Deontay Wilder answered all questions in style: Weekend Review
Deontay Wilder: To say that Wilder answered questions in his fight against Bermane Stiverne on Saturday in Las Vegas is an understatement. Could he handle the spotlight of his first world title fight? Could he go beyond four rounds, where he had never gone before? Could he take a punch? Could he box? Yes, yes yes and, oh, yes. His only failure was his inability to take out the then-WBC titleholder after stopping his first 32 opponents, which probably disappointed those hungry for a knockout but is hardly worth mentioning. He was justifiably ecstatic with a stunning one-sided decision that made him the first American to hold a major heavyweight since 2007 and undoubtedly will lead to more-lucrative paydays. None of this is to say that his was a monumental performance; Stiverne isn’t good enough to use such adjectives. That said, it was a major step forward for an exciting new face on the boxing scene. Wilder suddenly became a leading player in the division, with compelling fights on the immediate horizon. And he will make the most of the opportunity. In the ring, he is a wicked puncher who just demonstrated that he can also box. Outside the ring, his energy and charisma is sure to resonate with boxing fans and perhaps the general public. He is an impressive package. No one knows how long his star will burn but it with burn brightly as long as it does.
Bermane Stiverne: The problem for Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 knockouts) wasn’t so much that he lost but how he lost. The Haitian-born Canadian was thoroughly outboxed by an opponent who was supposed to have relatively crude skills, a stunning result that damaged his image as a relevant heavyweight. Stiverne never gave up but couldn’t figure out how to get inside Wilder’s long jab and straight right to land his own shots consistently enough to win more than a few rounds. He connected on only 110 punches overall, a meager 9.2 per round. That’s a miserable night. The only positive was that while he was stung a few times he was able to absorb everything the powerful Wilder threw at him, which allowed him to become the first to go the distance with the new champ. Not much of a consolation. Stiverne is a pretty good fighter, as he demonstrated in two victories over Chris Arreola, but he will have to get back in line if he hopes to land lucrative fights going forward. And, at 36, how much time does he have left? And who does he fight? Maybe he can fight Bryant Jennings after Jennings loses to Klitschko in a battle to rebuild. I won’t count Stiverne out – if nothing else, he’s tough – but I can imagine him fading into the background and never again resurfacing as an important fighter.
Wilder: Wilder and I evidently are on the same page in regard to the perfect scenario for him. I wrote a column the day before the fight suggesting he not immediately pursue a fight with RING and universal champ Wladimir Klitschko, which I believe would be a near-impossible mission for him. Instead, I thought it made sense for him to fight British heavyweight Tyson Fury in what would be a huge event in the U.K. Two undefeated giants – Fury is 6 feet 9 inches, Wilder 6-7 – who have the ability to sell themselves and their fights with their gift of gab is a can’t-miss blockbuster. Then, if things go well, the Klitschko fight would be that much bigger and it would make more sense to take the risk. That was the scenario – without the commentary, of course – that Wilder laid out at the post-fight news conference on Saturday. And Klitschko can help clear the way. He reportedly is scheduled to defend against Bryant Jennings, Wilder’s mandatory challenger, on April 25 at Madison Square Garden in what shouldn’t be a difficult fight for the champ. Now the question would appear to be whether a fight with Fury can be made. Fury is the mandatory challenger for Klitschko’s WBO title; he could try to go directly to the true champion. I would advise against it for the same reasons laid out for Wilder. Stay tuned.
Leo Santa Cruz’s knockout: Santa Cruz’s fight against Jesus Ruiz (33-6-5, 22 KOs) on the Wilder-Stiverne card was painfully boring for six-plus rounds, as the young junior featherweights worked hard but served up no drama. Then, late in the seventh round, Santa Cruz decided his work night was over. The WBC titleholder, known for his body attack, suddenly became a head hunter and turned Ruiz’s head into a speed bag. The Mexican survived but was doomed. Santa Cruz landed a hard to open the eighth, followed with another flurry to the head and referee Kenny Bayless decided enough was enough and stopped it, giving Santa Cruz his fourth successful defense. The official end came 29 seconds into the round. “My father told me I could knock him out and so I did,” Santa Cruz said. Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17 KOs) turned an uninspired performance into a solid one but he needs more than that to take the next step in his career. He needs something resembling a defining fight. And that could come next. Two possibilities are hot IBF titleholder Carl Frampton of Ireland and contender and fellow Angeleno Abner Mares. Either matchup would provide the spark Santa Cruz needs. Guillermo Rigondeaux? Forget it. Too much risk in what could be another yawner of a fight, which is the last thing Santa Cruz needs.
Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has always had its beloved Crimson Tide football team. Now it has a bigger-than-life heavyweight titleholder in Wilder, who was born, raised and lives in the town. And you can bet his hometown fans are going to show him how they feel in a big way. Walter Maddox, the mayor of Tuscaloosa, has already tweeted that arrangements are being made for a parade in Wilder’s honor. Wilder, also the last American man to win an Olympic medal, started boxing only 10 years ago. He has come remarkably far in a short time by boxing standards. He deserves the accolades. ÔÇª Wilder didn’t do it alone. Trainer Jay Deas has been by his side his entire journey. And Deas, in conjunction with co-trainer Mark Breland, came up with an effective game plan for the fight against Stiverne. Kudos to him. ÔÇª Fury is a master trash talker. An example is a tweet from his account two days before the Wilder-Stiverne fight: “All this talk stiverne vs wilder?? Stiverne a little fat pudding, wilder a lanky chinless hype gob! Tyson fury the best fighter on da planet.” Can you imagine how fun the Wilder-Fury promotion would be? He (or someone on his account) also retweeted a tweet from Eddie Chambers shortly after the fight: “Yes I believe @Tyson_Fury vs @BronzeBomber can happen next if Al Haymon wants it to.. Be exciting press conference!! Lmao. ÔÇª Junior welterweight prospect Amir Imam (16-0, 14 KOs) of Albany, New York, has room to grow as a boxer at 24 but he appears to be unusually talented. He suffered a flash knockdown himself but otherwise did a number on tough Fidel Maldonado Jr. (19-3, 16 KOs) on the Wilder-Stiverne card, putting the Albuquerque product down four times before finally stopping him at 2:59 of the fifth round. Another fighter on the card, light heavyweight Vyacheslav Shabranskyy (12-0, 10 KOs) of Ukraine, also seems to have a bright future. He put tough Garrett Wilson (13-9-1, 7 KOs) down twice and forced him to quit on his stool after the ninth round. Shabranskyy is well-schooled and an explosive puncher.