No heavyweight fight this year will be bigger in America than the bout on Saturday, September 26th when Vitali Klitschko puts his WBC belt on the line against Chris Arreola in Los Angeles.
Klitschko, ranked #2 by SportsRatings to his brother Wladimir, faces #7 Arreola, the first American to fight a Klitschko on U.S. soil since Calvin Brock lost to Wladimir in November, 2006. Surprisingly, Vitali has never fought an American in America: he fought Lennox Lewis (UK), Kirk Johnson (Canada), Corrie Sanders (South Africa), and Danny Williams (UK) in successive fights in the United States, and beat Jamaican Ricardo Kennedy in Miami in 1998. Meanwhile brother Wlad fought recent defenses against Ray Austin, Lamon Brewster, Tony Thompson, and Hasim Rahman all in Germany.
The fight features two big punchers with remarkable KO percentages. Vitali has scored a knockout in 36 of his 37 wins, meaning he wins by KO 97.3% of the time (Timo Hoffman was the only decision). His two losses have come on injury stoppages to Chris Byrd and Lennox Lewis. Arreola has had only one foe go the distance (Andrew Greeley in 2005); in 24 of 25 fights (96%) he's scored a stoppage. The two other contests were disqualifications, including the win over Chazz Witherspoon (currently # 28) which could have been ruled a KO. Arreola has a relentless style where he sometimes lunges forth punching with his entire body and keeps coming like a juggernaut, while Klitschko remains squared and upright as he delivers devastating punches with his long reach. Klitscho is 6' 7" and around 250 pounds. Arreola stands nearly 6' 4" and his weight could be anywhere from 240 to 260. Much has been written about Arreola's weight as it has increased over the years and most would say the leaner he comes in, the better.
Both fighters can hit hard. At the same time, both are willing to take shots themselves. Despite this Vitali has never been on the canvas, even after taking a beating from Lennox Lewis. Arreola, on the other hand, was down in round two against Travis Walker (though completely unhurt) before scoring a third round TKO (interestingly, Walker is rumored to have floored Klitschko when sparring in 2005). It's certain that Vitali's chin has been tested about as much as possible, while Arreola hasn't faced the same level of competition.
Klitschko is a heavy favorite to win, with lines running at -600 (place $600 to win $100). Arreola is a -400 to -450 underdog (place $100 to win $400 or $450). Translated, this means that the oddsmakers and bettors give Klitschko about a 75%-85% chance to win, with the odds also favoring the fight ending before the middle of the seventh round.
Vitali's Klitschko's Résumé
Here are the top fighters Vitali Klitschko has faced this decade:
Date Result Sep rank Fighter (rank at time)
04/2000: LOSS by RT to # 31 CHRIS BYRD (# 24)
11/2000: Win by UD over #224 TIMO HOFFMAN (# 27)
01/2001: Win by KO over #368 ORLIN NORRIS (#140)
12/2001: Win by TKO over #390 ROSS PURITTY (#137)
02/2002: Win by TKO over #398 VAUGHN BEAN (#227)
11/2002: Win by TKO over #177 LARRY DONALD (# 30)
06/2003: LOSS by TKO to # NR LENNOX LEWIS (# 1)
12/2003: Win by TKO over # 78 KIRK JOHNSON (# 15)
04/2004: Win by TKO over # 73 CORRIE SANDERS (# 6)
12/2004: Win by TKO over # 43 DANNY WILLIAMS (# 14)
10/2008: Win by RT over # 14 SAMUEL PETER (# 3)
03/2009: Win by TKO over # 12 JUAN C GOMEZ (# 7)
Going back to the time of his first loss (due to a shoulder injury), Vitali has faced 9 fighters in the top 30, and six that are still ranked in the top 100 to this day. His biggest fight was of course the controversial loss to world champion Lennox Lewis, who hasn't fought in over five years and is now unranked. Klitschko has fought only twice since 2005, but both foes were in the top ten and are still in the top 15, while the three fighters he beat after the Lewis loss are still in the top 100.
