Los Angeles, CA (April 21, 2010) – Boxing historian Bill O’Neill has seen a lot of great fighters come through Riverside and San Bernardino counties, an area known as the Inland Empire. But few have impressed him more than his favorite current fighter: Cristobal Arreola.
“I love Chris and go over to Indian Willie Schunke’s gym every few weeks to watch him train,” says O’Neill, a former amateur champion, sportswriter and President of the World Boxing Hall of Fame. “I think he has the ability to be world champion someday. It was an unfortunate loss against Klitschko but he’s beaten everybody else. A lot of people don’t realize that Chris was the national Golden Gloves light heavyweight champion at 16 years old. He kind of lost interest in boxing for a couple of years, but he’s got it back now.”
The heavyweight sensation Arreola hopes to put on a show for his growing legion of Inland Empire fans come April 24 when the Riverside resident climbs into the ring against IBF International Heavyweight Champion Tomasz “Goral” Adamek of Jersey City, NJ by way of Zywiec, Poland in a 12-round battle at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, Calif.
Tickets for this “RING OF FIRE” boxing card presented by Goossen Tutor Promotions and Main Events in association with Ziggy Promotions and sponsored by San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino are currently on sale.
O’Neill says you can’t talk about the history of Inland Empire boxing without referencing former featherweight world champion Albert “Chalky” Wright, who was born in
Mexico but whose family settled in San Bernardino shortly after. He fought from 1928 to 1948.
“He was very good and had a brother that was also very good, Earl Wright,” O’Neill says. “He lost his featherweight title to the great Willie Pep.” Wright, whose family still lives in San Bernardino, later went on to become a chauffeur and bodyguard for Mae West.
He died in 1957 at the age of 45 after slipping in his bathtub and drowning. “He died very mysteriously,” O’Neill says. “There were a lot of questions as to how he died for sure.”
David Avila covers boxing in the Inland Empire for the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Avila noted that one of boxing’s greatest fighters of all time, Henry Armstrong, fought several times in San Bernardino before moving on to bigger venues in Los Angeles. Armstrong not only was a member of the exclusive group of fighters that have won boxing championships in three or more different divisions (at a time when there were fewer weight divisions than today), but also has the distinction of being the only boxer to hold three world championships at the same time. He also defended the welterweight championship more times than any other fighter.
Avila also noted that another great area fighter was Manuel Ortiz, who was born in Corona, a city that borders Riverside. Ortiz, who fought from the 1930s to the 1950s, held the record for most title defenses as a bantamweight world champion. “Many experts say that Ortiz was one of the greatest fighters in history, but he fought at bantamweight and seldom got recognition,” Avila says. “Isaiah Zamudios, who fought out of Blythe, was another very good fighter who was a title challenger for many years.”
And of course you can’t speak of boxing in the Inland Empire without mentioning the great “Sugar” Shane Mosley, the pride of Pomona. Mosley still lives in the Inland Empire residing in Big Bear Lake.
“The Inland Empire has had a lot of success in boxing but I see it really ready to explode,” Avila says. “It’s the hottest area around right now with a lot of young prospects. Mainly I think it’s because there’s nothing to do out here.”
Avila said there are more than 30 gyms in the Inland Empire. “That rivals Los Angeles and we’re obviously a way smaller area,” he said. “There will be a lot of good boxer coming out of this area in the near future.”