Within boxing, there’s no more fiercely xenophobic division than the heavyweights. The division covets American champions, and by proxy American glory, so much that if the gold strap isn’t draped across the waist of a red, white and blue native, fans simply stop tuning in. Where else in sports does that happen? But now, no longer does the heavyweight division need to be relegated to conversations in dank gyms or anonymous boxing forums. Why? Because the crown once again has a home in the U.S. of A.
On Saturday, Deontay Wilder defeated Bermane Stiverne in a surprisingly one-sided outing. The fight didn’t end in a knockout as virtually everyone had expected. Instead, it featured a disciplined, well-conditioned Wilder, who boxed from bell to bell, while his opponent never seemed to find any comfort in the ring. The now former champion, Stiverne, looked like the walking dead for most of the fight. He plodded forward with less head movement than the zombies on the popular AMC television show, and with even less hand movement too. Against the much taller and longer Wilder, Stiverne’s plan was a recipe for failure.
For a fighter who has never gone more than four rounds, Wilder looked at ease in the middle and championship rounds. The performance certainly legitimizes much of the hype built around his incredible knockout percentage, although it does not answer the question many have been asking for nearly a decade: Can this man beat a Klitschko?
Wilder’s belt, sanctioned by the WBC, belonged to Vitali Klitschko until he vacated the belt, giving Stiverne and Chris Arreola the opportunity to fight for it. In other words, it’s a championship in name only. It’s far from the hallowed lineal championship that only hardcore fans seem to know exists and just as far from defeating the only Klitschko left in the game, the recognized king of the hill: Wladimir Klitschko.
Wilder has promised to be different than the average heavyweight champion who only fights once or twice a year. If he has his druthers, he’ll be in the ring three or four times this year, he says. What a change that would be.
In a division now long-filled with weak American fighters and strong European ones, it isn’t easy to think of how long Wilder could keep up a promise like that. But for one year at least, if Wilder could find the courage of conviction and the right financial backers to pay the right purses, the heavyweight division could once again rise to prominence.
The three names that should be on Wilder’s list are Tyson Fury, Bryant Jennings and Wladimir Klitschko. Fury’s antics on the mic make Wilder seem like a choirboy. Not since Mike Tyson told a reporter at a press conference that, well, check out the video below for his exact phrasing, has a heavyweight’s words shocked the sensibilities to such a degree as Fury.
Jennings is the only other American heavyweight out there today with anywhere near Wilder’s buzz — although there’s an up-and-coming heavyweight with Hispanic roots, Gerald “El Gallo Negro” Washington, a former NFL practice squad player, who like Wilder is also managed by Al Haymon and thus might soon become a household name. All those fighters are mere appetizers to the fight of true significance. They’d only serve to further help hone Wilder’s craft, while popularizing the sport, in preparation for Klitschko.
Wilder has a good jab. Klitschko has a legendary one. Wilder has a brutal right hand. Klitschko's right hand earned him the name “Dr. Steel Hammer.” Against Stiverne, we saw that Wilder could fight effectively on the inside, something that few men have managed to do against Klitschko, and maybe it is the key to dethroning him.
Regardless of whether Wilder can get the job done, with a title around his waist there will now be Americans out there hoping, rooting and most importantly watching to see if he can. If Al Haymon can find a way to bring a fight of that magnitude onto prime time network television, he’ll accomplish what contemporary boxing promoters haven’t even dared dream was possible.
A former college wrestler, Taekwondo black-belt, and wannabe boxer, Paul Navarro (aka Fight Like Sugar) is now a full-time lawyer, part-time fight scribe, and high school wrestling coach.