World titleholder Paul “The Punisher” Williams and top heavyweight contender Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola return to action on familiar grounds on Thursday.

Williams moves up to middleweight to battle with Andy Kolle while Arreola (24-0, 21 KOs) attempts to continue his trek to become the first Mexican-American heavyweight champion against Puerto Rican Israel “King Kong” Garcia (19-1, 11 KOs) at Soboba Casino. Both fights will be televised on Versus.

Arreola, 27, who lives in nearby Riverside, is just one fight away from capturing a world title bid and becoming the first new American heavyweight hopeful in a couple of years.

Promoted by Goossen-Tutor Promotions, Arreola has rumbled through the first two tiers of heavyweights with victories over other reputed hopefuls such as Malcolm Tann, Chazz Witherspoon and now faces Garcia. With a combination of knockout power, combination punches and pure determination the former East L.A. resident has captured the imagination of boxing fans.

Some even say he’s another Mike Tyson.

For a brief while detractors said that Arreola was facing inferior competition and that he was a mere façade. But ever since fighting undefeated Damian “Bolo” Wills in 2006, the Riverside heavyweight has stepped up a notch in quality. There were some easy fights against Cliff Couser and Derek Barry, but wins over Wills, Tann, Witherspoon, Thomas Hayes and Zakeem Graham who had a combined 103 wins and only four losses proved he could indeed fight.

But it gets even tougher now.

Reports from his Riverside training camp say that preparation for his upcoming fight has been the worst ever and that backers are worried the pressure is getting to the amiable boxer. A few even say that Arreola has only a 50-50 chance of beating Garcia who is 38-years-old but hungry for a shot at stardom.

“I still feel I have enough to accomplish what I want to accomplish,” said Garcia who fights out of New York and is promoted by Lou DiBella. “I’ve been fighting for more than 10 years. I sparred with world champions and I held my own.”

Garcia is hungry while Arreola appears to be not quite 100 percent.

With a million dollar contract within reach many are in shock that Arreola is having so much trouble preparing for this fight.

“When you’re on top of the mountain everybody wants to knock you down,” said Arreola during a telephone conference call. “Sometimes it gets a little overwhelming.”

Inside the ring he’s facing a hungry fighter who wants to take his place as the top American heavyweight.

Paul Williams

Unable to find an opponent at welterweight, WBO welterweight titleholder Williams is moving up two divisions and will fight Oregon’s Andy Kolle (17-1, 12 KOs), a middleweight prizefighter with Native American blood.

For months after recapturing the world title from Carlos Quintana with a first round blowout, Williams scoured the welterweight, middleweight and super middleweight divisions looking for a challenge.

At one time Williams (34-1, 25 KOs) had a fight lined up with the feared Winky Wright and was about to meet the former world champion but a cable television network refused it when both were about to sign the contract. Another fight against Kelly Pavlik was spurned by the middleweight world champion who chose Bernard Hopkins instead. An offer to Joe Calzaghe was ignored altogether. A rematch with WBA titleholder Antonio Margarito will have to wait until next year.

“My main focus I the fight on Sept. 25, not on Margarito or (Miguel) Cotto,” said Williams. “He’s going to bring his offense into the ring and I’m going to bring my offense to the ring. It’s going to be about conditioning.”

Kolle’s last fight ended in a loss to undefeated super middleweight Andre Ward, the speedy former U.S. Olympian who captured a gold medal in the 2004 games in Greece.

“I learned a lot. I was stepping on the big stage for the first time in my career,” said Kolle who was stopped by the speedy Ward. “I had to go looking for Andre, but with Paul, he’ll be right there.”

You can be sure of that. Williams has been itching for a fight since taking back his WBO title from Quintana after suffering a humiliating experience in their first encounter at Temecula, which is about 20 miles from Soboba Casino.

“There’s going to be some fireworks,” says Williams (34-1, 25 KOs).

For tickets call Soboba Casino (951) 654-2883.