The Adamek fight represented a chance for Arreola to take on a name opponent rising in the heavyweight ranks. Should he have won, a lucrative rematch might have been in the works or, once again, a shot at the title. In any case, Arreola would have remained an HBO staple. Instead, the loss sent him back to ESPN, where he will now have to fight his way back to HBO.
“You know what? It is a humbling experience but, at the same time, I am happy to be still relevant enough to be on TV,” said Arreola. “I’m not happy with myself because I know what I did was wrong. I know that I sold myself short. I know that I should’ve, could’ve, would’ve done a lot better. But it’s all my fault and it all falls on me. It’s a learning experience; that’s for sure.”
Many people carry their mistakes on their shoulders like a weight. Some learn from them and move; others are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Arreola seems to be transitioning from the latter to the former. Part of that is accepting the responsibilities he has as a man, a father, and a husband.
“I just learn from it, [and] up and walk away like nothing happened. But it’s still in the back of my mind like, ‘Sh*t! What I do? I could have changed or done something different,’” he admitted. “But, honestly, it just recently hit me that I’m an adult. I was driving down the freeway. I was thinking about the bills I have to pay. What my daughter needs. I gotta buy groceries and stuff like that and all of sudden I was like, ‘F**k. I’m an adult now. I gotta pay bills. I got stuff to do now. I gotta get my head out of my ass.”
To speak to Arreola is to laugh. The guy is a crack-up. Always friendly, smiling, and quick with a quip. But beneath that exterior is a complex man full of self-doubt that has led him in the past to self-sabotage. Arreola and I shared a bit of our past and through that, revealed the seeds of where it all came from. Growing up poor and with an acne problem all through his childhood and high school years (His nickname came from someone saying he looked like Freddy Krueger of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” movies and it just stuck), Arreola had to find a way to fit in. Especially considering his best friend was the popular one.
“My best friend that passed away, this guy…I always used to be the best friend of him,” Arreola explained. “I always turned out to be the friend of the girl that liked him. I always ended up being that guy. I had to learn to be the fun guy. That’s how girls would talk to me. To actually have some kind of substance to me and stuff like that. And then, also, when I was a kid, like growing up not having the best things, whenever my dad would buy me nice shoes or a nice set of clothes, I’d feel weird because I felt uncomfortable doing it. I felt uncomfortable wearing those shoes. I’d feel uncomfortable wearing those nice things. And I would rather look grungy than look nice. It’s the same thing with boxing. It was like, ‘Why I am getting all this? Why all the attention? Why am I this? Why am I that?’ I guess you could say it’s a form of self-destruction because I felt that thing where I don’t even deserve it. But now, I realize that I deserve it. I realize I deserve everything I have gotten and I should be getting even more fighting but basically I f**ked myself.”
Arreola says this time out, with camp being smooth and his personal demons in check, he feels like a new man. Still, the loss to Adamek haunts him. More than anything, he blames himself for buying into his own press.
“Oh yes, definitely. I feel very different this time. I feel more than confident,” he said. “It’s like I was honestly full of myself. I am the type of person to admit I screwed myself thinking I didn’t have to train that hard to beat this [Adamek]. I went into that fight 50% of myself, maybe even as low as 40% and I almost beat the guy. If I had gone in 100%, the whole thing would have been a whole different story. It would have been a whole different thing. But I live and learn and take nothing for granted anymore.”
Does knowing that he still took Adamek the distance by only being the 40-50% of what he should be give him any solace?
“No, it pisses me off because I see the pub[licity] that he gets and stuff like that,” Arreola, “I mean, I want to give Adamek his respect. He beat me. Plain and simple. He beat me. I messed with my head and my conditioning. It doesn’t matter. He still beat me. He was the better guy that night and he is the one that’s left. It pisses me off to know that I basically gift-wrapped that win for him. I did because I’m an idiot.”
One problem Arreola does face, if he is successful Friday and heads back to HBO, is that, as a fighter on that network, dates become scarce. As much as anything, being idle between fights is what gets Arreola in trouble. Arreola understands that better than anyone.
“To be honest, after I beat this guy, I want to fight as soon as possible,” he explained. “The thing about me, man, don’t give me no time off. I don’t need no time off. I’m only gonna find more things to do, more things to f**k myself with. I don’t need no time off. I need to stay working. I need to stay active; at least a fight every three months. I love fighting. I really do. And the more active I stay, the better shape I stay. And the less chances I have to wreck myself.”
In order for him to fight four times a year as he used to coming up, he might have to do a couple off-TV or ESPN fights a year for less money. Arreola says he is up for it as long he can fight more often.
“I’m more than willing to do that,” Arreola said without hesitation. “As long as I stay active, as long as I stay working. I need that. I love boxing. I really do.”
The conversation turned to his current foe Manny Quezada, a former kickboxer and martial artist who turned to boxing later in life. What he brings to the table is a solid punch, good fight experience and a will to win. Though he hasn’t seen much of him, Arreola took a shot at breaking down Quezada for me.
“I’ve really not seen more than a little bit of his fight with Jason Gavern,” he explained. “That’s about it. He’s a really tough guy. He’s Mexican like myself. He has the heart to fight. And he was a kickboxer and basically got on the job training in pro boxing. Basically, to win this fight, I have to be me. And I know he is coming prepared to go 12 rounds to knock my block off. I’m his Super Bowl. From now on, everyone is going to come in there to try and beat me because I’m the big opportunity. I can’t let that happen. My job in there is to be the old me, the combinations me that sets up knockouts. Not the one-punch knockout guy.”
In past camps, Arreola spent his time just working off weight as opposed to fine tuning boxing technique. This time around, Arreola did not use the services of strength-and-conditioning coach Darryl Hudson. Still, Arreola kept his weight lower after the Adamek loss and because of that, Arreola said he was able to focus on boxing technique as opposed to melting pounds off.
“[We’ve been working] mainly working on fight stuff. That’s the main thing. Being in shape, that’s important. The main thing is from the last, I was mainly concerned about being in shape and doing all that cardio stuff. This camp the main thing: boxing, boxing, boxing. I can go run a marathon but that doesn’t mean I can go in the ring and box for 12 rounds. It’s a different beast. The main thing is boxing.”
Now I know what you are thinking. “We’ve heard this before.” When you have a fighter admit he wasn’t up enough for a heavyweight title fight or a contender like Tomasz Adamek, how can he get up for a fight on ESPN? Arreola feels he has to prove he is telling the truth to his fans but, most importantly, to himself.
“Because, honestly, I’m going to say, you know, for once, I got content, man,” Arreola said of those fight camps. “I was content. And I was like thinking that – ‘just do enough just to get by.’ And that hunger just came back. It’s back, man. I’m hungry. I’m hungry, man. I want to win. I hate losing. And I think I have a lot to prove, not only to myself, but to the fans and to everybody that doesn’t believe in me and stuff like that or anybody that doubts me. You know, I just have to prove everybody wrong and myself. You know, I’ve got to prove it to myself that I am the fighter that I believe I am, that I – that I can become a world champion. You know, I’ve got to prove it to myself, and that’s the main thing, man. I have – I have a lot to prove, man. And just like – you know, like that song by Eminem, you know, I’m not afraid, man. I’m not afraid. And it’s time for me to, you know, to take care of my business and do what I’m supposed to do.”
You can email Gabriel at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.