The Twitterverse was alive on Saturday night when Deontay Wilder took to the ring against WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne. Yes indeed, it was. The virtual excitement could be felt through the binary code. Boxing fans across the USA were hyped and so was Showtime as the Great American Heavyweight Hope looked to become the first stateside champion of the marquee weight class since Shannon Briggs in 2007. The longing was palpable and even romantic. But was it earned?
Before facing Stiverne, Wilder’s record consisted of 32 KO wins with no losses, with the biggest win arguably against a faded Siarhei Liakhovich and a bunch of guys named “Moe.” He was one of the biggest mysteries in boxing. He is less of one now. Wilder controlled the fight from start to finish. He showed a heretofore unknown stamina, some genuine ring smarts, more boxing skill than we have ever seen from him, the ability to take a decent punch, and that big right hand. The Bronze Bomber brought it home against a legit heavyweight and the judges awarded him a wide—and correct—unanimous decision against Stiverne (120-107, 119-108, and 118-109).
Despite all of that, I still find my enthusiasm tempered. At least compared to the hype that surrounded the fight. Had you slept since the last Holyfield/Bowe fight, you might have woken to think Wilder and Stiverne were the second coming of those two titans, if not Ali/Frazier. We were told this fight was going to restore the glory of the American heavyweight (assuming a Wilder win). Did it do that? Not even close.
Stiverne is a solid heavyweight. Let’s face it though, in any other era, he’s a B level fighter. Hell, he probably is in this one too. Stiverne is tough, has some power, and knows how to fight. He is not blessed with an overabundance of talent. While only the most churlish would give no credit to Wilder for his win, only the most starry-eyed would not consider the quality of his opponent. Not only is Stiverne unlikely to make anyone forget Mike Tyson, he’s unlikely to supersede the warm thoughts one might have when recalling Tony Tucker or Michael Dokes.
So let’s reel it in here, shall we?
What I saw in the ring on Saturday night reminded me of a pretty good ESPN fight. All that was missing were the strange Teddy Atlas metaphors. Stiverne offered occasional, if modest, resistance and Wilder showed potential. Even so, Wilder still looks like a prospect and Stiverne still looks like a journeyman who was born at the right time. Of course, Wilder looks more “born at the right time” than Stiverne does now. Regardless, it’s hard to imagine Wladimir Klitschko quaking in his valenkis last weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a glass of warm milk mid bout, kissed his starlet, and turned in for the evening under his bear fur comforter.
And let’s face it. Deontay Wilder is the heavyweight champion of the world as much as I’m an astrophysicist. The belt that rests around his waist is merely an alphabet title that has a lot more to say about the sorry state of the division and the number of sanctioning bodies than it does about any historical significance.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a step. It is. But it’s a baby one.
There is only one kingpin in this weight class. In fact, there is probably only one great fighter. His name is Wladimir Klitschko. Until Wilder fights and beats him, then his designation as a champion is something just short of a mirage.
I don’t suspect we’ll see that fight very soon. Wilder’s handlers have to know he isn’t ready and they’d probably like to see him cash in on his novelty with some easier fights. Which of course, is how you treat a prospect, not a champion.
None of what I’ve said means we shouldn’t root for Wilder. He’s charismatic, talented, and has a great story. We should however, check all this hoopla at the door and view Saturday night for what it was and is. The earth did not move. The ground did not shake. The wind merely blew in the direction of good fortune for Deontay Wilder, a fighter who came along at a time when American boxing fans are craving a domestic champion. He got his shot against a modestly talented fighter and a belt was open because boxing has nearly as many “world” titles as Game of Thrones has kings. Now he sits near(ish) the top of a long diminished weight class. Will he legitimize his division and therefore his own title? There’s only one way to do that.
Until then, he’s an answer to a trivia question. He should want more. So should we.