How Does It Feel To Be A Champ, McWilliams Arroyo?



How Does It Feel To Be A Champ, McWilliams Arroyo?

On February 27th, 2021, McWilliams Arroyo (21-4, 16KOs) finally captured a world title when he defeated Abraham Rodriguez (27-3, 13KOs) for the WBC Interim Fly Weight World Title.

I recently  sat down with Arroyo and talked to him about his recent win. We discussed his world title fight, the many obstacles he’s had to face, including the two world title fight withdrawals  from flyweight champion Julio Caesar Martinez, and what’s it in the immediate future for team Arroyo.

Please enjoy this Q & A with the 35-year-old native of Puerto Rico.

JR: First, let me start off by congratulating you on becoming the new WBC Fly Weight world champion; how does it feel?

MA:  It feels good. It has been an extensive and difficult career, and we are happy to finally reap the benefits of all our hard work.

JR: I'm glad you mentioned that, we will talk about your championship fight, but first, I want to highlight your road to the title because, as you mentioned, it hasn't been an easy one. But before we get to that part of your career, can you briefly describe your beginnings in boxing to the public?

MA: My favorite sport before I got introduced to boxing was basketball. I always joke with folks and say, “I was going to be a great basketball player because of my considerable stature!” When I was playing basketball, the coach was always absent. My parents used to take us to the basketball clinics, but it was a hit and miss because the coach would show up one weekend and not the next. This really upset my parents, and they felt like he was wasting our time. In one of our trips to the basketball clinic, we noticed that John-John Molina (former three-time world champion) was training at the same gym.  The name of the gym was Fito Ramos. I still train there. My parents look over and say to me, “Hey, let's go meet John-John Molina.” As we were making our way to meet him, we noticed that they were kids within my age group practicing boxing. Once my brothers and I saw that we got excited. My father asked us if we wanted to try it, and we excitedly said “yes.” I remember it like it was yesterday, the date was October 22, 1997, and the rest is history. We fell in love with boxing, and it became our favorite sport.

JR: Your professional career started in 2010

**The champ smiles and excitedly interrupts me in the middle of my question and points out the following. **

MA:  Yes, my professional debut was February 27, 2010, and I won my title on February 27, 2021. Exactly 11 years from my first professional fight.

JR: Thank you for pointing that out, champ. We can truly say that your career has come full circle. I want to talk about certain points of your professional career. As you mentioned earlier, your journey to becoming a world champion hasn't been easy. Your first fight for a world title was September 10th, 2014, against Amnat Ruenroeng. You had to travel to Thailand, his home country. You lost a close split decision fight that many argue you won. Did you feel like you lost that fight because you were fighting in his backyard?

MA: Everybody tells me I was the champ but without the title (In other words, many people have told him he won this fight). Those are things that I have left in the past, and I accept all the decisions. We keep moving forward. We are here today and in the best of health which the most important thing.

JR: Before we keep talking about your road to the title if you had to pick two words to describe this major achievement, what would those two words be?

MA: The two words would be “Thank God. I want to tell you how important it was for me to win this title. It was important for me because next to the great Wilfredo Gomez, I’m the only one to tie him with six amateur world championships. We are the only boxers in the history of Puerto Rico to achieve this feat. I wanted this title badly, and now that we've won, we can align ourselves with the great champions of Puerto Rico along with my twin brother McJoe Arroyo.  

JR: During your career, you had a series of long breaks in between fights. The longest being 16 months. What was the reason for such a long layoff?

MA: I personally didn’t take those long breaks. People call me a gym rat because I’m always in the gym training. They were circumstances beyond my control that involved the promotion company, and they wouldn’t get me fights. I’m not going to comment on those details right now. Right now, I'm under a new promotion company and pleased with them. As I said, those were circumstances beyond my control. Like I tell people, my job is to train and be ready to fight. Covid also had a lot to do with the long wait in between fights. Covid was the main reason for the most recent layoff, which was fourteen months. Again, I am pleased with this promotion company. From day one, they laid out a plan, stuck to it, and now we are reaping the fruits of our labor.

