In 2007 Shannon Briggs lost the WBO Version of the Heavyweight Championship of the world. Most Americans by that time had already gotten over watching Iron Mike Tyson lose to what he described as the “tomato can” Kevin McBride. Most Americans outside of avid boxing fans didn’t even know Evander Holyfield lost a very debatable decision to Nicolai Valuev in late 2008. The excitement and hype around an American Heavyweight Champion has been missing from the US for close to a decade now.
Enter Deontay Wilder “The Bronze Bomber” a catchy name like that surely pulls at the heart strings of classic American Heavyweight dominance, reminiscent of the great “Brown Bomber” Joe Louis. From Tuscaloosa Alabama Wilder is the next installment in a long line of failed attempts to reclaim the Heavyweight title for the US. Wilder is clearly not the first to fight for the title, or at least a version of it; the real Heavyweight Champion of the world is Wladimir Klitchko of Ukraine. The title at stake is nevertheless a title, made available due to the retirement of former WBC Champion and brother of Wladimir, Vitali Klitchko.
The difference between Wilders attempt to gain the title and his failed predecessors is that a hope for one unified Heavyweight Champion of the world is now an actual possibility. The brothers Klitchko had long promised they would never fight in the ring and they made good on that promise during a near decade of utter dominance over what some call a starless division. Starless no, Klitchko dominance yes; in such an emphatic and albeit non TV-friendly fashion the brothers Klitchko have pounded the American public’s interest out of boxing. With no American champion sitting in the chair next to late night hosts like Jay Leno and David Letterman to provide examples to the public about how boxing saved their life, made them believe in themselves, or (insert cliché story here) about how they inspire others to be like them. The American public just lost interest leaving the Heavyweight Champion of the World, a title once the most revered in all of sport to the status of a trivia question or, a segment on a “remember the 90’s” type TV show.
At first glance Deontay Wilder has everything required to become that next marketable American savior of boxing, a position that has been poorly filled since the retirement of Oscar De La Hoya with the likes of Floyd Mayweather. The criminal record and apparent detachment from reality in the pursuit of living life like one long rap video to the public, Mayweather failed to market himself to America as an American champion and marketed himself as more of a champion of American greed and in your face bravado, instead of highlighting the various and honorable charitable works Mayweather does with little publicity and fanfare.
A nice smile, charisma to the ceiling that never interviews poorly Wilder has the ability to imprint his mark into heavyweight history. Wilder, a high school athlete with the opportunity to go to college found his calling in boxing instead of the new traditional rags to riches sports of basketball and football. Boxing once the last bastion of hope for the underprivileged in America; coupled with the lack of a marketed heavyweight champion has shrunk the number of kids from the streets walking into boxing gyms to test their street toughness in sport, and increased their desire for the heavily marketed shoe deals and less demanding sports that rely on team rather than interior pride and grit.
The Bronze Bomber has the opportunity on January 17th 2015 to prove to the world that the American heavyweight isn’t dead but was merely outgunned during a time period that should be recognized by the brothers Kiltchko’s dominance. Wilder fits the mold of what has been missing for so many years, in 2007 he was the National Golden Gloves Heavyweight Champion, and US National Amateur Champion. Deontay Wilder is the last American to win an Olympic medal in boxing when he won a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Throughout history the knock on hot prospects in boxing is the perennial question of “who has he fought?” The careful guidance of prospects being fed a dearth of sacrificial lambs to pad records often leads to embarrassing failure when presented with a live fighter that doesn’t go away easily. This question has been posed about Wilder since his slow moving procession to the title began, slow moving because even with his Amateur accolades Wilder’s amateur pedigree is extremely limited.
Turning pro and signing to Goldenboy promotions following the Olympics Wilder was brought along at a realistic pace to allow time for good professional sparring and honing of professional techniques that a short amateur career lacked. Looking at Wilder’s roster of wins shows the vast majority of fighters he faced had winning records albeit against mainly low level club type small promotional fighters. A step up of competition eventually came and Wilder still blasted them out all by knockout. Journeymen like Owen Beck, faded super-hyped Audley Harrison, former champion Sergei Liakhovich, and once defeated top contender Malik Scott all wins by knockout. Wilder has 32 wins with 32 knockouts, a feat not seen very often no matter what generation you refer to.
January 17th isn’t exactly a guaranteed bet for Wilder’s coronation as the next American Heavyweight Champion. Berman “BWARE” Stiverne is wearing the WBC belt currently and he doesn’t exactly want to let go of it.
Stiverne the first Heavyweight Champion of Haitian decent defeated tough Mexican-American Chris Arreola twice to win the belt after Klitchko’s retirement, once by a dominant unanimous decision and the second by devastating knockout. Stiverne hasn’t taken the same road to prominence as Wilder, lacking the marketability of an Olympic medal; Stiverne defeated perennial contender Ray Austin then shocked the boxing world with his performances over Arreola in what was supposed to be Arreola’s rise to the title he was unable to win from Vitali Klitchko.
Stiverne fights efficiently using good upper body movement and laser like counter shots. The style of matchups could see the taller 6’6” Wilder trying to box on the outside to setup his nuclear bomb like right hand, and Stiverne feinting and jabbing to time an over hand right over Wilder’s jab.
The contrast of demeanor between the two fighters couldn’t be anymore vast. Stiverne the quiet focused warrior versus Wilder the charismatic presence that captures the attention of the room. This stark difference has led to a bit of bad blood in the promotion of the fight with Wilder saying “I’m expecting a short night because we have bad blood.” “I really want to hurt this guy, and I haven’t felt this way in a long time”. Wilder even went on to promote a parody twitter account for the WBC belt by the name of Sophia @SophiaTheBelt and remarking how the belt wants to break up with Stiverne to be with her true love Wilder. This type of charisma and moxie that invites social media users to add to the buildup of a major fight is designed to do one thing; get under Bermane Stiverne’s skin.
“Don’t blink on Jan 17th. I am the Heavyweight Champion of the World and nobody is going to beat me.” Stiverne keeps his emotions inside rather than on his sleeve “I’m excited and looking forward to making a statement. Talk is cheap, I do my talking in the ring.”
The fight will air on Showtime January 17th at 10 PM ET 7PST aptly titled “Return to Glory”. Victory or not Wilder nor Stiverne are the last Heavyweight hopefuls wishing to supplant the machine of the Klitchko empire. Age will eventually catch up to Klitchko and result in a renaissance of the heavyweight division to restore the American public’s interest in boxing.