Henry Ramirez and Ronnie Shields Join Forces to Wake up “The Nightmare”
By Gabriel Montoya, from Maxboxing.com (Jan 9, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing
This past week marked a new beginning in the life and career of heavyweight contender Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola, whose struggles with weight and lackluster training habits have been well documented over the years. Arreola was once thought to be the top candidate to become the first Mexican heavyweight champion. With speed, power and unusual punch output for a man his size to go along with the backing of uber-adviser Al Haymon, the sky appeared to be the limit for the loquacious Arreola, who is as quick with a quip as he is with his fists. But somewhere along the way, Arreola lost his motivation to train like a future champion. Fight after fight, his weight ballooned along with his HBO paychecks, peaking at 263 pounds against Brian Minto just about a year after weighing 239 in a dominant win over Chazz Witherspoon. Longtime trainer Henry Ramirez tried everything to motivate Arreola, from hiring a conditioning coach to changing training camp locations. Nothing seemed to work. Now, just three weeks out from a fight with Joey Abell on ESPN2 on January 28 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA, Ramirez has employed the services of veteran trainer Ronnie Shields, who has trained Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker and Mike Tyson and currently trains Erislandy Lara, Juan Diaz and Guillermo Rigondeaux out of Savannah’s Gym in Houston, Texas. The hope is that the change will shake Arreola out of his funk and comfort zone, bringing out the potential that still lurks inside him.

“I don’t know if Chris had hit a wall but it was the same thing, Chris not showing up to the gym regularly,” Ramirez (who has been with Arreola for nine years) told Maxboxing.com this past week. “At that point, it was something that Chris brought up. It was something Chris brought up and, to be honest, I thought, ‘Great. It was something I was thinking about already. We had gone to Big Bear for the [Travis] Walker fight. We went to the valley for the [Vitali] Klitschko fight and we had hired [strength coach] Darryl Hudson. This was something we had to do, bringing in someone to take over duties. At the very least, we will know that we left no stone unturned and we did everything we could to get him to be successful.”

Ramirez said that they had thought about other trainers with Shields being at the top of the list. But both understand that for any change to work, it would have to come from within, first and foremost.

“We had kicked around a few names,” said Ramirez, who thought about the idea of Freddie Roach, among others. “But I told Chris, ‘Look, no matter where we end up, you’ve got to put the work in. I don’t want to drop our problems in somebody else’s lap and do the same crap. We’ll see how it works out.’”

Shields, who trained Tomasz Adamek to beat Arreola via unanimous decision last April, has long been an admirer of Arreola since his days as a celebrated amateur and jumped at the chance to work with him and Ramirez.

“I followed Chris a little bit when he was in the amateurs,” Shields told Maxboxing.com. “Then I saw him when he first turned pro. I paid a lot of attention to him. I thought there was no reason that this kid couldn’t be heavyweight champion of the world. He’s strong; he’s very athletic and he throws a lot of punches for a heavyweight. I said, ’Man, this kid is going to be something else.’ But then as I lost track of him, he never materialized to be everything I thought he could’ve been. But then I started seeing him and I could see he was heavier. He had gotten heavy and he seemed like he lost some of his speed but I still saw the potential. He has a great jab when he uses it. And then he has punching power. With all that, there is no reason why this guy shouldn’t be heavyweight champ of the world. The only reason is that is because of himself, you know?”

Arreola and I spoke at length before his last fight with Manny Quezada back in August about what we both describe as a fear of success. Arreola said that he was worried about giving his best and it not being enough. While Shields, who has only worked with Arreola for a week at press time, was not sure the exact cause of the problem, he did get a chance to speak with Arreola about the root of his issue.

