Saturday, December 10, 2011

More Arces Please

A few years ago, there were many reasons to believe that Jorge Arce's career was winding down. In 2007 he was dominated by the slickster, Cristian Mijares. Two years later, he lost resoundingly to Vic Darchinyan and Simphiwe Nongqayi. At that point, Arce was an old 30; he had turned professional at 16 and had fought 59 matches. Arce had been a pro for so long that he actually faced Hall of Famer Michael "Little Hands of Stone" Carbajal in Carbajal's last fight. (Carbajal had started his career in 1989!)

Mijares and Darchinyan were both pound-for-pound level fighters and as much as there was to admire about Arce's fighting style and spirit, it's clear that he was a cut below those champions. If Arce would have retired in 2009, he would have left the sport as a two-time junior flyweight champion and an interim beltholder at flyweight and junior bantamweight. What was left for Arce to accomplish?

Yet Arce continued to fight on. Widely popular in his native Mexico (he appeared on the Mexican version of "Big Brother"), Arce was seen as a cash cow. He drew good TV ratings and helped fill stadiums and bull rings. But something strange started to happen in his twilight years; he beat very good opponents. In 2010, he knocked out former champion Martin Castillo. Earlier this year, he stopped Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. to pick up a junior featherweight title. Also this year, he avenged two negative marks on his record. He knocked out Nongqayi in a rematch and, after dropping back down to bantamweight, he beat Angky Angkota to win another title (they had drawn in early 2010). Somehow, at an age where many fighters in the smaller weights start to fade away, Arce strung together one of his most impressive years as a professional.

Arce exemplifies the fighting spirit. He stays active, fights good opponents, creates excitement in and out of the ring and always gives his best effort. Even though he is on the championship level, he fights three, if not four, times a year. By my count, he has faced at least 13 former and future champions. In addition, like a real pro, he hasn't remained in the cozy comforts of his home country, but has fought around the world, including stops in the U.S. (15 times), South Korea and Italy.

Like many Mexican fighters, Arce was thrown to the wolves to start his career. By his sixth fight, he had already lost once (by a first-round knockout) and had a draw. But he got better. At just 18, he fought a former title contender. In 1999, at the age of 19, he won his first belt. By 20, he faced the legend Carbajal. Arce was stopped in the 11th round but he wasn't dissuaded by the loss.

He went back to work and rolled up 26 consecutive victories. He regained his junior flyweight title and won an interim title at flyweight. By the time he faced Mijares in 2007, he had become quite an attraction and won countless fans with his all-action style. Arce's cult had grown and he started to attract significant attention from U.S. television networks. 

Because of his hard work, high-activity level, entertaining style in and out of the ring and sizzling knockouts, Arce amassed legions of fans on both sides of the Rio Grande. He headlined shows on HBO, fought on Showtime and became one of Top Rank's key fighters to help round out their mega-fight undercards. He most recently appeared in this capacity as the chief support of Pacquiao-Mosley.

As a headliner, Arce's fights are events. Whether entering the ring on a horse, being accompanied by a mariachi band or serenading the crowd, Arce's bouts remind promoters and audiences that boxing is entertainment. It's allowed to be fun.

In the ring, Arce delivers as well. Like many Mexican boxers, he is a pressure fighter, but he also has real KO power. He loves combination punching and moving his hands.  His money punch is his straight right hand, although he also has a good left hook and a right uppercut. Even at 32, Arce still fights with the energy of a teenager and always looks for the knockout to excite the crowd.

In truth, Arce never ranked high on boxing's pound-for-pound list. He benefited from an era of four different sanctioning bodies, each with their own title belts. Above light flyweight, he won his titles and interim belts most often through vacancies (the Vazquez Jr. fight was a notable exception). He lost to his three best opponents of his career (Carbajal, Mijares and Darchinyan) and was never an undisputed champion of a division. 

However, these are small gripes. He has provided boxing fans with many pleasurable Saturday nights and lasting memories. He may not be as talented as Mexican legend Ricardo Lopez, but so what; how many boxers are? Throughout his career, Arce has fought to the best of his capabilities and entertained crowds.

As Arce has picked up two more titles in 2012, he will have an interesting Hall of Fame case to make. Never thought of as an elite boxer, nevertheless, he has been a great champion and represents the best of prizefighting. There are boxers far worse than Arce who have been enshrined in Canastota.

Ultimately, if a dozen more boxers had Arce's fighting spirit and will to entertain, the sport would be in much stronger shape.

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