LAST night in San Antonio, Texas, heavyweight contender Chris Arreola won a close, exciting 12-round decision over his former long-time sparring partner Travis Kauffman. Winning via split verdict, Arreola prevailed by scores of 114-113 twice, while the third judge had it 114-113 for Kauffman. The two are friends yet the friendship was put aside in favour of yesterday’s hostilities and the two big men put on a fan-friendly battle.

Arreola said pre-fight he needed to win to keep his world title dreams alive with a must-win showing and he dug deep to make it happen. Kauffman pushed Arreola hard all the way, though. Arreola, the older man by four years at age 34, had worked hard in the gym leading up to this fight, coming in at 236.5-pounds, his lightest weight in years. Kauffman weighed the same and the two began trading punches at the bell.

Arreola had the better start, winning the opening two sessions, but Kauffman scored a heavy knockdown in the third, when he went to Arreola’s body and then connected sharply upstairs, sending his rival down. Switching to the southpaw stance, the previously once-beaten hope from Pennsylvania surprised Arreola and his army of fans with his power (Arreola later stated how he didn‘t even know he was down at the time of the knockdown). The action continued and in the middle rounds the two men fought quite evenly. In the ninth, Kauffman hit Arreola low, causing a time-out. This rest appeared to rejuvenate Arreola, who came on and worked hard in winning the 10th and 11th. The 12th was wild, with the two warriors, close to exhaustion, swinging with all they had left. Kauffman again wobbled Arreola, yet the teak-tough Mexican/American snarled defiance. The two men embraced at the final bell and both felt they had won.

“I thought I had it won,” Arreola said post-fight. “I won the last four rounds. I put the work in. I knew I had to win. The last four rounds, I put in more work then he did, that’s what got me the win.”

In light of how hard, punishing and close the fight was, Kauffman felt he’d won:

“I was very surprised [by the decision],” Kauffman said. “If you hear it, the crowd is chanting for me, not Chris Arreola. I won over the whole Mexican crowd. He’s a Mexican fighter and I won over the whole crowd. I love Chris like a brother but I won the fight.”

Both men served up a slugfest that sent the fans home happy. Still, the verdict was debatable and fans will no doubt continue to argue over who deserved the win. Perhaps a rematch is a real possibility.

Arreola is now 37-4-1(31). Kauffman is now 30-2(22).