JR: Coming off one of those long layoffs, you are given a second shot at a world title against Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez. How did you feel for that fight, given the layoff?

MA: I felt fine. I feel like I fought a good fight. He beat me. He had a lot more experience than I had. At the time, he was categorized as the number one pound-for-pound fighter. As a matter of fact, his knockout streak at 112lbs. ended when he fought me. I remember after the fight, I looked him in the eyes and said to him, “this Puerto Rican made it difficult for you; you couldn't knock me out like you said you would.”

JR: In a stream of bad luck that your career has been subject to, during that fight, the sole of your boxing shoe falls off during the fourth round, correct?

MA: Yes, I remember. Chocolatito looked at the mat, and when he looked up, he had a look to his face that said, “no way, this can't be!” He quickly attacks, and I grabbed him. The referee grabbed the sole, and instead of holding on to it, he threw it out of the ring. The bell rang, and the ref came to my corner and asked, “Hey, do you have another pair of shoes.” I'm laughing because who in the world does that happen to? That had never happened to me in my life. Up to that point, I had only used that shoe in one other fight. And not for very long because I knocked my opponent out in the second round. I used them to train, to spar. I really don't understand why that happened. That happened in the fourth round. For the remainder of the fight, I practically fought with a shoe on one foot and a sock on another. I was off-leveled because one foot was higher than the other. You've ever tried walking with one only one shoe on? It isn't pleasant. Can you imagine fighting that way?

JR: That’s why I want to highlight the obstacles you have faced to get to this point. That way, the public has an understanding that it hasn't been an easy road for you on the way to win this title.  Time passes, and you continue your journey. The opportunity for a third-world title shot is given to you against Julio Cesar Martinez. That fight was supposed to happen in August 2020. He withdraws from the fight citing an illness. The fight gets rescheduled for February 27th, 2020. And in the continued stream of bad luck that seems to follow your career, he withdraws for the second fight, now citing a hand injury 48 hours before the fight was supposed to take place. I’m following the timeline correctly?

MA: Yes, that is true. I mean, just a day before the weigh-in during the faceoff, I didn't have any knowledge of him suffering an injury. We absolutely had no idea.

JR: They offer you a fight with Abraham Rodriguez with about 48 hours to fight day. He was a formidable opponent with a decent record. He also had experience fighting for a world title. How was your team able to find a formidable opponent in such a short turnaround?

MA: He was a fighter that had been training and waiting for an opportunity. There are many fighters like that. These are things that happen. I am truly grateful for my promotion company and the WBC. I asked the WBC to look into the matter and take the necessary action. They did, and thank God, they honored the fight as a world title fight and blessed me with the opportunity to fight for it. We have been working so hard, and had waited for this fight for fourteen months. The president of the WBC said that I deserved this opportunity.

JR: What was your mentality before the fight? With Martinez announcing that he withdrew and now having to face a new opponent that you haven't prepared a fight plan for, what was your mental state going into the ring?

MA: I thought I wasn't going to fight. We had made weight that Wednesday and the weigh-in was on Friday. I said to myself, “Well, I might as well eat.” The promotion company told me to hold off and maintain the weight that I would likely fight. The next day they confirmed that I would fight, I woke up made weight, and the rest is history. Everything changed, but I didn't focus on the changes. My amateur experience prepared me for situations like this. In the amateurs, you really don't know who you're going to fight until the day of the fight. That experience helped me be mentally prepared for the change of my opponent. So, I just had to get in the ring and make adjustments against a new rival during the fight.

JR: How were you received by the public when you returned to Puerto Rico?

MA: The reception was small at the airport. Just a small group of family and friends because of the Covid restrictions, but it was beautiful because those are the people most important to me. The group also included the Mayor of my city, the Commissioner of amateur boxing, and the Secretaries of San Juan and Fajardo's sporting counsel. After a week had passed, Fajardo's people surprised me with a celebratory caravan throughout the whole city. It was beautiful, and it allowed me to thank and acknowledge all the fans and the people who support me.

