by Johnny Walker
No matter how he tries to nonchalant it, American heavyweight Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder has got to be feeling the heat as his WBC world heavyweight title belt dance with champion Bermane “B. Ware” Stiverne grows closer — as close as tonight in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Pick up any article on the fight printed in the USA, or even Canada and the UK, and likely the first thing you’ll hear about is how Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs) is the man to “save” the division from the clutches of those well-educated, classy Ukrainian brothers Klitschko. Many who write on the subject appear to be blissfully unaware that the elder brother, Vitali, has retired, and that is why this is a title fight: Haitian-Canadian Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) knocked out Mexican-American Cristobal Arreola to win the vacant WBC world championship strap when Vitali retired to become Mayor of Kiev.
So it’s Wladimir who is the remaining Klitschko brother left on the scene, and he now owns all the major belts but the one Stiverne is holding. Or is holding until he gets in the ring with Wilder, who many boxing scribes and fans already have not only knocking out Stiverne, but also Wladimir Klitschko as well, and thus “saving the heavyweight division.”
Saving the division from *what* is an interesting question. Klitschko can sell out 60,000 seat soccer stadiums in Europe, where his bouts are on a par with fútbol matches featuring Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of fan interest. Wladimir and his Hollywood girlfriend Hayden Panettiere just produced a healthy baby girl. Overall, Klitschko has represented the heavyweight title with class and grace throughout his near decade-long reign.
So what does the division need saving from?
Even though the title is the WORLD heavyweight championship, this works kind of like the “World” Series in baseball — where only American teams (plus one from Canada) compete. This writer has been told more than once by fans that the world heavyweight champion should be an American — based on the fact, one supposes, that the division’s history sees it dominated by American fighters.
Yet the facts are that the last two eras of heavyweight boxing have been ruled by one British-Canadian, Lennox Lewis, and two Ukrainian brothers, the Klitschkos. And while the Klitschkos have taken a lot of unfair criticism in America–sometimes presented as thinly veiled racism against “Eastern Europeans”–the truth is that Lennox Lewis is far more popular in retirement than he was when he was when he was champion.
Lewis was booed out of the ring in the last fight of his career in Los Angeles after a titanic struggle with Vitali Klitschko was called off because of a cut to the Ukrainian’s eye, with Klitschko ahead on the scorecards; Lennox generally suffered in comparison to Mike Tyson here in the USA.
So basically, we have two generations of resentment built up here in America against foreign domination of “their” title: the title of Joe Louis, Jack Johnson, Rocky Marciano, Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali, and Mike Tyson, among others.
Americans now seem so desperate for the world heavyweight title belts that it’s a bit embarrassing. As is Wilder’s corny nicknaming of the WBC strap “Sophia,” who he claims to lust after and promises to take away from Stiverne.
So all of this desperation lands squarely on the shoulders of Deontay Wilder Saturday night. Is he ready for it? Anyone who says they know the answer beyond a reasonable doubt is lying to you.
Lost in all this is poor Bermane Stiverne, who has been treated like an after-thought in the media. Usually soft-spoken, Stiverne was supposedly involved in a nasty argument over seats at an MMA event in Vegas recently, which seems out of character. No charges were filed however. But then again, Deontay Wilder was charged with a felony count of domestic violence-strangulation back in 2013 in that same city of Las Vegas by a woman who was not his wife, and nobody seems to be concerned about that in the least.
The alleged victim at that time had “swollen eyebrows, a possibly broken nose, a cut lip, and red marks on her neck,” according to police. This incident seems to trump a bit of mouthing off from Stiverne over a seating arrangement.
That charge against Wilder seems to have disappeared into the ether, though, much like the knockdown that sub-sub heavyweight journeyman Harold Sconiers scored over The Bronze Bomber in 2010. In an era where footage of just about every fight shows up online someplace, the Sconiers knockdown of Wilder has been scrubbed from the Internet like a bloodstain at the hands of Lady MacBeth: “Out, damn’d knockdown!”
Stiverne claims he possesses four tapes of Wilder being brutalized in sparring, including one where the American is not only knocked out, but very badly hurt. Other rumors from top heavyweights who’ve sparred Wilder include descriptions of a man who can dish it out but who just can’t take it, a la Seth Mitchell. Some are convinced that unless Wilder can land a big right hand and end Stiverne early, it is The Bronze Bomber who will be taking an ambulance ride to the hospital on Saturday night.
An incensed Wilder has now upped the ante by saying he wants to beat Stiverne to “within inches of his life,” a questionable remark which may indicate who is the more shook fighter here.
This is the same Wilder, after all, who decided it was a good idea to fight infamous Internet boxing troll Charlie Zelenoff, who, in the tradition of Robert Coover’s novel The Universal Baseball Association, has created his own fantasy boxing league who he is also the champion of, something called the Underground Boxing Federation.
Zelenoff is about 2/3 of Wilder’s size, yet landed some solid body shots on the big man, who hit the UBF champ harder than he ever did professional opponent and KO victim Malik Scott, yet failed to knock him out. Zelenoff, wearing no headgear, was even able to get back to his feet after a Wilder knockdown, land a couple more punches and then leave the gym under his own power.
Amazingly, Wilder’s irritating “Bomb Squad” posse thought his “victory” over Zelenoff was cause to get on the Internet and start bragging. Actually, it was Zelenoff who made a fool out of Wilder by getting him drawn into this spectacle in the first place, exposing the fighter’s major insecurities. Had Zelenoff gotten seriously hurt, no matter what quasi-legal document they had him sign, Wilder could have opened himself up to a major lawsuit.
Wladimir Klitschko has been called out by Zelenoff as well, but it’s highly doubtful that Wlad will be going after the UBF belt anytime soon.
Following up this supposed “victory,” Wilder decided to fight a fan, which was also just as bad an idea as it sounds.
If by now you’re getting the idea that Wilder is a bit of a flake, a loose cannon, you are on the right track.
Bermane Stiverne has likened the “clown” Wilder to a WWE character who has bought wholesale into his own role, confusing fantasy and reality, living in bubble surrounded by yes men. He promises a painful wake-up call for “The Bronze Bomber” on Saturday night, when an entire nation places its hopes and dreams heavily on the shoulders of an African-American heavyweight savior to rescue it from “oppressive” Eastern European heavyweight dominance.
Or at least from Haitian-Canadian dominance, for the moment.
No doubt if Wilder’s chin proves to be as fragile as is rumored, however, the man from Tuscaloosa can always get himself a rematch with Charlie Zelenoff.