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Can Bermane Stiverne vs. Deontay Wilder add heft to heavyweight boxing?

Heavyweight title, as well as boxing's future in the U.S., is on the line as fight fans gather in Las Vegas

Boxing is about to embark on yet another Easter egg hunt for its elusive heavyweight division.

Does it still exist? Who is the champion? Where have you gone, Joe Louis? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

The most recent search will take place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night. It will be on Showtime and, going in, has about as much buzz as the Santa Monica lawn bowling finals.

Bermane Stiverne will fight Deontay Wilder. They struggle to be household names, even in their own households.

Stiverne is the champion. He is a Haitian who is a citizen of Canada and lives in Las Vegas. His record is 24-1-1, with 21 knockouts.

Wilder is the challenger. He is from Tuscaloosa, Ala., won a bronze medal for the U.S. in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and comes in with a 32-0 record, all by knockout. However, anybody who can prove he has ever heard of any of Wilder's knockout victims is eligible for free tickets.

Boxing once thrived on its heavyweights. Now, the stars of the sport, the Manny Pacquiaos and Floyd Mayweathers, weigh about as much as George Foreman's left thigh.

With the aging and fading away of the Muhammad Alis, Joe Fraziers and Foremans went a substantial part of boxing's fan base.

The last heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand was June 28, 1997. That's the night Mike Tyson bit off a part of Evander Holyfield's ear.

All over the country, mothers pulled their offspring away from the TV with hands over their eyes, never again allowed them to watch boxing. Now, those children are of prime ticket-buying age.

For even the most hard-core fight fans, the last memorable heavyweight title fight in this country was Vitali Klitschko versus Lennox Lewis at Staples Center, June 21, 2003. Lewis opened a horrifying cut around Klitschko's eye, and the Ukraine boxer, ahead on the judges' cards, had to stop because of the eye.

Since then, the heavyweight division has followed Elvis out of the building in the U.S. Vitali Klitschko, now the mayor of Kiev, and his younger brother, Wladimir, have long held all the major heavyweight titles. That was so until Vitali retired to politics, his WBC crown went up for grabs and Stiverne grabbed it.

Wladimir still holds the other major titles and fights mostly in Europe. Don King calls the Klitschko brothers' titles "the heavyweight championships of Germany."

Yes, we are referring to that Don King. He is 83, still alive and kicking, still has hair that looks like his finger is in an electric socket, and still walks around waving an American flag. He also still promotes fights. His fighter is Stiverne. Wilder is promoted by Golden Boy.

When King is involved, it is always his show. He took the microphone for the news conference and relinquished it grudgingly, reestablishing his status as the poet laureate of BS.

His filibuster ranged from a defense of Gen. David Petraeus, whom he likened to Mary Magdalene, to lyrical blather such as "the evolution of revolution" and "We want to bring in yesterday's nobody to be tomorrow's somebody."

King said that this fight would "recoup integrity" for the heavyweight division. He shared the stage with Golden Boy's Bernard Hopkins, who was celebrating his 50th birthday and is still fighting.

King, later pardoned, served four years in prison years ago for "non-negligent homicide." Hopkins escaped a life of crime after being convicted of nine felonies and serving five years in prison.

In boxing, they call that internships.

Hopkins nicely captured the discrepancy between the norm and boxing when he said, "Harvard college don't fight, because they don't have to. We have to."

The news conference, as King noted, appeared to awake the sleeping giant in Stiverne, a normally stoic man of few words.

Wilder, doing his best imitation of Ali, pre-Sonny Liston, said, among other things, "You are all in for a treat. I have never been so ready to whup a man.… I'm going to send the Haitian on vacation."

A seething Stiverne responded, "I'm no cabdriver. I'm no one-hit wonder.…I've seen plenty of guys like Wilder, even some who talk more.... You are going to get beat. The worst thing you did was get me to take you seriously. After this fight, you'll never again hear about Deontay Wilder."

The hope among boxing officials is that Wilder not only puts on a good show, but wins. They would then have what they think would be a marketing gold mine — a mouthy American, a flashback to Ali. Wilder is a slight betting favorite.

All this noise may be in vain, however. Whoever wins will, eventually, have to defend his WBC title against Wladimir Klitschko. Were Klitschko to win and have all the heavyweight titles, the heavyweight world would probably return to European hibernation.

It all starts here, Saturday night, coincidentally on Ali's 73rd birthday. The U.S. renaissance of boxing's heavyweight division is at hand.

Wilder weighed in Friday at 219, Stiverne at 239.

Not surprisingly, tickets are available.

bill.dwyre@latimes.com

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