Arce camp convinced by fighter's renewed dedication

Jorge Arce was born and raised in Los Mochis, Mexico. He and his family didn't have much.

"When we were growing up, we were very poor," he said. "We had a hard time making ends meet and that's what made me hungry. That's what made me want to make something of myself."

Arce had done a fine job of that as he headed into perhaps the biggest fight of his career in April 2007 against countryman Cristian Mijares.

Arce, a former junior flyweight world champion, challenged Mijares for his super flyweight championship in San Antonio.

Arce said his mind was elsewhere. He lost to Mijares by six, eight and 10 points.

Judging by a conversation with Arce on Saturday from Aguascalientes, Mexico, it appears his head is back on straight. He will take on Devid Lookmahanak at Plaza Monumental in Aguascalientes on Saturday. The winner is expected to get a shot at the winner of the Mijares-Alexander Munoz title unification fight that same night in Durango, Mexico.

Arce is the No. 1 challenger to Mijares' belt. Lookmahanak is No. 3.

Arce, 28, is as animated as they come. He speaks with passion, and at a mile a minute. He was in rare form as he talked about the trials and tribulations of the past year.

At the root of his wandering mind, he said, was his fiancée, Karime.

Arce had gone through a messy divorce, and prior to meeting Karime, he surmised he would never again marry. However, as the fight with Mijares approached, Arce and Karime were planning to do just that.

"All I was thinking about at the time was getting married," Arce said. "That's all we wanted to do. I knew that if I beat Mijares, I had other fights coming up. In July, they had promised me [Martin] Castillo. In November, they were talking about [Vic] Darchinyan. And all I kept thinking about was, 'When am I going to get married?' Instead of thinking about when I win this fight what I'm going to do for my career, all I was thinking about was, 'Well, there's not going to be any time to get married.'"

Arce said he talked to a psychologist after the defeat.

"He said, 'You probably didn't put all your emphasis on your career. You were thinking of doing something else,'" Arce said. "Those things happen. You're not focused on what you're doing on that night. But now I'm totally focused. I got married, I have a kid. I'm ready to go."

Arce and Karime were married two months later, in June. A couple of months ago, Karime gave birth to their daughter, who's named after her mother. All is well.

"That loss to Mijares was really damaging to everything," said Arce, 2-0 with two knockouts since then. "My psyche was damaged. So I needed to get back to where it would be easier for me to work hard, to the level that I was once at. And that's what keeps me motivated. I know I have a daughter now. I think my life is right where it should be."

Trainer Javier Capetillo will be working his third fight with Arce (48-4-1, 37 KOs). He said he is convinced of Arce's renewed dedication.

"I really believe he's as hungry as he's ever been," Capetillo said. "I know how bad he wants a world title again. And if he met Mijares again, I think he'd be more than ready. And I think he'd knock him out. This is only my third fight with him, but I can see how much he wants this."

There is no guarantee Mijares is going to beat Munoz. Arce went so far as to say he has a feeling Munoz is going to win, and that he will be fighting Munoz next. But Arce won't get a chance to fight either of them if he gazes into the future and past Lookmahanak.

"No, no, to the contrary," Arce said. "I know how big these fights are. I know how important they are to where I want to go. And it shows because I've been working really hard. I'm only a pound over weight right now from where I should be on weight a week from today and that's never happened before."

Moreover, Arce said, he knows next to nothing about Lookmahanak (18-1, 9 KOs). In this case, he said, that's a good thing.

"I don't know what this guy is: A puncher? A boxer? I have no idea what he is," Arce said. "I don't know if he can take a punch, if he can't. It makes me work a lot harder because I don't want any surprises."

Arce suffered a disheartening loss to Michael Carbajal in July 1999. Arce was way ahead on points, then was shockingly stopped in the 11th round, losing his junior flyweight championship belt. He recovered nicely and three years later won another junior flyweight world title with a sixth-round stoppage of Yo-Sam Choi.

But eight years later, he was back at Heartbreak Hotel after his lopsided loss to Mijares.

It's a place Arce doesn't ever want to visit again. But it might be difficult to avoid. If he gets past Lookmahanak, a fight with Mijares or Munoz looms.

Arce has also been talking about a potential fight with Israel Vazquez, the terrific 122-pound champion from Los Angeles via Mexico City.

Since Arce had such a tough time matching up with a 115-pound champion in Mijares, it seems beating Vazquez would be an almost impossible task. But not to Arce.

"I think he's not much bigger than I am physically," said Arce, who, at 5-foot-6, is about an inch taller than Vazquez. "And I think that's why it will make a great fight. I think our styles will mesh."

Capetillo went a step further.

"Physically, I know he can make 122 and be real strong at [that weight]," Capetillo said of Arce. "The key to the whole thing is that Vazquez has been in a lot of wars. He's been in really tough fights and Arce hasn't. And I think that makes it about a 90 percent chance of winning the fight. I really do believe he can win it."

Vazquez's manager, Frank Espinoza, said Sunday that he is interested in a fight with Arce. But he scoffed at Capetillo's words.

"Trainers can say this, trainers can say that," Espinoza said. "But at the end of the day it's just those two guys fighting. I believe Israel would impose his strength. He is just the bigger guy."

Robert Morales covers boxing for the Long Beach Press-Telegram.