JR: The celebration was short-lived because not very long after your fight, you were back doing roadwork and training.

MA: Exactly, I want to be ready for the next opponent. If it's against Martinez or whomever, I want to be ready. My job is to be ready for whenever they tell me I have to fight. 

JR: During this long, arduous journey towards a world title that has been paved with many obstacles. At any time did you say to yourself, it's just not in the books for me to be a world champion? Did you ever get discouraged and want to quit?

MA: When the pandemic happened, I thought to myself, boxing is over for me. I thought that this was going to affect things for a long time. When I saw that fights were starting to get signed and that I would be fighting for a world title in August, I was happy because I can continue with my career. And when Martinez withdraws from the fight first fight, I said to myself, “this is incredible; this can't be happening.” And then imagine how I felt when Martinez withdraws from the fight a second time. I'm in the hotel thinking a million things. I hardly slept thinking about things. But things worked out, and we were able to fight.

JR: What is your greatest motivation? What fuels your passion to continue training and fighting?

MA: It's the love that I have for boxing. I really love this sport. When I retire, it's going to be a part of my life that I am really going to miss. I know when I retire, I'm going to work in boxing in some capacity. I'm going to continue to train because it a lifestyle. It's a healthy lifestyle. I want to take this opportunity to let people know if they want to stay in shape, one of the best ways to do it is to pick up boxing.

JR: How has your life changed since becoming a world champion?

MA: My life is still normal. I won, and now that's in the past. I stand with my feet rooted on solid ground. I'm no longer a child; I'm a family man, and life continues. My only focus is to work towards keeping my title, win three or four my times and do the best to provide for my family. Maybe it has changed, but I don't notice it; I'm still the same person.

JR: I noticed you visited a gym the other day. What did you say to the kids?

MA: It was a motivational talk. My pastor invited me. I talked about my boxing experiences, the hard journey, and I thanked my parents for their support. And I mentioned that because the majority of boxers do not have the support of their parents. Many of them achieve their goals without their parents' support, but both my parents blessed me and supported me even to this day.

JR: How does the rest of 2021 look for team McWilliams Arroyo?

MA: We hope to stay active. We look to fight this summer and continue to train and stay active.

JR: For those boxers that find themselves in similar situations  in which you found yourself during your career and for one reason or another, they have yet to win or fight for a world title. What advice would you give them?

MA: Whether they have encountered the same circumstances that I have encountered or not, because I believe that the things that happened to me don’t usually happen to other fighters. I would tell them to keep fighting. Not only to boxers, but to all athletes and people of other professions. If you’re studying in the medical field, writersartists, keep fighting. The sky is the limit. Set goals for yourself, seek God's help and obey your parents or guardians. Take advantage of your youth, and do things right. Stay away from the streets; there is nothing to gain out there. If you want to achieve something you desire, you have to work hard for it.

My Take: If you ask most professional fighters what their ultimate goal is, many of them instinctively, without hesitation, will answer to become a world champion. Even those with losing records will more than likely give you the same answer. Boxing is a sport that the road to greatness is paved with obstacles inside the ring and outside the ring. One may argue that the obstacles outside the ring are usually the most arduous and difficult for a boxer to overcome. McWilliams Arroyo is a tough, talented fighter who has had to overcome many obstacles outside the ring to achieve his dream of being a world champion. He’s battled long layoffs, opponents canceling world title fights, a pandemic, and the one-in-a-lifetime mishap of a broken shoe during a world title fight. McWilliams Arroyo had to embody all of a warrior's attributes both in the ring and outside the ring. His talents may have placed him in a position to challenge for and ultimately win a world title. But it was his resilience, mental fortitude, and no-quit attitude in the face of adversity that fueled his passion on the long rigorous road of boxing’s most desired destination, becoming a world champion.