It’s been more than a year since fight fans last saw Chris Arreola in a boxing ring, a hiatus that now ranks as the longest of his nearly 14-year professional career.
Given the miles on the three-time heavyweight title challenger’s odometer (201 rounds over 42 fights), age (36) and recent results (2-2-1 record since 2013, plus one no contest), some might assume Arreola has reached the end of the line. That assumption would be wrong—but not by much.
Always a straight shooter both in and out of the ring, Chris Arreola (36-5-1, 31 KOs) acknowledges his most recent fight—a one-sided, eighth-round stoppage loss to undefeated world champion Deontay Wilder on July 16, 2016 —left him in a “funk” from which he’s just now beginning to emerge. But emerging he is—so much so that the man who enjoys the rigors of training as much as a child enjoys vaccinations says he’s looking forward to getting back in the gym in hopes of making his ring return before year’s end.
That said, Arreola admits his finish line is within sight. While the lifelong Southern Californian would love a fourth opportunity to fulfill his dream of being the first boxer of Mexican heritage to become heavyweight champion, he understands the increased risk aging fighters assume when they step between the ropes. And the proud father of two children—15-year-old daughter Danae and 2-year-old son Alex—wants to make sure his mental and physical faculties are intact when he does finally hang up the gloves.
We recently caught up with always-affable Arreola to discuss family life, as well as his boxing future, his fighting past, his lifelong devotion to the Los Angeles Dodgers and a potentially drastic change to his voracious diet.
How would you characterize the status of your career right now?
After the last fight with Wilder, I was a little dejected. I’m actually just now getting out of that funk and getting ready to fight again. Hopefully that will happen soon—within the next 2½, three months. I’d love to get that fourth title shot and leave it all in the ring. Because I don’t want to say, when I’m 40, “I wish I would’ve done that differently.”
How much does having two young children play into your decision to continue boxing?
That’s why I’ve taken so much time off. After the Wilder fight, I needed some time to hang out with them and appreciate them a little bit more. That said, spending time with my son makes me want to be smarter in the ring. We’ve seen a lot of bad things that have happened [to fighters recently], and I do think about that a lot now. The thing about it is, if you’re going to step into the ring, you better be ready for a fight.
“ I’d love to get that fourth title shot and leave it all in the ring. Because I don’t want to say, when I’m 40, 'I wish I would’ve done that differently.' ” Chris Arreola
Your daughter is a teenager, but your son is a toddler. Did you learn a lot about fatherhood from your first child to your second?
I had my daughter when I was young, and I didn’t appreciate her growing up as I do my son now. That may sound wrong, but growing older, I understand fatherhood a whole lot more than I once did, and I appreciate every second that I can spend with my daughter and my son.
Yeah, there’s a big difference in age, but I think that’s a good thing. Shoot, I’ve got a babysitter at home! But seriously, having gone through experiences with my daughter, I’m able to handle things better now with my son. Like I remember this one time when my daughter was young, she was crying and crying, and we couldn’t figure out why she was in so much pain. So we took her to the hospital. Little did we know that we put her shoes on the wrong feet! That was a live-and-learn moment.
What’s the post-boxing game plan?
You know, that’s exactly what I’m trying to figure out right now. Because I know I’m at the tail end of my boxing career—I give myself three or four more years, if that. All I know is that I want to continue to be involved with boxing in some way. Maybe it’s in front of the camera [as an analyst].
Can you see yourself as a boxing coach or a trainer of some sort?
Yeah, absolutely. But that would be several years [down the road], because I think I would demand too much of a fighter—I’d demand out of fighters what I gave. And I don’t think too many fighters will give what I’ve given in the ring.
What’s the origin of your nickname, “The Nightmare”?
Funny story: In about 1998 or 1999, two of my friends and I were going to go to a house party, but first we went to get haircuts. And my haircut was just jacked up. It was horrible! So I went in my house and shaved my head. Now, at the time, I had a lot of acne—it was bad—and then after shaving my head, my [scalp] had a lot of razor burns. My friend comes to pick me up for the party, and he says, “Man, you look like Freddy Kruger!” from the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. From there, it went from Freddy to Kruger to Nightmare. The nickname just evolved—all from a bad haircut.
Do you recall the first time you got in a fistfight and the circumstances that led to it?
I was in the fourth grade, and one day I was at home doing homework, and my friends came over and kept egging me on, “Come out and play, come out and play!” And I said, “Nah, man, I’m doing homework.” One of my buddies starts yelling at me, “Ahh, schoolboy! You’re such a sissy!” My dad, being old-school Mexican, he hears this, gets mad and says to me, “Are you gonna let them talk to you like that?” I’m like, “Dad, they’re just playing around.” And he says, “Either you go out there and beat their ass, or I’m gonna beat your ass!”
Reluctantly, I go outside, and I’m crying. I tell this kid [in a crying voice], “Man, I gotta kick your ass.” But I beat his butt—I mean, I kicked his ass. Then I came back inside and did my homework.
Hey, at least you avoided your dad’s fists!
Exactly! I was terrified of my father. Still am to this day.
What do you recall about the first time you put on a pair of boxing gloves and got in the ring?
I’ve been in the boxing world since I was a baby. Back in the day, my dad trained boxers at Hoover’s Street Gym and Broadway Boxing Gym in L.A. I remember the smell, and I remember my mom holding me in her arms as I tried to hit the speedbag. But the first time I actually trained for a fight, I was 7 years old. I kept bugging my dad to train me. And the first time I got in the ring was with my neighbor. My nose got bloodied and he kind of kicked my butt, but I remember not caring. I remember just fighting.
