No more Big Bear for Arreola
Call it “Big Bear burnout.” It's the syndrome fighters suffer when they're sick of training in Big Bear Lake, the Southern California mountain town made famous in the boxing world by Oscar De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas and Shane Mosley, all of whom held camp there for their biggest fights.
Chris Arreola (26-0, 23 knockouts) has it — bad — and if the heavyweight standout has his way he'll never return to the popular ski resort area that sits above the San Bernardino National Forrest, 7,000 feet above sea level.
Arreola, who fights Jameel McCline on April 11 in Las Vegas, doesn't care to continue the tradition set by De La Hoya and Co., all of whom owned houses and lived in Big Bear at one time. The 28-year-old slugger has had five training camps atop the mountain and he's had it with the altitude, the cold and the loneliness. The Angeleno would rather train at home in Riverside, Calif.
Once upon a time, Arreola, a notorious underachiever who has often battled the scale harder than his opponents, needed the seclusion of Big Bear to avoid the temptation of food, drink and clubs. Some of his best ring performances, such as his brutal knockouts of fellow prospects Damian Wills and Malcolm Tann, came after Big Bear camps. Arreola weighed 229 pounds for Wills; 235 for Tann.
However, over the past few years, Arreola has matured into a more family-oriented man. Time away from his wife and 7-year-old daughter doesn't encourage a Spartan work ethic; it makes for a miserable, homesick fighter.
And an unhappy Arreola is a stubborn S.O.B.
Arreola admits that he did less than five miles of roadwork the entire time he was on the mountain during his last camp there, before his HBO-televised bout against Travis Walker last November. He didn't spar with any spirit, either.
The result: Arreola was slow, overweight (254 pounds) and lucky he didn't lose the slugfest with Walker, in which he had to get off the canvas to win by a third-round knockout.
Arreola knows McCline will bring just as much heat as Walker did, along with the savvy and experience of 51 pro bouts. Disgusted with his performance against Walker, Arreola has vowed to be 100-percent focused and in shape for the 6-foot-7, 270-pound veteran. He just won't go to Big Bear to prepare for any future foes.
“I hate Big Bear,” Arreola said at a press luncheon at Sisley Italian Restaurant in Sherman Oaks, Calif., Monday afternoon. “I'm training my butt off because I never want to go there again.”
Arreola is training at a private gym in Riverside, where he can go home after training, be with his family and forget about boxing for a few hours.
After a week and half of training there, Arreola, currently 260 pounds but aiming for the 240-245 range by fight time, is a happy heavyweight.
And it looks like a happy Arreola is a motivated fighter.
“Chris' preparation for this fight has been a lot better than it was for the Walker fight,” Arreola's trainer, Henry Ramirez, said at the news conference. “In Big Bear, his mental focus wasn't there. One of the sparring partners we used for Walker is in this camp (for McCline) and after a few sessions in Riverside, he told me: 'I didn't see this Chris in Big Bear.'”
Ramirez believes that Arreola will need to be at his best to beat McCline, a three-time title challenger who has fought six past and present titleholders, including Wladimir Klitschko, Chris Byrd, Shannon Briggs and Samuel Peter.
“Chris is past the point of fighting fellow prospects,” Ramirez said. “It's time for him to prove that he's ready to step up.”
Arreola says he respects McCline's experience and hopes an impressive victory over the 38-year-old perennial contender will lend credence to his goal of fighting for a world title.
“I want to earn my way to the top,” he said. “I want to prove myself. I don't want anyone thinking I'm just a West Coast hype job, and I don't want to get my opportunity because I trash-talked someone into it. When I go for the heavyweight championship, I want people watching to say 'This mother f-er, he earned his title shot.'
“Jameel McCline is a big man who has been in with the Who's Who of the heavyweight division, he's fought everybody, but I'm up for the challenge. I know he's up for me, but I'm sorry, I'm going to retire him.”
It would have added a touch of drama to the press conference if Arreola had the opportunity to say those last words to his April 11 opponent's face, but McCline wasn't there.
Arreola's promoter, Dan Goossen, bought first-class tickets for McCline and the fighter's new trainer, Stacy McKinnley, to fly in from West Palm Beach, Fla., (a cost of $2,600) but they never got on the plane. McCline did, however, shoot Goossen an email Monday morning to explain his absence.
The gist of the McCline's message was that he didn't want to interrupt his training.
“OK, that's fine, but how about letting me know before I buy the tickets,” Goossen quipped.
SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA GYM SCENE HEATS UP
A note to McCline: There are gyms at which to train in Southern California.
Here's a rundown of a few fighters training at various gyms for upcoming televised fights:
Pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, currently in preparation for his May 2 challenge to 140-pound champ Ricky Hatton, begins sparring this week with undefeated lightweight bull Urbano Antillon at the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood.
Heavyweight fringe contender Eddie Chambers, getting ready for next Saturday's showdown with Samuel Peter, is going rounds with heavy-handed Javier Mora at the Ten Goose gym in Van Nuys.
Former 130-pound titleholder Edwin Valero, gearing up for his April 4 WBC lightweight title fight against Antonio Pitalua, is sparring with Riverside's talented Josesito Lopez at South Coast Kickboxing in Costa Mesa.
Middleweight fringe contender Miguel Espino, dialing in for his fight with former 154-pound titleholder Alejandro Garcia at the Playboy Mansion this Saturday, is going rounds with everybody at the Fortune Gym in Hollywood.
Doug Fischer can be reached at [email protected]