The American boxing heavyweight scene has been dire for so long that for the past decade the dearth of an emerging superstar to rejuvenate the division was a grave concern.
That long, tedious wait after a series of disappointing pretenders may be over. Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder looks capable of dominating the heavies and bringing luster back to the much maligned American scene.
The 29-year-old puncher from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, comfortably grabbed the WBC heavyweight title from champion Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, on Saturday, winning unanimously on points.
It was the first time in all of Wilder’s 33 bouts that he needed to go the distance. After fighting past four rounds for the first time, he declared loudly and often to the ringside media who had questioned his credentials that he had more than proved his endurance, punch resistance against an equally heavy hitter, and had enough skill and technique to hold his own against the most dangerous fighters.
Wilder repeatedly declared, “Who can’t box? Who can’t box?” He certainly proved a point against a champion expected to give him a stern test. Stiverne was badly hurt several times but toughed his way through the pain, hoping to catch Wilder as he tired in the closing rounds.
Both slowed toward the end, but Wilder remained the fresher of the two. One ringside judge gave Wilder every round, scoring it 120-107. The other two scored it 119-108 and 118-109.
Afterward, Stiverne claimed that although he had trained well, he just could not produce his best on the night. There was plenty of nastiness between the two in the build-up, and the 36-year-old Haitian-Canadian could not bear to bring himself to praise Wilder as the better fighter.
Wilder, at 6-foot-7, was five inches taller than Stiverne, and for most of this absorbing match used his longer reach to good effect.
This was the first heavyweight title contest at the MGM Grand since Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear in the infamous “Bite Fight” 18 years ago.
Tyson and Holyfield were at ringside, as was another former heavyweight champ, Larry Holmes. They were suitably impressed.
Now Wilder insists he is capable of wrenching the other notable titles from Wladimir Klistchko to become the undisputed champ and then emulate the other great Alabama heavies, the late Joe “Brown Bomber” Louis and Holyfield, two of the finest in the sport’s history.
Wilder was the last male American boxer to medal in the Olympics with a bronze in 2008, and now he’s the first American to hold a heavyweight title in nine years.
A natural showman, the fact that his greatest victory came on Muhammad Ali’s birthday was significant.
He does not have Ali’s charisma nor ring craft, but there is a similar cheekiness and total self-belief.
Wilder will improve as the level of opponents rises, but he needs to stay focused and not become complacent. He was occasionally drawn into brawls with Stiverne, taking wild punches unnecessarily. Against more precise fighters that could be fatal.
Stiverne is promoted by Don King, who at 83 is now a marginalized figure in boxing. King promoted some of the greatest heavyweights of the past five decades, including Ali, Holyfield, Tyson and Holmes, as well as George Foreman, “Smokin’” Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. He was the promoter for the Bite Fight, and oh how he would like to get his teeth into promoting Wilder if possible.
With Floyd “Money” Mayweather set to retire this year, Vegas is desperate for another marquee boxer to generate fabulous revenue in Sin City. Wilder has the potential to surpass the record figures he generates in Vegas if, like the Money Man, he remains unbeaten and media savvy.
Mayweather is a welterweight but heavyweights have always attracted the biggest deals, be it TV, casino takings or gate receipts. The suits in each industry are hoping Wilder can emulate the early era of Tyson’s career when he smashed revenue records wherever he fought.
“I’m going to bring excitement back to the heavyweight division,” Wilder insisted. “I’m not going to sit around. Whoever is ready, I’m ready.”
Klitschko has won all but three of his 66 bouts, including 53 knockouts. He holds the IBF, WBO and Ring Magazine belts, and the 36-year-old Ukrainian is lined up to fight Bryant Jennings in New York on April 25.
If Klitschko’s negotiations with Jennings fail, the champ may face Shannon Briggs, who has been stalking and taunting him for years.
Briggs, 43, is the last American to hold a world title prior to Wilder, losing by knockout to Klitschko’s older brother Vitali four years ago.
If Klitschko clashes with Briggs first, Wilder may be matched with unbeaten Jennings, a 30-year-old Philadelphian with a 19-0 record. It looks like another routine bout for Klitschko, and public demand may force him to take a tougher challenger.
But Wilder looks more likely to be matched with the brash Englishman Tyson Fury, ranked No. 2 by the WBO.
Fury is 23-0 with 17 knockouts, and Wilder has already expressed interest in fighting him in the U.K.
Realistically, Wilder is not likely to meet Klitschko until next year. By then the novice champ should be polished enough to really make the division shine.