Bermane Stiverne has opportunity to upset boxing history

Kevin Iole
Combat columnist

Everyone knows where this is going, a victorious Anthony Joshua said Saturday in the ring in Cardiff, Wales, moments after dispatching challenger Carlos Takam in 10 hard but one-sided rounds.

Joshua is the best heavyweight in the world, but that designation is not without dispute. He holds the IBF and WBA versions of the heavyweight title and is the man against whom all others in the division are currently judged.

It has to happen. It has to happen, for sure, he said.

He was speaking of a bout between himself and Deontay Wilder, the WBC heavyweight title-holder with the jaw-dropping record and more question marks surrounding him than The Riddler’s outfit.

Wilder is 38-0 with 37 knockouts, though the questions that surround him are primarily about the caliber of his opposition and the lack of a signature win. Joshua is 20-0 with 20 knockouts, but he earned that signature win on April 29 when he stopped Wladimir Klitschko in what well may turn out to be the 2017 Fight of the Year.

Joshua has a gold medal from the 2012 Olympics in London, when he won the super heavyweight title. Wilder has a bronze from the 2008 Games in Beijing.

Combined, they have a professional record of 58-0, with 57 knockouts and two Olympic medals.

But wouldn’t you know it, that one guy who managed to last the distance, the only man in the professional careers of Wilder and Joshua to finish a fight upright and to hear the final bell, is the guy Wilder fights next.

WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne (L) takes a punch from Deontay Wilder during their title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada (AFP Photo/Steve Marcus)

Bermane Stiverne was the defending WBC champion on Jan. 17, 2015, in his adopted hometown of Las Vegas when he met Wilder at the MGM Grand. Stiverne had won the belt in his previous bout, when he knocked out Chris Arreola in six rounds in Los Angeles at the Galen Center on the USC campus on May 10, 2014.

On Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in a bout televised by Showtime, Wilder will give Stiverne another crack at the title. On fight night, it will have been two years, nine months and 19 days since last Wilder and Stiverne met each other in the ring.

That night ended ignominiously for Stiverne. Not only did he lose his belt, winning only three of 36 scored rounds, he wound up in a Las Vegas hospital.

It wasn’t the result of Wilder’s punches that put him there, however. Stiverne was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis. Rhabdomyolysis is a condition in which the muscle fibers die and are released into the blood stream. One of the causes is extreme physical exertion.

He’s fought once since, a win over journeyman Derric Rossy that would do nothing to earn a man a shot at the heavyweight title.

He was supposed to fight Alexander Povetkin with a shot at Wilder’s belt promised to the winner. Twice, though, Stiverne pulled out with injuries. The fight was rescheduled for last November but it didn’t happen again because Povetkin tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug.

Stiverne also had tested positive for a banned substance as well, but it was ruled inadvertent after he took a supplement.

He finally got the fight against Wilder when Luis Ortiz failed a drug test and was pulled from the bout. Stiverne said he was working in the gym in Las Vegas because he suspected Ortiz wouldn’t make it to the post. He wanted to be ready in case a late replacement was needed, which it was.

“I always thought that the fight was never going to happen with Deontay and Ortiz, if you asked me from the moment they announced the fight,” Stiverne said. “The first thing I said is, ‘This fight is not going to happen and I’ve got to get ready for Deontay. That’s exactly what I said. You can ask anybody in my camp. You can ask my manager, that’s what I told him.”

So it is Stiverne who stands between Wilder and Joshua, the fight that could invigorate world-wide boxing interest like no other.

Stiverne is a quality fighter, and the fight is not without risk for Wilder. But Stiverne hasn’t been in with a legitimate opponent in nearly three years, back to the last time he fought Wilder.

It seems a stretch, at best, to believe he’ll pose Wilder any issues. Stiverne, though, is defiant, and doesn’t care much to hear any criticism of his inactivity.

His only bout in the interim, a Nov. 14, 2015, win over Rossy, a harder-than-expected victory which came by scores of 96-93 twice and 95-94, wasn’t up to the standards he sets for himself.

He turns 39 on Tuesday and hasn’t done much in the way of serious competition in almost three years, but he believes he’s more than prepared to upset the apple cart.

“[Age and inactivity] are not factors to me,” Stiverne said. “Those factors are for people like you and the people [who are] out there. Age is nothing but a number. I can’t say that I’m not inactive. I mean when it comes to fighting to be in the ring, you could say that. But as far as being inactive, I haven’t been inactive; I’ve been in the gym all day every day.

“And the fight with Rossy, that wasn’t even a fight that I wanted to take. I just took the fight just because. The past three years since I lost the fight, there’s only one fight that I’m interested in, which is the fight that’s happening on [Saturday].”

If, as the late Dennis Green so famously once said, Wilder is who we thought he is, then there will be no issues. He’ll put away Stiverne and increase the pressure for a unification bout with Joshua.

It’s unlikely to be next, even assuming Wilder gets past Stiverne, but a Stiverne win would throw the division into chaos.

His performance against Rossy was nothing to suggest he could be the one to defeat Wilder, but stranger things have happened in boxing.

“I determined when I fought Rossy, I was still trying to digest the loss [to Wilder],” Stiverne said. “I might have been there physically, but mentally or psychologically, it was not really the case. When you look at it right now, all that is in the past. That was then and this is now. And like people are trying to say that my inactivity is going to hurt me or things they are saying, I don’t believe so.

“You’re talking about the past and what happened in the past, it’s not something that I’m interested in. So in the first fight, we all know what happened. Everybody who knows me, who knows how I fight, who knows Bermane Stiverne, they know that wasn’t me. But hey, I’m not trying to look for excuses. What I’m telling you is this second fight is going to be a whole lot different fight. There’s going to be a whole different ending.”

Wilder is better than a 15-1 favorite to defeat Stiverne and keep his belt, but this is heavyweight boxing and one punch can rewrite history. Wilder is no George Foreman, but he’s big and he does hit hard.

It’s the lure of the heavyweight. There is no logical reason to believe that Stiverne has what it takes to defeat Wilder. But more than a century of heavyweight matches has shown that when a 230-plus-pound man hits another on the chin, logic doesn’t matter.

It’s what makes heavyweight boxing so baffling, so confounding and always so interesting.

Bermane Stiverne fought Deontay Wilder on Jan. 17, 2015. (AP)

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