Column: Finally, a heavyweight title made in America, as Deontay Wilder wins
Before the fight, heavyweight champion Bermane (Be Ware) Stiverne told the world that, after his title defense against Deontay Wilder, the sports world would never hear about Wilder again. It may be the other way around.
In a small step back into the limelight for Americans in boxing’s heavyweight division, a new boxing golden boy, Wilder, on Saturday night became the first heavyweight champion from the United States since Shannon Briggs in 2006.
And Briggs held his title barely long enough to evoke a memory.
Wilder beat his Haitian opponent, Stiverne, to win the World Boxing Council belt in a somewhat startling unanimous decision at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
“I wanted to show the world what Deontay Wilder is all about,” Wilder said. “I’m a heavyweight and I’m exciting.”
He said he is going to bring excitement back to heavyweight division. That might still take some time. Only 8,463 came to the arena to see the fight, or about half of what the place can hold if they squeeze.
But now, with the vision of Wladimir Klitschko eventually taking on Wilder in an attempt to have all the heavyweight titles in the Klitschko family, there is suddenly some spice for U.S. fight fans. Many lived through the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier-George Foreman era and may have despaired that they’d ever see a champion in a large body from this country again.
Wilder could be a one-shot wonder, but on Saturday night he fought a smart fight, handled a tough customer and, at 29 and with a 33-0 record (this was his first non-knockout victory), there is promise.
No less than Don King, Stiverne’s controversial promoter, said afterward, “Wilder definitely won the fight. He did a great job. He was having fun and I was surprised he won so easily.”
The judges’ scores indicated more than a victory. They had it a rout. The scores were 118-109, 119-108 and 120-107.
King, obviously disgusted with his fighter’s performance, added, “You can’t win a fight without throwing punches. This isn’t a waltz.”
Wilder is 6 feet 5, three inches taller than Stiverne. During the fight, he looked eight inches taller.
Stiverne looked a lot like a jiggly fireplug, trying to plod forward and find an opening against a man whose reach, at 83 inches, is three inches greater than his.
Wilder danced and ducked and smartly kept his distance from the powerful fireplug, then fired off flurry after flurry of punches and escaped to a safe distance before Stiverne could figure out what happened.
The end of the second round should have been the real eye-opener for fans in attendance, and those watching on Showtime. A frustrated Stiverne, having just connected and then taken three shots in return, lunged at Wilder and ended up tackling him in the corner.
The frustration level of the reigning champion was obvious.
“I was 100% when I came into the ring,” Stiverne said, “but once I got in there, I didn’t feel the same. I just couldn’t cut off the ring like I thought I could.”
It has been a very long time since the heavyweight division even mattered in this country. The last heavyweight title fight in this storied boxing venue was Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield in 1997, the night Tyson bit off a portion of Holyfield’s ear and turned off a generation of fight fans.
Both Holyfield and Tyson were in the crowd Saturday night.
Wilder’s story will start to become more familiar.
He is from Tuscaloosa, Ala., and wanted to play football at Alabama, as most young and athletic men in the state do. But his girlfriend, Helen Duncan, became pregnant and doctors told them their child would be born with Spina Bifida, a disorder of the spinal cord that often renders a person unable to walk.
The parents were asked if they wanted to abort the birth. Wilder was adamant against that.
Naieya Wilder is 9 now, and not only walks but is a gymnast.
Wilder spent much of the night jabbing and firing and dancing and smiling. There appeared to be a little Ali in the man who looks a lot like LeBron James.
Nothing the very stern Stiverne threw at him mattered, or even seemed to faze him.
One way to look at this is as an impressive coming-out party. Wilder entered the ring in a gold hoodie, and kept a gold mask on until the fight started. When it ended, even King was convinced.
“All praise to Deontay Wilder,” he said.
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