It is being called everything from a “crossroads” fight to the “Al Haymon Elimination” bout. On Saturday night, live on Showtime, Mexican-American heavyweight contender Cristobal Arreola (35-3) faces former Michigan State football player and prospect Seth Mitchell (26-1-1) in Indio, California. It is called a “crossroads” fight because the winner and the loser of the upcoming fight are clearly going in different directions. The winner will be in line for a title fight or, as has been mentioned by Golden Boy CEO Richard Schaefer, a Showtime televised main event against rising prospect and Olympic medalist Deontay Wilder. The loser will, at best, become a gatekeeper/journeyman type fighter who boxes for low purses or, most likely, be looking for a new line of work. Stated otherwise, the loser of this fight between Al Haymon advised heavyweights will be eliminated from big-time boxing.
Arreola has arrived at this career defining moment largely of his own making. At the beginning of his career, he made the transition from tournament winning amateur to undefeated prospect in a seamless fashion. He also established himself as a big punching television friendly fighter who liked to brawl. The positives also came with some negatives when it became apparent that he did not train as diligently as he should have for some fights. The criticism reached its zenith when Arreola lost a WBC title fight by stoppage to Vitali Klitschko in 2009 and a crucial fight against the smaller Tomasz Adamek. Arreola rebounded by upping his activity in an attempt to get in better condition. However, when he was ordered to face Bermane Stiverne in a title eliminator, numerous delays caused his activity to lessen. That led to a rocky training camp (trainer Henry Ramirez called it the worst of Arreola’s career), a broken nose, a 3rd round knock down, numerous hard punches and an eventual Stiverne decision victory. The loss has put Arreola in a position where he needs to prove he can win at the highest levels of the sport.
Mitchell’s arrival at this point though is a product of his (lack of) development as a prizefighter. Mitchell did not start boxing until after his college football career ended due to a knee injury in his early 20s. This means he had no amateur career and at 31 years old, is still learning boxing. Despite that handicap, he was deftly managed by Haymon to 25 wins without a defeat. He also was given valuable television exposure on HBO while facing less-than-scintillating opposition such as Timur Ibragimov and Chazz Witherspoon. The big knockouts Mitchell produced led to a lot of hype and the talk of facing one of the Klitschkos. That was until he faced Wladimir Klitschko’s trainer, Jonathan Banks. Although Banks was much smaller and not known as a puncher, he had been boxing since he was a youngster and used this knowledge and experience to drop Mitchell three times en route to a second round knock out. As surprising as Banks’ knock out victory was, some found it more surprising when Mitchell invoked a contractual clause for an immediate rematch. During the rematch, Mitchell was stunned several times but he was able to use his legs (and Banks’ lack of activity) to survive and outwork Banks to earn a decision victory. If anything, Mitchell has shown that despite experience and punch resistance, he is a determined individual who can overcome tough moments to emerge victorious.
Comparing the two fighters is fascinating. Both are big punchers. Arreola is the better boxer but Mitchell is the better athlete. Arreola has been in more tough fights and taken more punishment but Mitchell has the weaker chin by far. Arreola has much better experience but Mitchell is more dedicated to training and has been more active.
These traits lead the sportsbooks to list Arreola as a significant favorite (www.bet365.com lists him as a 4 to 1 favorite; www.sportbet.com has Arreola at -500; and www.bovada.lv lists him at -550). You may be thinking an upset is in order because Arreola is shopworn. Such thinking would be flawed. Arreola may not be as quick on the draw as he once was but it will still take a lot to stop him. The hook that Stiverne dropped Arreola with was a massive one and Arreola still made it to his feet and to the end of the fight. Of course, the last thing to go for an aging fighter is his punch. Arreola will always have his punch. He will also always be aggressive and not make the mistake Banks did in his second fight with Mitchell by not punching. Meanwhile, Mitchell really cannot improve his chin. Arreola is the pick.
Earlier on Saturday, you can view lightweight titlist Ricky Burns (36-2) of Scotland defending his WBO title against former Manny Pacquiao sparring partner, Raymundo Beltran (28-6). Burns is a significant favorite (Bet365 lists him at 10 to 3; SportBet has him at -500 and Bovada lists him at -450) most likely because the fight is in Scotland. However, he looked horrible in his last outing when the unknown Jose Gonzalez outboxed him for seven rounds before a hellacious eight round which led to Gonzalez inexplicably quitting the fight. Beltran may be more skilled and has certainly faced better opposition. The winner of this fight is in line to defend the title against Terrance Crawford in January in New York on HBO so both fighters will be highly motivated. It is a very tough fight to pick but I will go with the hometown favorite… Burns is the pick.
Author’s Record for the Year: 50-18-4 (A 2-1-1 week was highlighted by Johnny Gonzalez scoring an unexpected upset knock out over Abner Mares and I was robbed of a third winning pick when the three blind mice saddled Argenis Mendez with a draw when he easily outboxed Arash Usmanee).