By Ivan G. Goldman
The May 10 battle for the vacant WBC heavyweight belt has been officially set for ESPN and will be fought in Los Angeles.
By placing the Chris Arreola-Bermane Stiverne rematch on ESPN, the promoters will be able to attract far more viewers than would have been possible with either HBO or Showtime. ESPN, which generally comes as part of a cable package, counts about 98 million subscribers. HBO has about 28 million and Showtime comes in third at 23 million.
Ticket prices at the Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus range from $25 to $300. The relatively low prices could attract a decent-sized crowd. The venue, which is the home of USC basketball, seats about 10,800.
Promoters Goossen-Tutor and Don King have bizarrely named the event the “Fight for Peace,” because, they say, former WBC champion Vitali Klitschko gave up the title and retired from the sport so he could devote more time to the explosive politics of Ukraine. Ukraine recently lost a slice of its territory to Russia, thanks to a fast grab by steely-eyed President Vladimir Putin.
Klitschko, 42, who leads a political party, is a member of the Ukrainian Parliament. He will run for president in May. Why this makes Arreola-Stiverne II a “Fight for Peace” isn’t terribly clear. Maybe the promoters can explain it.
ESPN, a division of the powerful Disney Corporation, is lately suffering from a migration away from cable to alternatives such as Netflix and whatever programming they can pull off the Internet. Many of those opting out of the standard take-it-or-leave-it cable packages are younger viewers. Disney, by delivering its subscribers a fight for a piece of the heavyweight championship, is pursuing a strategy to remain relevant.
It’s a move that could also attract more casual fans to boxing. Based on their styles, Arreola-Stiverne promises to be an action fight. The network pledged to help promote the fight with pre-programming news and analysis.
This won’t be an ESPN2 Friday Night Fight but a Saturday program on ESPN. According to ESPN.com columnist Dan Rafael, it may be the first of several bigger-budget boxing shows to be presented by the network every year.
Arreola, 33, has been posting occasional photos on Facebook that were taken during recent training sessions in San Diego. He looks like a slimmed-down, in-shape version of a fighter who in the past has eaten his way out of heavyweight contention. He grew up in South-Central L.A. not far from the USC venue.
Stiverne, 35, a Haitian-born Canadian, has been training in Florida. Their first fight last April ended with a unanimous decision for Stiverne, who was supposed to fight Vitali for the title, but Vitali stalled and ultimately retired as he devoted more time to politics. Said Stiverne, “The only thing I’m thinking about right now is putting my hands on that title. As a matter of fact, to me, I’m going to the ring like I’m defending my title.”
Arreola is vying to become the first fighter of Mexican descent to own a major heavyweight belt. He previously lost a bid for Vitali’s title in 2009. But he’s “advised” by the powerful Al Haymon, which didn’t hurt his chances to get another shot at it. However, being in Haymon’s stable probably has everything to do with why HBO didn’t bid for the fight. To HBO, Haymon is the villain who delivered Floyd Mayweather to Showtime. Why Showtime passed on this fight isn’t clear. Stiverne would be the first fighter of Haitian descent to hold a major heavyweight belt, so regardless of the outcome, the bout will make ethnic history.
ESPN executive Brian Kweder said Goossen and King “deserve credit for having the vision to distribute this potentially historical match to as many households as possible.”
Somewhere down the road there could be a unification match with Wladimir Klitschko, who owns the other three major titles. But the alphabet bandits of the WBC, along with those in the WBO, WBA, and IBF, could have other ideas. They could block unification by insisting on defenses against their own mandatory challengers.
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.