an arrangement with which Arreola had no issues.
The result, according to Ramirez, Shields and Arreola, was that he showed up for work consistently and trained hard once he got there with both Shields and fitness coach Brian Caldwell. We won’t see him at his ideal weight (no lighter than 235, he said) against Abell but he hopes to weigh in at 245 or 246. He hasn’t been below 250 since he fought Chazz Witherspoon in 2008.
Shields liked what he saw in their three-week camp. Arreola worked diligently on his technique – focusing primarily on throwing more combinations – and his fitness.
“I heard he was lazy and this and that,” Shields said. “He told me that himself. I told him he’s here [in Houston] for one reason, to work. I said, ‘You’re here to make the best of the opportunity you have.’ And he did. He did everything Brian and I asked him to do. There were no problems.
“… He has all the ability in the world. If he is really, really focused, I think he can be heavyweight champion of the world. I believe that in my heart.”
That’s the plan in spite of past disappointments.
Arreola has the style and name recognition to remain in the title picture if he continues to win. The fans like him because of his aggressiveness, the networks like him for the same reason and opponents probably like him because they know he is anything but a gym rat.
The question is what will happen if and when he does get another opportunity to fight for a belt. If nothing else, he acknowledges that he’ll fail if he strays again from the proper path.
“I’ve asked myself, ‘What the hell am I doing? What the f--- am I doing in the sport I love?’” he said. “I’m totally f---ing my career up, f---ing my life up, f---ing everything up. What’s the expression? You can take a horse to water but you can’t can’t make it drink? I’m not a horse, though; I’m an ass.
“… I was watching a heavyweight fight a month or two ago and I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m a lot better than they are.’ I can do this. It’s just a matter of doing it. It’s time to go to work.”
Michael Rosenthal can be reached at RingTVeditor@yahoo.com