Chris Arreola and Travis Kauffman first got to know each other in camp with Hasim Rahman when the former heavyweight champ was tuning up for another title shot against Olev Maskaev in 2006. It wasn’t a successful camp for Rahman, who would get stopped in the 12th round during that fight. But it was good enough for Arreola and Kauffman, who went on to become friends from that point forward.
It’s safe to say, though, that there’s been a temporary pause in interpugilist comity as the two heavyweights prepare to face each other Saturday in San Antonio (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
“I like beating up my friends,” Chris Arreola said. “I'm dead serious. It makes me feel like the alpha male, which I am.”
Fair enough. Your rebuttal, Mr. Kauffman?
“When that bell rings, it's a business,” he said. “Chris comes to fight to end people's careers. That's just how he fights. We’re both going after the same thing: It's the heavyweight championship of the world. Chris just happens to be in my way.
“It's unfortunate he's a friend, but when that bell rings, there's no more friends. After the fight, we can go back to being friends again. After the bell rings when I'm victorious, we can go back to being friends. Right now we're not friends.”
Well now that we’ve established a temporary enmity, how did we get here in the first place?
After the Rahman camp, Arreola and Travis Kauffman hit it off well enough that Arreola invited Kauffman in as a sparring partner when he was preparing for Chazz Witherspoon in 2008. Kauffman was in that camp at around 280 pounds, down from 310 off a 14-month layoff and far from the 230 or so he prefers to fight at.
Arreola won that fight by disqualification. Arreola put Witherspoon on the ground twice in the third, the second time coming right at the bell. Witherspoon’s corner jumped in to help their man—technically with the round still going on because of the knockdown, and in spite of the bell—and in the process got him disqualified.
Still, it was probably just a wonky end to an inevitable win for Arreola. It was good enough for the two of them to keep working together on Arreola’s fights moving forward—to the tune of about 200 rounds or so.
“A lot of times he would come down to my fights, I would go up to his fights,” Arreola said. “Some days he would be better than me, some days I would be better than him. That's why I'm taking this fight real serious, because he knows me. This is honestly going to be the best heavyweight fight of the night, I guarantee that.”
Kauffman helped Arreola get ready for Travis Walker, Brian Minto, Bermane Stiverne and others. In the meantime, he learned a thing or eight about his opponent in the process.
It also hasn’t slowed him down from playing up the confrontation on social media. Kauffman wrote on Facebook, “So Chris Arreola keeps saying he hopes I'm ready ... The question is are you ready because you keep worrying whether or not I'm ready ... I'm starting to think you're worried. … I'm more then ready and been ready.”
Kauffman hinted he thought Arreola was just taking the fight to lose weight—the Southern California native was down to 240 a few weeks prior to the fight—and wasn’t training to win. It’s some quality chops-busting between two guys who are friends, but there’s an underlying respect to the verbal sparring that belies the seriousness with which both fighters approach the game—and each other.
“He has no quit,” Kauffman said. “His will to win is like no other. But I believe skill-wise I'm way better than Chris. I know what I have to do to beat Chris. As long as I stick to my game plan, I'm going to be victorious. I really believe I have the ability. I'm not a big one-punch knockout kind of guy, but I have the ability and speed to knock him out.”
For complete coverage of Arreola vs Kauffman, make sure to hit up our fight page.