This weekends' WBC heavyweight title bout between contenders Bermane Stiverne 23-1-1 (20) and Chris Arreola 36-3 (31) is a unique style clash.
Not so much so in that we've never seen a boxer-counter puncher face a swarmer before, that's nothing out of the ordinary to see. What makes it somewhat unique is these two have already fought, and Stiverne won a 12-round unanimous decision. He not only won but he had Arreola down in the third round and broke his nose in the process.
Boxing history is replete with examples of how when the fighter who fights as the attacker/swarmer loses to the better technician the first time, the result is pretty much a repeat of the first fight when they meet a second time. Whereas the other side of the coin has seen many boxers/counter punchers lose to the fighter/attacker/puncher the first time, then comeback and win the rematch because of a few adjustments stylistically that offset the attackers' power and aggression.
Chris Arreola is a fighter who has to press the fight and attack to be effective. He has pretty good power in his right hand and looping hooks. However, he cannot deliver them effectively if he's not coming forward and moving in on his opponent. This is something he's been successful doing in 36 out of 39 professional bouts. But the three times his aggression and power didn't carry the day he was confronted by an opponent who either keep him turning and prevented him from getting set to punch, Tomaz Adamek, or they made him pay on the way in like Vitali Klitschko and Bermane Stiverne did. It's no secret that for Arreola to beat Stiverne Saturday, his aggression is going to have to be effective and force him to rush his shots. If he can do that, Stiverne won't be able to plant as well as he needs to with both feet on the ground and get everything on his punches. Assuming Chris is in great shape this time, he's still going to get nailed pretty good on the way in. The question then becomes: will Stiverne's one-twos to the head and right hands to the body slow Arreola down and impede his aggression enough so that he can get off the way he wants to? Based on what took place during their last fight, the answer is yes. At least to the degree where Arreola can't impose his will and power on Stiverne the way he needs to in order to hope to win the fight.
Some things that stood out during the last fight were how Arreola actually had success with his jab when he was moving forward without really trying to bury Stiverne under an avalanche. The problem is he can't win the fight with his jab alone because as we saw Stiverne came out of his shell a little when Arreola laid back and started scoring with clean combinations to the head and body. This highlights two other issues that are going against Arreola: 1) Stiverne got the better of a lot of the exchanges when Arreola had him pinned against the ropes because of his edge in hand speed and accuracy and 2) Stiverne scored cleanly to Arreola's head and body whereas Chris punched exclusively to Stiverne's head.
And if all that weren't enough, how about the fact that the fighter who was supposed to be the weaker puncher actually landed the most damaging blows of the fight. You know you're in trouble stylistically when you are the presumed puncher in the fight and yet it's more dangerous for you to rumble and trade with your opponent because he gets to the mark first and with more precision and accuracy.
Being the presumed puncher in the fight means absolutely nothing when your power cannot alter the other guys' game or style. Because Stiverne's delivery system is more dependable and seems to apply better during the actual fight than does Arreola's, Chris is really in a catch-22 stylistically going against Stiverne with the vacant WBC heavyweight title up for grabs this weekend.
He not only will be walking into a mine field to get close to Stiverne, he'll have to be more effective this time when he gets there. Sure, Arreola will probably be in better shape this time than he was when they fought the first time. But that doesn't really translate to his game if he's getting peppered and countered trying to get close to Stiverne. And what if he does manage to force it on the inside? We saw Stiverne live with Arreola the last time fighting off his back foot while pinned against the ropes and forced to one of the ring corners. And in many cases he got the better of it.
No, Arreola won't enter the ring with a broken nose like he had to fight with during the last nine rounds when they met in April of last year. However, he'll have the memory of it in the back of his mind, and if Stiverne blasts him real good in the early going, the memory may become the first thing on his mind. And no, that's not saying Arreola isn't really tough because we know that he is. What it is saying is he's human and not a robot. It's not a reach to believe that he'll remember the hell he had to go through the last time just to get a lopsided loss.
Chris Arreola has been fun to watch the past few years and his impressive first round knockout over Seth Mitchell in his last fight may inject a fusion of needed confidence that will serve him well going into the Stiverne fight. But boxing history has been really tough on the punchers/attackers who fought a rematch with the better boxer/technician who beat them the first go round. We've seen the boxer/technician adjust for the rematch and beat the swarmer/fighter who won the first time out, but seldom have we seen the puncher lose the first fight and then come back and beat the better technician or boxer in the rematch. In regards to Stiverne, it must be noted that he also has a few warts as a fighter. It's been mentioned in boxing circles that he tends to be lazy and his chin isn't as reliable as it looked against Arreola.
Who knows, maybe he had the best night of his life against Arreola the last time?
I'd hate to judge him off of that just like I didn't judge Buster Douglas off of one particular night of his career. That being said, I didn't seen any evidence of the above mentioned things regarding Stiverne's work ethic and chin during the Arreola fight. To me, he looked like an above average gifted heavyweight with good ring smarts and better than average power and a really good attitude. At the end of the day Arreola can't adjust his style and show Stiverne anything he didn't already see and deal with in their first fight. And fighting more aggressively and reckless might just get him hurt and beaten up more convincingly this time.
When Arreola meets Bermane Stiverne this Saturday night he'll being fighting history and the demons of their last fight. If he wins he must be given all due praise because he will surely have had to overcome a lot of obstacles to do so.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com