By Ivan G. Goldman
Bermane Stiverne, a serious student of boxing, has the kind of power and hand speed that can make him a dangerous opponent for anyone, including Wladimir Klitschko.
Stiverne, who won the vacant WBC title against Chris Arreola Saturday with a quick, brutal right hand in the sixth round, is little known to U.S. fans, but he revealed more of his life and habits in the post-fight media conference on the campus of the University of Southern California, which hosted the fight.
Although Stiverne is usually described as a Canadian of Haitian ancestry, he’s actually spent most of his adult life in the U.S. “I’ve lived in Las Vegas for ten years,” he said. For this fight he did most of his preparation at Floyd Mayweather’s gym in Las Vegas, where he says he learned a great deal just from watching Floyd train.
Stiverne, 24-1-1 (21 KOs), speaks slowly and seriously, weighing his words carefully with barely any trace of a Haitian accent. “I did my homework on Chris,” he said, “and watched all his tapes. That’s what I do. … I don’t have cable. I don’t want cable. I’ve been watching Chris every day. For a year.” He started training camp for this fight December 6, he said, extending the intense regimen beyond five months.
At one point, he said, he was training so hard he got down to 231 pounds. Then he put on weight so he wouldn’t come in too light. He weighed in at 239 for the fight, the same as Arreola. When they fought a year earlier, Stiverne beat Arreola by decision.
“I am living my dream,” Stiverne said. “This was a dream I had since Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson.” Douglas’s victory made him angry, he said, and he wanted to avenge Tyson. He was eleven at the time. “I hope Chris will continue his career, because Chris is a bad man. I beat him because I was smarter.”
“This really sucks,” he said at another point, “because in this sport there’s always a winner and a loser.” Virtually the entire crowed of nearly 4,000 had been cheering for Arreola, a native Californian who grew up near the venue.
“One thing about Chris is he unloads his punches when his opponent is on the ropes. The game plan was to let him get comfortable. In the sixth round he did it two or three times, and that’s when I threw the right hand.”
Arreola, 36-4 (31 KOs), got up on rubber legs, went down from a combination and rose again. Referee Jack Reiss allowed the fight to continue a few more seconds, but Arreola was clearly defenseless, and Reiss waved it off.
Stiverne said after one particularly powerful body shot from Arreola, he decided to pay more attention to protecting his torso.
When Arreola was asked how he thought Stiverne would do against his mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder, Arreola said simply, “Wilder hasn’t proved himself.” Wilder, who posed with fans and signed autographs in the arena, is 31-0 (31 KOs) but with no noteworthy opponents on the roster. Wilder doesn’t seem to notice though.
Said Stiverne’s trainer Don House: “Those six foot six, seven guys, six foot nine guys, I never worry about those guys. Tyson ate those guys up.” His fighter, he noted, is like Tyson only bigger. Stiverne stands about six foot two, and Arreola is probably an inch taller. Tyson stands a shade under six feet. House implied that the indictment against super-tall fighters also covered six-foot-seven Klitschko, who holds the other three belts. The winner of Wilder-Stiverne, should that fight take place, (nothing is certain in boxing) might end up facing Klitschko in a unification bout that would pique interest around the world.
The Tyson comparison was a stretch. In his prime, Tyson used to walk down his prey by bobbing and weaving. His style was almost nothing like Stiverne’s. Also, Stiverne is 35. If Stiverne were another version of Tyson he’d have peaked more than ten years earlier.
“It’s an honor to bring (Don King) back to the top, where he was years ago,” Stiverne said of his promoter. Not long ago Stiverne was suing King, but that’s been patched up.
King, clearly thrilled to have a fairly large audience of mass media, delivered a rambling rant that touched on Africa, women’s rights, the Supreme Court, the Haitian people, the USC Trojans, U.S. troops, America’s greatness, and the courage of Arreola. Dan Goossen, who promotes Arreola and is used to King’s rants, spent much of the time tapping away at his smart phone with one thumb.
“We’re going to bring this sport back to the people,” said King. “Let the word go forth that the heavyweight division is back in business again.”
Stiverne apparently told ESPN that he’s applying for U.S. citizenship. A reporter after the fight asked Stiverne whether he considered himself Haitian or Canadian.
“At this point,” he replied, “I represent the people.” He later added, “I’m really proud and honored to bring the belt back to America,” which apparently answers that question.
` Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag, by New York Times best-selling author Ivan G. Goldman, was released in 2013 by Potomac Books, a University of Nebraska Press imprint. It can be purchased here.