Then before my first amateur fight—August of 1989, so I was 8 years old—there was a pair Cleto Reyes decoration boxing gloves that I wanted badly. And my dad said, “If you win the fight, I’ll buy you those gloves.” So I literally chased this kid and made him cry all over the ring, and I got my gloves.
If you could spend 20 minutes picking the brain of any fighter in history—living or dead—who would it be?
You know, it actually wouldn’t be a fighter. It would probably be [late legendary boxing trainer and manager] Cus D’Amato. He was more than a coach. He was a teacher. And there was a philosophy behind everything he was teaching— a reason why he was teaching you what he was teaching you, a la wax-on, wax-off, Mr. Miyagi type of shit. I would love to have spent some time learn boxing from him.
Who’s the one heavyweight in history you wish you could’ve faced?
Well, first left me say that, to this day, I can’t believe I’m a heavyweight. Honestly. But one of my favorite fighters who made me a big fan was Riddick Bowe, when he fought Evander Holyfield. Those were some of the most gruesome heavyweight fights. So I would’ve liked to face Riddick Bowe. I think that would’ve been a fun, entertaining fight, because he was a good boxer who always put on a great show.
The two biggest names on your ledger are Wilder and Vitali Klitschko, both of whom you faced in world-title bouts. Who was the bigger puncher, and who provided the tougher challenge?
They’re both very different hard punchers. Wilder’s is like a whipping punch—it’s like the punch you don’t see coming, but it’s strong. But Klitschko, you could feel his power. When he hit you, it was like a thud. It felt like he wanted to punch through your face. I don’t mean that in a bad way, like he wants to kill you; it’s just what he knows to do.
They’re both great movers, but the difference is Wilder is more of an athletic kind of mover, while Klitschko was more of a smart, methodical mover—like he’d take two steps and then he was out of the way.
That would’ve been a great fight between the two of them.
What’s the one fight in your career you wish you could go back and do differently—perhaps a fight you were in control of but let slip away?
Oh, by far, the second fight with Bermane Stiverne (a fight for a vacant world title in April 2010 that Arreola lost by sixth-round TKO). You know what? I respect Stiverne—you’ve got to love your opponent—but I was winning that fight, and I just got caught. I threw a stupid lazy jab, got caught over the top and I never got my bearings back. That’s definitely a fight I would want back, because that was my opportunity [to be a world champion].
Excluding yourself, who’s the best heavyweight in the world right now?
I gotta give it up to Wilder, because he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing. He’s knocking out people he’s supposed to be knocking out, and these guys he’s been fighting are not slouches. The only fighter [fellow undefeated world champion Anthony] Joshua has faced who has impressed me is obviously [Wladimir] Klitschko. That was a great fight.
Who wins that fight between Wilder and Joshua?
I’d give it to Wilder. He’s become a smart, athletic fighter. And when he lets his hands go, it’s a thing of a beauty.
You’re very proud of your Mexican heritage. Who’s your favorite Mexican fighter of all time?
Oh, come on—you know it’s Julio Cesar Chavez, man! Chavez is the greatest Mexican boxer who has ever lived. Of course, if you watch some of those Salvador Sanchez fights—man, that guy was a beast. He was great! And the thing I loved about watching Salvador Sanchez is when he fought, it seemed like he was always smiling. I would watch that and think, “Whoa, this guy is pretty crazy!”
Finish this sentence: If not for boxing, I would be …
… a carpenter. I like doing carpentry, and used to work at a restoration company. Like if there was a flood in a house or a burnt room, I would go in and help do the repairs.
Finish this sentence: People would be surprised to learn that I …
… love to draw—anything. I’ll just sit and draw random stuff. I do all kinds of drawings for my son, like SpongeBob SquarePants, Squidward—all the dumb characters he watches. He asks me to draw them for him.
You’re known for having quite the appetite. What’s the one food you absolutely could not live without?
Mexican food. Period. But, man, lately I’ve been eating it too much. I’m thinking about going vegan.
When training, what’s your least favorite exercise?
Running. I hate to run—hate it with a passion. The only reason I’d run [voluntarily] is if somebody was chasing me or I needed to chase someone.
Safe to say a marathon isn’t in your future then?
No. Absolutely not!
You’ve lived your entire life in Southern California. What’s the biggest misconception about the SoCal lifestyle?
That everything that glitters is gold. Not everything that looks good is good. Like if you see a pretty girl, usually there’s something wrong with her.
Speaking of SoCal, you’re as passionate a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers as there is on the planet. What is it about the Dodgers that first appealed to you?
I became a fan in the ’80s because of [former Dodgers pitcher] Fernando Valenzuela. But I didn’t start going to games until recently—2010, 2011, when I could finally afford to take my family. What I love most, though, is the atmosphere at Dodger Stadium. I love it. There’s no place like it. The food is not that great, but the atmosphere rocks.
You’re not one of those Dodger fans who shows up late to games and leaves early, are you?
You know what? Earlier this year, I took my son to a game—it was just me and him—and it was the end of the eighth inning and we were losing 6-2. So, I’m like, “Man, I’m out of here.” So I left, and the Dodgers came back and won, 7-6. I was so pissed that I left.
Was that the last time you did that?
No, I did it again this past weekend! [Laughs.] We were winning, so I thought, “Well, they’re winning, let’s get out of here.” The other team came back to tie it in the ninth inning, but we won it in the 10th. Still, I did it again. I swear, I need to learn my lesson.