The American heavyweight evolution featuring Damian “Bolo” Wills and Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola will not be televised, so Southern California fight fans will have to flock to Las Vegas to see two of the country’s best young prizefighters.
After several years of blasting out competition and comparing notes, undefeated heavyweights Wills and Arreola finally tangle at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Saturday. It’s scheduled for eight rounds.
Both reared on California soil, the heavy-hitting men have kept an eye on each other since turning professional almost simultaneously more than three years ago on club shows in Southern California.
From the beginning, Southern California fight fans unaccustomed to watching heavyweights witnessed both rumble through the ranks in combustible fashion. Wills has stopped 15 of 22 opponents and Arreola has halted 15 of 17.
“People were always coming up to me and asking when I was going to fight Chris Arreola,” said Wills (21-0-1, 15 KOs), whose first pro fight took place at the Hollywood Park Casino on Feb. 28, 2002. He won by knockout.
Though many heavyweight contenders like James “Lights Out” Toney, Lamon Brewster and Wladimir Klitschko live in the Southern California area, it’s been 40 years since a pair of homegrown talents like Wills and Arreola have been seen.
“It’s an exciting event,” says Bill O’Neill, a former boxing writer from the Southern California area now retired. “Too bad it’s not on TV.”
Despite a loud clamor from Southern California fight fans, the cable television network HBO will not be showing the heavyweight showdown on its Nov. 4 pay-per-view show that features a welterweight championship fight.
“I wouldn’t have taken this fight if I knew it wasn’t going to be on TV,” said Arreola (17-0, 15 KOs).
But the fight will proceed and may even surpass in excitement the main event.
“There’s going to be a lot of people from here going to see the fight,” said Terry Claybon, who trains and manages Wills at the Pound 4 Pound Gym in Los Angeles.
Not since Jerry Quarry met Joey Orbillo at the Olympic Auditorium in 1966 have two hot heavyweights from Southern California agreed to combat. Not surprisingly, they have a lot in common.
Born and raised in Lancaster, California, Wills is the son of former heavyweight Mark Wills who met several top flight heavyweights during his career including Greg Page, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer and even current WBC heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko.
“I hated going to the fights. It scared me watching my dad in the ring,” said Wills, 26, who was a common sight at the local gyms in Los Angeles and Lancaster. “One time I met Mike Tyson in 1985 and I told him my dad was going to beat him. I was only five.”
His father’s last bout came against Klitschko in Germany in 1997. About the time his son began to earnestly train as a boxer.
For years Wills was a big youngster who played nose guard for his Antelope Valley High school football team. He liked hitting people but also liked trouble despite interest from several colleges for his football talent.
“I was always in trouble, and always fighting,” said Wills who was arrested for robbery and spent time in juvenile detention facilities. “But I’ve never lost a fight in my life.”
After Wills was released, his father sent him to a friend in Los Angeles who trained fighters. That man was Claybon.
“Terry Claybon saved my life,” Wills says.
Immediately Wills was put through the boxing training sessions on a daily basis in the no-nonsense gyms in Los Angeles. The physical intensity of the sport was intoxicating for the youngster just turning 20. One day he was invited to spar with Toney.
“I learned the most about boxing from sparring Toney. He was trying to knock me out,” Wills recalled. “It taught me that defense was important.”
Wills fought often at the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood where celebrities like Denzel Washington, the Wayan brothers and others were regulars. At the converted movie theater his fights were merely a showcase for his offensive power.
But defense was important for Wills in his last two bouts against Yanqui Diaz and Cisse Salif, both veterans and dangerous opponents with knockout power.
“I kept hitting Salif with big shots but he kept coming,” said Wills about his August 18, encounter with Salif in Temecula. “The guy was a beast.”
It was Wills first televised fight and gave the nation a first glimpse of him.
“I just want big fights,” Wills said.
Fighting on televised bouts has been common for Arreola. Five of his contests have been shown on national television including his bout against Sedreck Fields in Temecula this past May. It ended in a knockout victory for the Riverside heavyweight.
“This fight against Bolo had to happen,” said Henry Ramirez, who trains Arreola. “They’re two big heavyweights from the same area.”
Arreola grew up in East Los Angeles and was boxing since the age of seven. He followed the footsteps of his father who also boxed professionally and trained at the Resurrection Gym that is now called the Oscar De La Hoya Gym.
“You’d never believe it but my dad is only about five foot six-inches,” says Arreola who is 6 foot four-inches in height and regularly weights about 230. “My mom is about five foot five.”
Football and basketball were Arreola’s sports and he excelled, but he also dabbled with trouble. At age 16 his family moved to Riverside.
One day he decided to box again and entered the Golden Gloves tournament. Despite only training for three weeks Arreola proceeded to win at the district level, regional level and entered the national Golden Gloves Tournament as a light heavyweight. He won it.
“That told me I could so something with boxing,” Arreola said. “I just trained three weeks and won the Golden Gloves.”
Entering the professional ranks Arreola had grown bigger, so it was a natural fit to fight as a heavyweight. His first eight opponents were bludgeoned and knocked out until David Cleage was disqualified for excessive holding and hitting at the break. The streak was broken.
“I would have knocked him out too,” Arreola said of Cleage.
Arreola’s biggest break was not in the ring, but outside the ring when Al Haymon, who has numerous elite fighters under contract such as Vernon Forrest and Floyd Mayweather Jr., signed to manage him.
“Al Haymon has done so much in a little bit of time,” says Ramirez.
Though Arreola usually trains out of the Lincoln Boxing Club in Riverside, he transferred his camp to Big Bear Mountain to prepare for this fight.
“I’m just relieved it’s almost time,” said Arreola, 25, who spent more than two months in the 10,000 feet altitude sparring against Salif, Kevin Johnson, Stacy Frazier and Hasim Rahman before his title bout. “It’s time to perform.”
Arreola and Wills have fought several common opponents in the past three years. One fighter David Johnson was knocked out twice against Arreola, but lasted all eight rounds against Wills. But Johnson was an improved fighter by the time he fought Wills. Another fighter is Fields, who almost beat Wills in a six round contest in Maywood a year ago that ended in a draw. Arreola stopped Fields in the seventh round. Andrew Greeley lasted all six rounds against Arreola and Wills. Those are the common opponents but it’s difficult to surmise a winner based on that.
“It depends on the style of fighter, one guy can give this guy trouble and not the other guy,” says Claybon. “That’s boxing.”
Both fighters know this is the biggest fight of their young careers.
“I think it’s a big mistake him fighting me,” said Wills. “There’s no way in the world he can beat me.”
Arreola feels equally confident.
“After this fight he can go back to fighting at the Henry Fonda Theater,” says Arreola. “A lot of people in California wanted to see this fight.”