For as long as Cristobal Arreola has been considered the best American heavyweight, he has yet to come through with his breakthrough moment in the ring.
Arreola (35-2, 30 KOs) was stopped by Vitali Klitschko in a one-sided 2009 fight that still represents the Mexican-American fighter's lone shot at a world title. Arreola, 32, believes his time is now heading into his title eliminator against hard-punching Bermane Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs) on Saturday (HBO, 8:30 p.m. ET) in Ontario, Calif. The winner of the bout receives a mandatory shot at Klitschko's title.
After winning all five of his bouts in 2011, Arreola fought just once in 2012, and faces Stiverne following a 14-month layoff.
Q: We know your opponent Stiverne packs a heavy punch, but what kind of challenges are you expecting from him?
A: The main thing that I've always looked at in a fighter is their amateur experience because it's very important. He has a lot of extensive amateur experience and fought guys like Tyson Fury and David Price -- and I believe he knocked out David Price. And his one-punch knockout power is obviously something you always have to be aware of.
What's at stake for you personally in this fight?
Basically if I win, I'm back on the scene again, and if I lose, I'm back to oblivion and people will forget about me. The main thing is the title. That's what I've always wanted to be since I was a kid and that's to be a world champion. Never thought it would be at heavyweight, but this is for [a chance at] the world heavyweight championship. I just want to show everybody that there is some big Mexican-American heavyweights out there.
How badly do you want a rematch against Vitali Klitschko, who defeated you in 2009?
That's the only way I would want [a world title] is if I fought Vitali. But at the same time, if he retired, I would have no problem with that. The way I feel, everybody's time ends and a new one begins. But I really want that chance to beat him. But even more than that, I want a chance to beat Tomasz Adamek [who defeated Arreola by majority decision in 2010.] Out of all my losses -- and I understand I lost to Vitali before and there's no shame in losing to a big man like him and he is a great fighter -- I hate losing to Tomasz Adamek. I'm still looking forward to fighting him and when I meet that guy, he's going to be in a rough state.
Do you believe you got a raw deal on the scorecards against Adamek?
No. I think he won. I give him the victory. I'm not the guy that's going to be like, "Oh, no!" He won that fight, fair and square. I busted my hand in the 10th, but that's still no excuse. I just didn't come into that ring prepared for that fight at all. That's my fault, my own damn fault. He prepared for that fight to win and I didn't.
How different are you as a fighter today compared to the guy who fought Vitali Klitschko in 2009?
Not only my experience, but also what's between my ears in my head. People used to want it more than I wanted it for myself. They said, "Yeah, you are the best thing since sliced bread." And I was believing it. I was believing my own hype instead of making my hype even bigger than what it was.
You fought five times in 2011 and appeared headed toward a big fight. Yet you enter your next fight having been out of the ring for 14 months. What was the reason for your inactivity?
It comes down to injuries and mandatories -- having to wait for this fight against Bermane. I was supposed to fight him since November, but there's just been postponements after postponements. That's the way boxing goes. If you are the mandatory, you have to wait for when the date opens up and here I am now, ready to fight on April 27.
How hard was that to be so active for one full year, then be on the shelf, waiting?
It's very frustrating, but then I have to sit back and realize that I did my work already in 2011 that got me to this point. So I have to be patient. That's all I have to do.
The Klitschko brothers often get criticized for fighting retreads or European opponents who are often unknown to American audiences. Do you think that's a fair assessment?
Honestly, they do fight themselves very soft. They want to keep their titles. But at the same time, what is there for them out there? There really isn't an established heavyweight out there to really give them problems other than myself. There are a lot of good heavyweights, but they are all young. In the years to come, people are going to be reading about them because I'm going to be beating them up.
This next generation of heavyweights that you mentioned -- fighters like Fury and Price -- share a common trait in that they are all huge, but do you think they are for real, with the potential to possibly end the Klitschkos' run?
First of all, I'm ending [the] run. Size doesn't matter. It's all about the dog in the fight and what kind of fight you have in that dog. [Vitali] Klitschko is a master at using his height, but I made him fight every minute of every round that fight. That's why you saw him throw so many punches. He was throwing punches out of defense. But of these European tall fighters, I think Fury is more for real than Price because Price has a weak chin. But these kids are good. They are for real. They have Olympic pedigrees and that's one thing, like I said, you always have to look at -- their amateur experience.
What is the ideal fighting weight for you at this point in your career?
Honestly, at the highest is 245 and at the lowest 238, so there's about a seven-pound difference right there. That's a good cushion because if I get too low, yes, I feel like I have good hand speed, but the power isn't there. But if I get way over 245, I start to get too methodical and a plodding-forward type of heavyweight and I'm not like that. I use angles. I throw punches and move.
Will you enter the ring against Stiverne right in the middle of that 238 to 245 range?
Absolutely. Right now I am walking around at 252 or 250. I do not let myself get past 255 anymore because losing weight is a mother, man. It sucks.
You have name recognition in the division and have for some time been considered the best American heavyweight. Because of that, how important is it for you to get yourself into marketable fights against guys like the Klitschkos, or a David Haye, who draw big crowds?
I'm one of the bright lights in the heavyweight division and I believe that. I'm the only, or at least one of the only fighters in the division who actually comes to fight. I come to entertain. I actually understand what I am. I am an entertainer. People pay to come watch my fights and come watch knockouts. People pay to watch a fight and not watch pitter-patter or two guys jab the crap out of each other.