Andre Ward and Sergey Kovalev lock horns again on Saturday, June 17 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. There are eight fights in all on the undercard, topped by a 12-round contest between undefeated super bantamweights Guillermo Rigondeaux and Moises Flores and a 10-round middleweight bout between Luis Arias and Arif Magomedov. Both fights are included on the HBO PPV telecast.
Arias (17-0, 8 KOs) trains in Florida under the tutelage of former two-division world champion John David Jackson, who also trains Sergey Kovalev. Oddly, Magomedov (18-1, 11 KOs) has a Kovalev connection too. The LA-based Russian is co-managed by Egis Klimas, who also handles Kovalev, among other prominent Eastern European imports.
With the defection of Miguel Cotto, one can fairly say that Arias, who celebrates his 27th birthday the week of the fight, is currently the third best fighter in the Roc Nation stable following Ward and Rigondeaux. Born and bred in Milwaukee, his friends in the fight game call him “Cuba,” which is also his ring nickname. His father, who works for an auto parts dealer, is from Cuba; his mother, a kindergarten teachers aide, is from Nicaragua. They met in Wisconsin, the dairy state, a story as American as apple pie.
Luis Arias, who took up boxing at the age of eight at Milwaukee’s United Community Center, had a strong amateur career that ended on a sour note when he fell victim to the so-called “whereabouts rule” on the eve of the Olympic trials. As a member of Team USA, Arias was subject to random drug testing. That obligated him to keep the U.S. Anti-doping Agency (USADA) informed of his whereabouts at all times. Three whereabouts failures within an 18-month period command a one-year suspension.
When the specimen collectors showed up unannounced at his home in Milwaukee, Arias wasn’t there. He was in Las Vegas helping Floyd Mayweather prepare for his date with Miguel Cotto. Arias says that this was purely an oversight. (He wasn’t alone. A potential Olympic teammate, heavyweight Lenroy Thompson, aka Cam Awesome, was also knocked out of the 2012 games by the whereabouts rule.)
As a Mayweather sparring partner, Arias made such a strong impression that he was asked to join Mayweather’s fledgling pro stable. His first 10 pro bouts were fought under the Mayweather Money Team flag. When a rift developed between him and Mayweather, Roc Nation was quick to pick up the pieces.
Until recently, Arias juggled his boxing career with classes at Marquette University where he is pursuing a degree in Communication Studies. School is on hold now, but he insists that he will eventually earn his degree, fulfilling a promise to his mother.
We asked Arias why he chose that particular major and were taken aback by his candidness. He conceded that Communications is a soft major, something we already knew, cognizant that so many scholarship athletes at Division 1 schools are diverted into this field of study. But choosing a soft major when the primary objective is to fulfill a promise to one’s mother strikes us an altogether prudent course of action; a smart way of getting through the maze.
Thus far, Arias has had little difficulty keeping his boxing career on the right track, although it bugs him a little that some of the boxers he defeated as an amateur (e.g., Shawn Porter, Marcus Browne, Jesse Hart) have made considerably more headway. He looks upon his upcoming HBO date as the fulcrum that will thrust him into the middleweight mix and speed up his ascent to top contender status, a goal he hopes to reach by early next year.
Arif Magomedov’s career was sailing along smoothly until his next-to-last bout when he lost a 10-round decision to an unheralded opponent. There were no odds on his match with Andrew Hernandez, but if there had been it would have ranked among the biggest upsets of 2016. Magomedov entered the contest ranked in the top 5 by the WBC, WBA, and WBO. Hernandez, from Phoenix, was a part-time boxer and full-time landscaper.
Mystifyingly, the highly-touted Magomedov had no steam on his punches. He lost every round on two of the scorecards and eight rounds on the other. He enters this match off a psychologically therapeutic blowout of German journeyman Chris Herrmann in Moscow, Russia. He stopped Herrmann in the second round.
It’s a fair guess that Magomedov’s hollow performance in his last U.S. assignment wasn’t anywhere near a true gauge of his true ability. Every boxer is entitled to an off night. But Arias, who has studied the tape, isn’t buying it. “It’s one thing to have an off night,” he says scornfully, “but it’s quite another to lose nine of 10 rounds.” He doesn’t think that the Russian is in his league. Time will tell.
Arias has fought twice in his hometown and hopes that more opportunities arise. He notes that Milwaukee will shortly break ground for a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and relishes the thought of christening the new facility with a fight that sparks a resurgence in boxing in a city where the sport at the professional level fell into a rut a long time ago. “That would be a dream come true,” he says.
Three months after Arias takes on Magomedov at Mandalay Bay, a middleweight fight of far greater import will be contested down the block at the T-Mobile Arena. We asked Arias for a prediction.
“I originally favored Canelo,” he says, “but changed my mind when I saw them pictured standing side by side. They both may weigh the same on the day of the weigh-in, but it’s plain that Golovkin is naturally the bigger man.”
Let the record show that Luis Arias is prepared to fight the winner.
Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.