“I pulled him aside when he first came here,” said Shields. “I just wanted to hear from his own perspective why he hadn’t succeeded. The first thing he said was, ‘I’m my own worst enemy.’ I asked him why. He didn’t really know. He said, ‘I don’t know, man. I guess I’m lazy.’ I said that’s not a reason. That is not even an excuse. So I talked to him about his family, his wife and daughter. I told him, ‘You have to get to the point where you realize it’s not about you. That’s your family. It’s part of the deal to say, ‘OK. I have to take care of my responsibility. It’s up to you. You are the sole provider. As the sole provider, it isn’t about you. It’s about using all the potential that you have in that ring. I told him, ‘You have to look within yourself for those answers. You can’t look for nobody else to give you those answers. Just like you say you are your own worst enemy, you can be the best that you can possibly be because all of the potential is there.’ We talked for a while and I think he got that all he has to do is put himself out there and train hard, pay attention to what we are doing in the gym, listen, learn and try different things. And I think he will get it.”

The first thing Shields did with Arreola is to change his training habits. Before, they were all designed by Arreola to benefit him. He picked how he would train and when it seemed best. Even if there was a plan in place, his comfort with Ramirez seemed to allow him to do as he pleased more and more. All that has changed now that he is in Houston, away from any distractions. His sole transport is a rental car Ramirez has the keys to. In the gym where Shields is now handling head trainer duties, while Ramirez happily is stepping into the role of second assist, everything is Ronnie’s way or the highway.

“We had to change things that he had done for years,” explained Shields. “The first thing I asked him is, ‘What time do you train?’ He said, ‘Anywhere between 5:30 and 6.’ I said, ‘OK, that’s too late.’ I asked about his conditioning. ‘Well, maybe between 12 and 1 or maybe after I finish doing my boxing.’ ‘Well, that’s too late.’ Now he does his training between 6 and 7 AM. Then he does the training with me at 1. I told him it’s designed for you to rest because you know you have to get up early the next morning. Your body has to get adjusted to that. But the way you’re doing it is a comfort zone for yourself. You have to get out of the comfort zone. You have to put yourself in another condition. Now you have to change everything. The way you eat, sleep, all of your habits because this is what your body needs. So far, nobody thought he was going to get up this morning but he did. He did all his conditioning and went to eat breakfast and rested. Then he came back to the gym actually early. I told him, ‘Now was that hard to do?’ He said, “Yeah. It was hard.’ But I told him, ‘Yes, but you did it. Now don’t you think you can do it again tomorrow?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I can do it. I can try.’ That’s all I asked him is to try so we will see what happens.”

Beyond changing when he trains, there is much to clean up, technique-wise, with Arreola. He has heavy hands, likes throwing combinations but lacks conditioning and, most importantly, basic techniques that leave him open to counter attacks with little room to accurately follow up with punches.

“I told him, ‘When you throw your right hand, your whole body goes with it,” explained Shields. “There is no way you can come back with a second punch because your balance is so bad because he is trying to kill you with on punch. Now if he hits you with that punch, he will do some damage. But if he misses, he is going to be wide open for somebody to hit him or possibly knock him down because of his balance. So right now, we are working on balance and we are working on throwing the right hand so he is not putting all his weight on the one spot. What I mean by that is he lunges when he throws the right hand. When he throws a straight one-two, he lunges with it…a lot. That’s what I told Tomasz. Let him throw the right hand. We want him to throw the right hand because he can’t come back with anything because he won’t have any balance. So I told him that as soon as he sees him throw the right hand, step to the left and get out of there because he will never be able to catch up with you. And that is exactly what we did. Along with the side-to-side movement, he kept Chris off balance because he has no balance.”

One aspect of Arreola’s game that went away as his weight increased is head movement. Technique always suffers when a fighter gets tired and with Arreola, that seems to be in rounds three through four. To start, his head moves well but after a while, it disappears. Shields hopes to bring it back with conditioning and solid game planning; fighting smarter saves a lot of things, energy not the least of them.

