By Gavan Casey
RETURN TO GLORY
Heavyweight championship boxing returns to the MGM Grand of Las Vegas on Saturday night, as WBC champion Bermane Stiverne makes the first defence of his title against Deontay Wilder. But can the winner of this hotly anticipated contest satisfy the cravings of the heavyweight-hungry American boxing public, who have been starved of a sustained Stateside presence in boxing’s most coveted division for almost 20 years?
No. But they’ll die trying.
While it’s blatantly apparent that the now seemingly indomitable Wladimir Klitcschko would systematically bludgeon both Stiverne and Wilder to the canvas at this stage of their careers, it is exactly their perceived respective shortcomings that almost guarantee fireworks in the MGM this weekend.
The consensus is that ‘B. WARE’ Stiverne is the more proven fighter between the two at this juncture; he has, at least, fought for – and won – a world belt. And while not intending to imprint an asterisk beside Stiverne’s impressive title victory, it was ultimately the widely reviled WBC’s decision to declare long-time kingpin Vitali Klitschko its ‘Emeritus Champion’ (due to his political duties in war-torn Ukraine) which freed the famous green belt from the Iron Fist of the elder Klitschko brother. Nonetheless, the 36 year old Stiverne – a late bloomer at 24-1-1 (21 KOs) – seized his opportunity, dropping LA’s Chris Arreola twice in their May 2014 rematch en route to a 6th round TKO, thus becoming the first ever Haitian-born heavyweight champion in boxing history.
Though Saturday’s opponent is considered to be both less tested and less experienced than Stiverne, it’s easy to forget Deontay Wilder – seven years his junior – has had eight more professional fights than the current champ. Wilder’s 32-0 (32KOs) record is startling on paper, but is regarded as nigh on fraudulent by many hardened boxing traditionalists due to the perceived wake of low calibre opponents ‘The Bronze Bomber’ has left twitching on the canvas. Wilder earned this moniker after winning an Olympic bronze medal for the USA in Beijing, having qualified for the 2008 Games with only 21 amateur bouts to his name. But if the Tuscaloosa native’s rise through the amateur ranks was meteoric, his ascent to professional boxing superstardom has been deemed far less stellar in comparison to the man he faces in his first tilt at world honours.
When taken out of the context of this fight, there is no question as to the padding of Wilder’s 100% knockout record; his most notable victories have come against much maligned opponents in Malik Scott and Audley Harrison – and, incredibly, he enters Saturday’s world title tilt having never been past four rounds. Indeed, in 32 contests, Wilder has boxed 58 rounds in total. However, within the context of this fight, the modesty of Bermane Stiverne’s own résumé has been largely overlooked; his own most notable wins pre-Arreola came against fighters of a similar ilk. The combined record of Wilder’s last ten ‘tomato can’ opponents is 232-71. For Stiverne? 220-97.
Furthermore, the Haitian has been stopped, albeit controversially, in his sole defeat versus then 11-15 Demetrice King – who incidentally sparred with Wilder in the lead up to Saturday’s bout. And though the champion evidently rebounded from that 2007 loss, Stiverne has conspicuously made hard work of a number of opponents that Deontay Wilder would have been chastised for bombing out; most recently against the unheralded Ray Austin in 2011. Perhaps pertinently, however, in doing so he has at least proven he carries within him the inherent ability to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
It is this sense of ‘warrior mode’ that Deontay Wilder may ultimately be required to display for the first time beneath the Vegas lights on Saturday night.
With Alabama’s destruction at the hands of new NCAA champions Ohio State, the Crimson Tide’s thirst for titles can now be quenched solely by their home city’s heavyweight challenger. Indeed, combined with his physique, the rapid speed at which 6 foot 6 Deontay Wilder releases his nuclear right hand is very much reminiscent of a football quarterback. The champion Stiverne is physically constructed more akin to a linebacker, and his best chance of retaining his belt may well be to ‘blitz’ the rangy challenger.
His record may be deceptive, but Deontay Wilder’s power is legitimate. Bermane Stiverne’s tendency to analytically stand off his opponents early combined with a relatively low guard may be the perfect invitation for Wilder to engage first. In truth, it could end the fight in round 1.
For either man.
Wilder too must err on the side of caution. A powerful a counter-puncher off either hand, the champion is the more wily and offensively varied of the two fighters. Though Wilder’s chin remains relatively untested as a professional, he has been knocked out as an amateur. And if video footage of ‘wobbly’ sparring with David Haye is in any way indicative of his ability to take a shot without headgear, rushing in against the bull-like champion may result in the blood-curdling affirmation of his countless doubters. Stiverne also certainly possesses the ability to press the issue at close quarters as he did at times with Arreola, and should he carry in a game plan which diminishes the risk of being put to ground on the perilous journey in, he may overcome the unbeaten man with what would be to his opponent an unprecedented assault on the inside.
There remains a striking sense that Stiverne can retain his belt in more ways than Wilder can strip him of it.
And yet, what is guaranteed to be an explosive dose of heavyweight championship action may simply boil down to whoever lands the first telling blow. The opening exchanges should be rather tentative, but when the fight settles, The Bronze Bomber’s combination of speed and power combined with Stiverne’s predatory instinct may culminate in a dazzling – if brief – display of violence. Ultimately, speed kills. The described vast gulf in experience has been somewhat overstated. A Richter Scale-registering right hand from The Bronze Bomber over a probing jab thrown from Stiverne’s hip will be enough to prove the Wilder doubters wrong, and crown a new American world heavyweight champion.
For as long as it lasts, it will be nothing if not entertaining.
Official Prediction: Deontay Wilder TKO 6.
Let us know your predictions in the comments section below! Gavan can be contacted on Twitter: @GavanCasey or at email@example.com
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