SoCal Gym Hopping: Arreola, Wills & St. John

Up in the hillside boxing gym Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola was locked in combat with an old foe now turned stable-mate Damian “Bolo” Wills.

Once the bell rings they rip through each other mercilessly.

After numerous rounds the sparring war ends with both pretty much physically spent. Both are trained by Henry Ramirez. Both are premier heavyweights.

Arreola (35-2, 30 Kos) loves the sparring with Wills, it’s great preparation for his upcoming fight against Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 Kos) on Saturday April 27. The heavyweight title elimination bout will take place at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif. HBO will televise.

The Mexican-American heavyweight from Riverside looks physically fit and lean. He’s sporting one of those $200 looking haircuts and doesn’t waste time once he gets to the gym. Arreola immediately begins wrapping his hands after shaking hands with everyone inside the airy gym.

On this Wednesday afternoon, one of the guests is Bill O’Neil, a long-time boxing writer who’s been covering the sport since the early 1960s. Ever since Arreola burst into the fight scene the senior sportswriter has followed his advancement through the heavyweight ranks.

“I’m a believer,” said O’Neil, who covered Jerry Quarry, Ken Norton, Muhammad Ali and others from the California heavyweight scene. “I believe he’s going to be a heavyweight champion.”

A few others sat in the gym including Arreola’s younger brother and a friend. Wills arrived with his manager Warren Wilkinson, who also manages Cleotis “Mookie” Pendarvis.

Wills was one of the most dangerous opponents in Arreola’s career to date. When both met each other in November 2006, each was a highly touted undefeated heavyweight. The two Southern Californians put on a spectacular show for as long as it lasted.

“That was the first time I ever lost a fight…anywhere,” said Wills to Arreola after their sparring session.

Currently, Wills (30-3-1, 23 Kos) still has a sterling record. It’s one of the reasons that many consider him one of the most over-looked heavyweights today.

Arreola does not overlook Wills.

“He’s good,” said Arreola during an earlier sparring session a month ago. “He has that nasty uppercut.”

St. John

Later in the day, after trekking 100 miles north, I drove into Ventura to the famous KnuckleHeadz Boxing gym to watch Mia St. John. I got there one hour early so I picked up a magazine and read until people began filing into the gym.

Around 6:10 p.m. I walked into the gym and discovered that boxing was no longer welcome in that facility. It now housed young gymnasts, all adolescents jumping and twirling around. No one inside knew where the boxing gym was transplanted.

A few calls were made and finally my old pal and fellow boxing writer Francisco Salazar gave me a street name but couldn’t remember the address. That was good enough. After driving around for 30 minutes I finally located the boxing gym. I spotted a dozen people jumping rope outside and figured they had to be fighters of some sort.

Walking toward the back of the warehouse one of the fighters called out to me. His name is Joe and he recognized me. The MMA fighter pointed me toward the boxing section and when I stepped inside the gym the caretaker Big Hoss walked over to welcome me. On the other side of the boxing ring was St. John, putting on the wraps and getting ready to spar.

Big Hoss’s real name is Joseph Janik, but few know that fact. If you have ever seen Vicious Victor Ortiz’s corner during a fight than you definitely saw Hoss.

St. John sparred a young featherweight named Brenda Hernandez for several rounds as about a dozen people watched. Hernandez has that youthful energy and seems very anxious to attack. St. John uses all of her knowledge to keep her young opponent off-balance and unable to tee off with the bombs. Every so often Hernandez lands one and takes one. St. John does her work and keeps working hard.

St. John (47-12-2, 18 Kos) will be traveling to Denmark in two weeks to fight Cecilia Braekhus (21-0, 5 Kos) for the WBA, WBO and WBC welterweight world titles on April 13.

After the session ends Hoss gives me the 411 on who else has been working out and who has some fights coming up. Sergio Martinez had been training there but has moved his base to Spain for one fight. Victor Ortiz is participating on Dancing With the Stars, Maureen Shea is defending her title soon, Crystal Morales has a fight coming up with Rhonda Luna, David Rodela recently lost to Jorge Linares in Mexico, and Victor Barragan has a match coming up in the Midwest.

Knuckleheadz Gym has a lot going on.

Post Night notes

On my long drive home from Ventura to Riverside, I spoke to St. John, who plans to watch Brandon Rios vs. Mike Alvarado II. She’ll be ringside supporting her good friend Rios in the main event at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Saturday March 30.

Goossen-Tutor Promotions is planning a press conference on Saturday at the Mandalay Bay for Arreola and Stiverne. It’s tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m.