No one could have predicted that it would end this way.
Saturday night at the MGM Grand hotel in Las Vegas Deontay Wilder became the first American-born fighter to win a portion the heavyweight title in boxing since 2006 by defeating World Boxing Council champion Bermane Stiverne in a wide unanimous decision aired on Showtime.
Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs), the last American man to win a boxing medal in the Olympics, also became the champion with the highest knockout percentage upon winning the title overtaking World Boxing Association middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
The bout has been anticipated for months after the WBC made Wilder the mandatory challenger for Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 KOs) but was only finalized on December 14, giving it little time to be promoted. It didn’t matter to both men as they prepared for each other both in training camp and social media. Bitter words were exchanged and it culminated in the final press conference for the bout on January 15 as Stiverne, known as a calm person, sounded genuinely angry when talking about Wilder. Afterward the staredown between both men was tense enough that it had to be broken up after several minutes.
It was this tension and the combined 53 knockouts both men brought to the ring that had everyone from fans to boxing media predicting the fight to be a violent brawl that would end in a knockout. Instead the fight went the distance while still being one of the best heavyweight clashes in years.
What was more surprising than the fight going the full 12 rounds was in the way that Wilder won it. From the start he used the jab to maintain his reach advantage over Stiverne. He also patiently targeting with his right hand to hurt Stiverne late in the second round resulting in a takedown at the bell that should’ve been scored as a knockdown for Wilder. He hurt Stiverne again enough in the seventh round to have all three judges score it 10-8. Most impressive though was Wilder sticking with his game plan of using his height & reach and rarely taking the bait Stiverne put out there and took the shots when they landed on him.
Stiverne for his part didn’t use an effective game plan going in. He hardly countered Wilder’s jab with his own despite being one of the best punches in his arsenal. Stiverne also was almost never able to cut the ring off from Wilder even as he walked him down throughout the fight. In the times where he did stun Wilder in the sixth round he didn’t capitalize, allowing Wilder to reestablish his jab. While not going down in the fight it was evident that Stiverne was more hurt by the accuracy of Wilder’s shots than the other way around.
All this resulted in the belt changing hands and possibly ushering a resurgence of the heavyweight division among American boxing fans.
Nearly all the promotion for the fight centered around Wilder, his personality, and his ascension in the heavyweight ranks. Nearly all the question that were asked revolved around him and he answered them all.
Can Wilder last more than four rounds? Yes
He showed little signs of fatigue throughout the fight and after the final bell rung.
Can Wilder take a punch from a legitimate heavyweight? Yes
His slim lower frame had many thinking he couldn’t take a punch. Stiverne caught him a few times and he didn’t wither.
Will Wilder panic if his right hand doesn’t drop Stiverne? No
The most impressive aspect of the fight for him was that he was patient with his attack and stuck to it even while hurting Stiverne.
With those questions answered and now the WBC title on his waist the doors are open for Wilder both as a fighter and a marketable star. He is in shape, something that is rare for heavyweights today. His personality is something not seen in the heavyweight division and that is needed. Most of all, he just passed his toughest test by far in Stiverne while fighting with an injured left eye and right hand as was revealed in the post-fight press conference.
Wilder also stated both in the immediate post-fight interview and the presser that he wants to be an active champion fighting three to four times a year and there are attractive fights for him to make.
He technically has a mandatory challenger in fellow American Byrant Jennings, but the Philadelphia native is almost confirmed to be fighting World Boxing Organization, International Boxing Federation, and WBA champion Wladimir Klitschko on April 25. That leaves the door open for him to fight Tyson Fury of the United Kingdom, an undefeated fighter who is a mandatory for Klitschko. The fight would be a huge event in the UK with massive earning potential.
The biggest fight down the line however for Wilder is a unification bout with Klitschko, the consensus kingpin of the division. The bout would be tough to make as Klitschko has a three-fight deal with HBO and the network treats Wilder’s manager Al Haymon as persona non grata. Adding to the mix the deal that Haymon has with NBC to broadcast at least 20 fights and the logistics for a Klitschko-Wilder bout would be tough to navigate around. The fight would likely be made though as Klitschko wants to win the belt that was vacated by his older brother Vitali when he retired to focus on the volatile political situation in their native Ukraine.
All this is now possible for Wilder, who may be the pied piper that leads the heavyweight division back to the forefront of casual American fight fans.