“That was one of the things me and Henry talked about,” said Shields. “I said, ‘Man, what happened to your head movement?’ He said, ‘Ronnie, I worked with him on it but once he gets tired, everything goes out the window.’ So I told them, ‘First of all, we have to establish a plan. First thing we are going to do is we are going to jab. We will set up everything behind the jab. When we throw the right hand, just throw it fast. Don’t try and knock him out with it because that is going to be hard enough. Throw it with good balance and you hit anybody. You are going to hurt them and possibly just knock them out. So we are working on that and spreading his feet. Just a little bit. Not wide but Chris’ right foot is so far behind him, it is the reason he is lunging so much. So now I got him picking that foot up and stepping up with it and then throwing that right hand. We worked on that for like ten rounds today. It’s coming.”

With only three weeks to work Arreola over, the task in front of Shields is not an easy one. He told me it generally takes three fights to instill new techniques in a fighter but that the progress they make in camp should show in spots.

“Do I expect him to be the old Chris when he fights? Yes, that is what I expect because I only have three weeks,” said Shields. “It is going to take time but I think you will see some of the balance is going to be good because I am going to keep working on it every single day. I’m working him hard. He is willing to do it and he wants to do it. It’s not too late for Chris because he is only 29 years old. He has never really been beat up in a fight. So you know what? If his mind is together and if he says, ‘F’ it. I am going to do it,’ he has an opportunity to go a long way in boxing.”

So how long will this new partnership last? Like most things, the answer is based in success. Should Shields’ techniques be successfully implemented and all goes well for Arreola, then expect another camp in Houston for “The Nightmare.”

“It will be contingent on our comfort level going forward,” said Ramirez. “Ronnie is a good guy and we have an open line of communication. He is a veteran trainer. I think it is something that is going to work for this fight and future fights. But we will take it fight by fight. No matter what we do, the change is going to have to come from Chris because I have always put 100% into this.”

Duddy vs. Lee on HBO…

I spoke with Lou DiBella on Saturday and he told me in plain words that the reason John Duddy vs. Andy Lee is the co-feature on the March 12th Sergio Martinez vs. Sergiy Dzinziruk card at Foxwoods is because the fight is an all-Irish affair between two East Coast draws on a date near St. Patrick’s Day. Hard to argue the logic. Mr. DiBella has to sell tickets and HBO only seemed to want Dzindiruk as an opponent, though he is not a draw in the US. Something had to be done. I have zero problems with a promoter putting regional draws on a fight card. In fact, I encourage it.

My issue is not with DiBella but rather HBO paying for two fighters who are not what we’d call HBO-level guys. Lee was last seen on US TV on ESPN2 getting beaten by Brian Vera in a very exciting fight. Since then, he has rattled off nine wins. From what I have seen, he has improved. I suppose my issue is that I can’t figure out what makes up the criteria for an HBO-level fighter. They seemed to shoot down Andy Lee as a potential fight for Martinez while allowing Andre Berto to take on Freddy Hernandez. They forced Martinez’s and DiBella’s hands by having Martinez face a tough 154-pound fighter with a ton of skill, though not exactly exciting, yet they seem to coddle Berto every chance they get and pay him $900,000 to face Hernandez (who lasted all of nine punches). And they wouldn’t pay Alfredo Angulo more than $750,000 to face Sergio Martinez? I’m just not following the logic.

At the end of the day, Duddy vs. Lee is guaranteed action and makes going back east again this year in my birthday month not very hard to do. I like Martinez vs. Dzinziruk as a fight. I may be alone but Dzinziruk is a guy I have followed for some time and I believe he will not be easy pickings for “Maravilla.”

Pirog on HBO?...

In speaking with Artie Pellulo this week, he again told me that WBO middleweight titleholder Dmitry Pirog is looking at taking on his mandatory challenger, Gennady Martirosyan, in April or May in Tianjin, China. The fight will be possibly be broadcast on ESPN and in about 50 other countries. By the end of the year, Pellulo hopes to have Pirog on HBO in a significant fight. Here is hoping we get another glimpse of this fighter, who many fans have been asking about.

You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him on each Monday’s episode of “The Next Round” with Steve Kim or tune into hear him live on Thursdays at 5-8 PM PST when he co-hosts the BlogTalk radio show Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com. Gabriel is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.

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