Chris Arreola's Résumé
Here are the ranked fighters that Chris Arreola has faced:
Date Result Sep rank Fighter (rank at time)
10/2005: Win by TKO over #288 DOMONIC JENKINS (# 38)
05/2006: Win by KO over #384 SEDRICK FIELDS (#275)
08/2006: Win by TKO over #216 DAMIAN NORRIS (# 41)
11/2006: Win by TKO over #215 DAMIAN WILLS (# 73)
02/2007: Win by TKO over #175 ZAKEEM GRAHAM (# 70)
05/2007: Win by TKO over #217 MALCOLM TANN (# 74)
07/2007: Win by KO over #327 DEREK BERRY (#266)
09/2007: Win by KO over #235 THOMAS HAYES (#166)
02/2008: Win by TKO over #335 CLIFF COUSER (#239)
06/2008: Win by WDQ over # 28 CHAZZ WITHERSPOON (# 29)
11/2008: Win by TKO over #188 TRAVIS WALKER (# 65)
04/2009: Win by TKO over #185 JAMEEL MCCLINE (#128)
Note that in the time that Klitscho has had just two fights, Arreola has fought 12 ranked fighters, though only one is still in the top 100. But he's beaten seven fighters that were ranked in the top 100 at the time of the fight, including four in a row in late 2006-mid 2007. He had three easy opponents before dominating Chazz Witherspoon in what is still Chazz's only loss. Interestingly, though Arreola was criticized for weighing 255 against McCline, that's exactly what he weighed against Jenkins in November, 2005. During the stretch where he beat Norris, Wills, Graham, and Tann in a total of 22 rounds, he weighed between 230 and 240, and he was at 239 for the Witherspoon fight.
Arreola's Chances For the Upset
Clearly Arreola's lack of top-notch competition is the main reason for being the underdog; he hasn't proven that he can beat a fighter ranked in the top 25. Though he almost certainly would beat most of today's top 25, he just doesn't have the experience of being in the ring with a very top-notch heavyweight let alone one of the current era's best. Other factors: his defense is poor; his stamina is untested, especially if he comes in at a higher weight; and he gives up height and reach. His willingness to take punches is seen to be his undoing against a hard puncher like Klitschko. The logic goes, if Travis Walker can give him an 8-count, what will Vitali do? If Chazz Witherspoon can deliver an "oh shit" jab (Arreola's words), how will Dr. Ironfist's jabs feel?
Arreola has a few intangibles in his favor. The crowd should be heavily on his side in Los Angeles. He hasn't shown as much in his fights—or hasn't had to—so if he has anything new up his sleeve Klitschko will be less prepared for it. Even at larger sizes Arreola is fairly quick for a big heavy, and his stamina is always questioned but hasn't let him down yet. His style—bulling his way into his opponent's space—is one that neither Klitschko has had to deal with very often, especially from a big, hard-hitting opponent. Arreola is a slugger and likes to "bang" so the fight should be a fun one to watch, but his main chance of an upset still comes from Klitschko himself. Vitali is 38 years old and has a track record of injuries. Some thought he didn't look as sharp against Gomez six months ago, and if he's slowed since then Arreola has an opportunity. It's an unfortunate truth, but Arreola's best chance counts on a decline in performance by Klitschko. Unless we see a dynamic Arreola (or an aged Klitschko) we haven't seen before, Vitali is the likely winner.
How it ends is anybody's guess. Depending on what strategy the fighters use the bout could be over very quickly, in a blaze in the first three rounds, a more measured but still frenetic pace leading to a mid-rounds KO, or in a late stoppage as one fighter doesn't rise from the chair. Common sense dictates that the longer the fight goes, the less likely Arreola is to win, especially by decision. Neither fighter has been knocked out, and both KO their opponents almost all the time, so something has to give. My guess is that Arreola scores his best shots early; weakens but holds on in the middle rounds; and Vitali takes a big lead on the cards late. Arreola should be able to make it to the end, though, in front of an adoring crowd. His best chance of winning comes early, and after the first few rounds the tone of the fight will be established; things won't get better for Arreola after that, so he has to take advantage if he's doing well and build a big lead. I see Vitali Klitschko the probable winner, by a card of around 116-111.
Arreola wouldn't take the SportsRatings belt with a win, but it would put him #2 to Wlad Klitschko. Neither would Vitali jump to #1 for beating Arreola, as Wlad is far ahead in points after his brother's four-year layoff through most of 2005-2008. Lose, however, and he would fall to #7, meaning the fighters would essentially switch places. Arreola wouldn't fall as far with a loss, as there's quite a big gap between #7 and #8 due to the relative derth of strong heavyweights at the moment. Arreola will remain in the top ten regardless of the outcome.