Wednesday January 26th, 2011

The alarm goes off at 8 a.m., a dull buzzing that rips Chris Arreola out of a deep sleep. In the past, Arreola would just roll over. Training, you see, has never been his thing. Sure, Arreola loved to fight, but the prospect of a three-mile jog or a two-mile swim was reason enough to hit the snooze.

Arreola isn't doing that anymore. He's in Houston now, and that simply won't fly. These days Arreola drags himself out of his motel bed when the alarm goes off. He dresses and goes to meet his longtime trainer, Henry Ramirez, and new strength and conditioning coach, Brian Caldwell, who puts Arreola through drills that include swimming, plyometrics and, yes, jogging.

He's allowed a nap when the workout is finished, but only until 12:30, when Arreola's head trainer, Ronnie Shields, is ready to work. For about two hours a day Shields pounds on Arreola, building up his stamina on the mitts while simultaneously refining his technique. When they are finished, there is Caldwell, waiting to end Arreola's day with a 30-minute climb on the StairMaster.

"It's definitely different," Arreola told SI.com during a break in preparation for his heavyweight fight against Joey Abell on Friday at the Pechanga Resort & Casino in Temecula, Calif. (ESPN2, 6 p.m.). "In the past, if I was kind of tired when I woke up, I wouldn't go to the gym. I'd sleep. I'd go to my friend's house. I'd go get an oil change instead of going to the gym."

Indeed, the once-promising Arreola needed a change after falling on hard times. In 2009, he lost in his first attempt to win a world title when Vitali Klitschko destroyed him in 10 lopsided rounds. Arreola rebounded with a knockout win over Brian Minto three months later but suffered another setback last April, when Tomasz Adamek handed him his second loss in a majority decision.

"That one killed me because it was my fault I lost," Arreola said. "Take nothing away from Adamek, but I think if I trained the way I was supposed to, I would have won."

That's the thing, though: Arreola has never trained the way he was supposed to. His flabby love handles and jiggly midsection more resemble the physique of a middle-aged office worker than an elite athlete. For years, Arreola (29-2) got by on a combination of natural talent and lousy opponents. He gorged in between training sessions ("I love food," Arreola said) and washed down meals with a cold beer.

"I was just content with being me," Arreola said. "I was happy with myself as a fighter."

Last month, however, that feeling changed. Over the holidays, Arreola began to reflect on his career. And he didn't like what he saw.

"It was an extremely humbling time," Arreola said. "I did a lot of soul searching. Last year was the worst year of my boxing career. And it was all my fault. I shot myself in the foot."

To make the necessary changes, Arreola knew he needed some help. Ramirez is more than a trainer to Arreola. He's a brother, a friend. But Arreola understood that to reignite his career he needed another voice, a more experienced voice in his corner.

"I needed a world-class trainer," Arreola said. "Not that Henry isn't, but I needed someone with the experience of being in world title fights. I needed someone who is a good motivator and who knows the little things in boxing."

Enter Shields, whose credentials as a trainer have been built over more than two decades of working with stars like Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Vernon Forrest and Arturo Gatti. Shields was well versed on Arreola -- he trained Adamek to beat him -- and was eager for the chance to work with him.

"I remember watching him in the amateurs and saying, 'This guy is going to be the champion of the world,' " Shields said. "Chris is such a good fighter, I thought I could bring something that could make him better."

Training Adamek had made Shields keenly aware of Arreola's flaws.

"He has the worst balance of any fighter I've ever seen," Shields said. "He's so off balance with his shots. He leans way over and tries to put all his weight behind one punch."

To correct the mistakes, Shields has forced Arreola to go back to basics. Throw the jab. Move your head. Throw punches in combinations.

"He knows all his problems," Shields said. "When Henry and I first sat down to talk, he told me, 'I've talked to him about this stuff, he just won't listen.' But the thing is, all his mistakes are correctable. We just have to make sure no matter how many times he does something, he does it the right way."

None of that matters, of course, if Arreola is out of shape. But Shields says Arreola has not shown a trace of the laziness for which he has become known. Shields says Arreola missed one day of training in the three weeks they have been together and made up for it by doing a double workout the next day. He says he isn't worried about Arreola's weight -- it's 250, by the way -- but about what kind of condition he is in at that weight.

"It's about being in condition to go 12 rounds in a fight," Shields said. "He's very athletic, very talented. He should be throwing a lot of punches. He has fast hands for a big guy. He's got that good, stiff jab that will bust a lot of people up. If we can get him in the 50-60 punches per round range, he's going to be tough for a lot of heavyweights to deal with."

Arreola and Shields will have their first fight together Friday. Shields doesn't expect Arreola to be perfect against Abell (27-4). In fact, he expects him to make mistakes.

"It's not going to happen overnight," Shields said. "In this fight, there are going to be times when he is going to revert back to what makes him feel comfortable. He just has to concentrate and keep working to correct his mistakes.

"He had a great day of sparring on Saturday, his best day yet. He had a good punch output. He didn't get tired. When he was done he said to me, 'Now if I can just fight like that.' He can. I know he is capable of it."

Arreola knows he has a lot to prove. New trainer, new coaches, same old fighter, people will say. He understands the skepticism. He just wants a chance to show he is serious about the sport.

"I have to show the people I mean what I say," Arreola said. "Redemption, that's my main thing. I want to show everybody that I'm not just a great fighter but that I'm becoming a man and being accountable for everything. I want to make sure this year I put a big dent on the boxing world."

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