LOS ANGELES — On the wall, half a dozen posters featured Chris Arreola and the man he's going fight at the OC Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa on March 9. All the posters looked the same, yet none looked like what Arreola, at age 31, looks like.
He has hair now. He's in better shape. He means business, and he wore it underneath that suit he arrived in for his press conference on Wednesday.
The Arreola who came to promote his World Boxing Council heavyweight title elimination bout on HBO against Bermane Stiverne wasn't the Arreola on the posters.
Arreola, who is 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, even had to do a double take when he saw one of the posters. Missing were the tattoos he has on his chest and arms, and most importantly, a well-maintained body.
"They have so many new pictures of me and they put this guy in there [from like eight years ago]," said Arreola, who noticed a couple of important people in his life were cropped out of the photo, which appeared on the posters. "Dude, my wife's not in there. She should be somewhere over here, and then my friends over here."
Stiverne took their place on the posters, right next to Arreola.
While Arreola's wife, Lucy, and friends showed up to the press conference, Stiverne was a no-show. Arreola's promoter, Dan Goossen, said he was a little disappointed to get a call from Don King the night before about Stiverne not being able to make it.
Arreola didn't view it as a sign of disrespect.
"All I know that March 9 we're going to meet in the ring," said Arreola, who headlines a five-bout card. "I'm here … to make sure people know that I'm fighting again."
Arreola (35-2 with 30 knockouts) will fight for the first time in a little more than a year. He's excited about his return and how it can further his career.
His goal is to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion. A win by Arreola against Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 knockouts) and he might get a rematch with WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko, who handed Arreola his first loss on Sept. 26, 2009 at Staples Center.
It was a devastating setback, because he didn't get to finish the fight in his hometown. His corner stopped the fight after the 10th round, that's how bad of a beating Arreola suffered that night.
Nevertheless, that fight wasn't what woke Arreola up, and it wasn't his second loss, coming against Tomasz Adamek, seven months after losing to Klitschko.
What woke Arreola up was a 12-round fight against Manuel Quezada on Aug. 13, 2010.
"He should've lasted four rounds with me. No disrespect to him, because he's a tough guy," said Arreola, who won via unanimous decision. "He didn't belong in that ring with me. He shouldn't have gone 12 rounds [with me]. I shouldn't have broken my hands. I shouldn't have had two black eyes for fighting a guy like him.
"[I'm] sitting in my house [four months after the Quezada fight], and I'm looking at the wall. I'm like, 'What the [heck] happened to me this year?'"
What happened to Arreola is that he says he thought he was the next best thing since slice bread. He believed his own hype. It messed him up, making him believe he could win without taking care of himself and preparing for fights.
Now, Arreola says he's eating healthier, even cooking with his wife and not dining out as much, and he's working out six days a week.
Another thing he says he's working on is his mouth. He swears a lot, mixing in bad words in Spanish and English almost as much as he does punches in the ring.
He has always been brash, having grown up in East L.A. He's brutally honest. He rarely pulls punches.
As for where his next bout is taking place, inside the Hangar at the OC Fair and Event Center, he's not enthusiastic about it.
"I'm disappointed," said Arreola, adding that he has been to the OC Fair and seen fights in the Hangar. "I believe I belong in bigger venues than that. That's almost like having it in a parking lot. No offense to the venue. But c'mon, now. I belong in like, if not at Staples [Center], Nokia [Theater], or [in an] arena. I don't belong in a parking lot."
There had been talks of having the fight on a bigger stage, in December in Caracas, Venezuela, and then this month at USC's Galen Center, to accommodate more fans, but they fell through. Goossen said HBO loved the 2,000-seat Hangar after surveying it last week.
Roy Englebrecht, a Newport Beach-based promoter, hired by Goossen Tutor Promotions to sell the fight locally, said this will be the first HBO show out of Costa Mesa. Goossen said tickets will go on sale on Friday, starting at $250, $150 and $75 each.
The small site reminds Arreola of his early days, when he fought inside hotels.
"It is a place that you get your start [at]," Arreola said of the Hangar. "Look where I'm at now. I'm fighting [in an] eliminator. You might as well take me back to … Ontario at the DoubleTree."
He smiled when a reporter brought up the DoubleTree again.
The reporter then asked Arreola if Stiverne reminded him of any fighters he has fought.
The answer was no, but he went on to compare Stiverne to the reporter.
"He's a little shorter, compact, kind of like you," said Arreola, who pointed at the reporter, who on his best days is 5-10, four inches shorter than Stiverne. "I've never faced someone like him, with his hand speed and his power. He does have one punch to change the fight.
"He wants to make history for himself also. Him being Haitian, he wants to be the first Haitian heavyweight champion."
Arreola will turn 32 four days before the fight. He says he plans to celebrate his birthday after he knocks out Stiverne. A picture of that might make for a good poster.
Twitter: @DCPenalozaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times