Photo credit: Esther Lin
Boxing has been resurrected.
Formerly in the popular culture doldrums, the sport has seen a renewed interest due to the competitive landscape created between Showtime and HBO and the emergence of a new crop of stars.
With NBC announcing it will be airing some of the sports biggest stars and championship bouts in 2015 on both broadcast and cable television, the fight game prepares for it hopes will be an explosion of fans, both old and new, flocking to the sport without the challenge of having to pay for pay-per-view access.
The last frontier in this resurgence is the revival of the Heavyweight division in America. Enter Bermane Stiverne, the presumable last promotional stand for 83-year-old Don King and newest member of the WBC Heavyweight Champion’s club. After defeating Chris Arreola last May, Stiverne, who is Haitian-Canadian but now based in Las Vegas, brought the most coveted belt in boxing back to the States.
Every classic Heavyweight boxing contest pits a clearly visible protagonist versus an equal antagonist, and in Deontay Wilder, Stiverne and the boxing community has found its candidate.
Listening to his Southern accented boasting and watching his impromptu ‘juke’ dancing sessions one can almost harken back to the days of Ali. The excitement was created when the unique personality of a confident athletic phenom in Ali was demonstrated, and Wilder is no exception.
If his perfect 32-0 record replete with 32 KO’s doesn’t warrant attention then his charisma alone will. Wilder, who turned to boxing for a living when his daughter was born with Spina Bifida, fights for a bigger purpose than championship glory.
The antics of Wilder are juxtaposed against the quiet confidence of Bermane Stiverne, the Joe Frazier archetype of this story, and the matchup of the two this Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena can have an epic impact on the boxing industry as a whole.
The weight of the industry is placed upon these two rising stars as the American boxing public now has a reason to care about the Heavyweight Championship again since it was released by Vitali Klitschko in Europe back in December 2013.
This will be the first Heavyweight World Title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas since the infamous Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield 2 where Holyfield lost a piece of his ear to a Tyson bite. That was June 28th 1997, almost 20 years ago, and the world now sits as it did then, awaiting the besting of either the cocky phenom or the quietly confident champion.
If the numbers are any type of indicator, this should be a fight that cements boxing newfound resurgence in the public’s mind. The fighters have a combined 54 knockouts in 58 fights. Wilder has never gone the distance and has fought 58 rounds in 32 professional fights.
Stiverne has never been knocked down in his professional career and after suffering only one loss back in 2007 he has emerged as a destructive Heavyweight as manifested in his demolition of Chris Arreola.
The 29-year old Wilder is 6-foot-7, 5 inches taller than Stiverne, a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist and the last American male boxer to medal in the Olympics. Wilder has brought in the guy who gave Stiverne his only loss in Demetrice King as a sparring partner. More interestingly to note is that if Wilder wins by KO, he’ll become the first-ever American heavyweight champ who’s undefeated and knocked out all of his opponents.
Maybe it’s irony, maybe it’s coincidence; but on the weekend leading into the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday we have not only a major Heavyweight boxing match, we also have the first Heavyweight title fight featuring two black fighters since December 14th, 2002, when Evander Holyfield fought Chris Byrd in Atlantic City for the vacant IBF heavyweight championship. A sight that was common in the 80s and 90s has not been seen in over a decade, a fact that gives this fight even more significance.
So this matchup is bigger than a boxing championship; it’s a potential win-win for boxing, Wilder, Stiverne and the fans who have thirsted for a statement worthy event to hold boxing up high again. What division is more qualified than the most storied in the sport’s history- Heavyweights.
We will all be tuned in Showtime on Saturday night as this year kicks off with possibly the biggest moment to reverberate through boxing’s still unscripted future. An unsettled future, but one that looks bright.