Can Wilder Escape Joshua’s Shadow With a Strong Showing vs. Stiverne?

Deontay Wilder is defending his WBC heavyweight title at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn this weekend, a place that’s starting to attract some of boxing’s most high profile fighters and title bouts. Wilder 38-0 (37) won the title in January of 2015 and has defended it successfully five times, winning every bout by stoppage.

His opponent is the man he beat for the title, Bermane Stiverne 28-2-1 (21), who happens to be the only fighter who has extended Wilder the distance during Wilder’s nine year career. The first time they met Wilder proved that he could go the distance and ran away with the fight, winning by a wide margin on all three cards (118-109, 119-108, 120-107). Deontay had some big rounds against Stiverne but couldn’t finish him.  Since then Stiverne has only fought once, winning by unanimous decision over Derric Rossi back in November of 2015. His showing against Rossi was underwhelming and he was dropped by a single right hand in the first round.

During recent interviews and press conferences Wilder has appeared to come across a little bitter, and even came undone during one rant. And that is no doubt due to the criticism he’s been subjected to since his proposed fight with Luis Ortiz fell through. On top of that, he is clearly annoyed by the attention and adulation IBF/WBA title holder Anthony Joshua has been receiving. Unfortunately, that’s not Joshua’s fault and the blame falls more on Wilder and his management on how they’ve brought him along.

It’s not Joshua’s fault that Wilder has only fought one notable opponent in 38 bouts and that just so happens to be the only fighter he didn’t beat via stoppage. It’s not Joshua’s fault that Wilder was getting peppered by the jab of Gerald Washington, known as much for his days as a football player as a fighter, before Wilder knocked Washington out after Gerald began punching at him with less urgency. And Wilder looked so reckless and wild in finishing Washington that he resembled a novice Golden Gloves champ more so than the WBC world champ.

In 38 pro bouts against suspect and limited opposition, Wilder has shown terrible defense and poor balance. Sometimes he looks as if he’s no more than a punch or two away from being in trouble, only to salvage the fight with his big right hand. Had Wilder been able to go through with either of his scheduled bouts against Alexander Povetkin or Luis Ortiz, we’d know more about his true ability because they’re both head and shoulders above any opponent he’s met. Of course it’s not his fault both Povetin and Ortiz failed drug tests for PEDS, causing the fights to be cancelled. I respect Deontay for remaining drug free and believe he fears no one, but his resume is thin.

Since his debut Wilder has shown great power in his right hand and has beat everyone he was supposed to. But when you can’t gauge a fighter on his opposition because it’s so suspect, the next best thing you can do to evaluate them is assess how they look against second and third tier fighters, and this is where Wilder fails the eye test.

Deontay’s entire career, with the exception of Stiverne, is littered with the same caliber opponents that Mike Tyson met during his first 18-20 bouts. In other words, they were no- hope, weak chinned journeymen or has-been’s, opponents who were only there to provide a body to hit. Winning was never a worry going into a majority of his bouts. The intent was to showcase his power and look spectacular. Tyson’s early bouts gave evidence that he was uniquely skilled and warranted a second and third look. The same cannot be said for Wilder. He has struggled getting the upper hand against too many of the low quality opponents he’s faced, only to be bailed out with his right hand power. By contrast, when Anthony Joshua had a limited foe in front of him, he dispatched him without any close calls while showing marked improvement. Against Wladimir Klitschko earlier this year, Joshua showed he can box, punch, go hard rounds and get off the canvas and rally to win after being gassed and on the verge of losing.

Ask yourself what Joshua might look like fighting every opponent Wilder has to this point? Call it a hunch but I’d say he’d go 38-0, winning every bout by stoppage.

Saturday’s fight with Stiverne is set up for Wilder to win by stoppage, and that’s what I expect. Stiverne is 39, he’s been inactive, and I get the impression his heart isn’t in boxing like it once was, although he should be motivated because this could well be his last time fighting for a title. Add to that, everybody watching will be comparing Wilder to how Joshua looked last week, and Wilder knows it. Granted, it wasn’t Joshua’s best showing last weekend, but the best shot he got caught with was an unintentional head butt. Carlos Takam never had much success hitting AJ clean, and never once hurt or stunned him.

This is the fight for Wilder to shine. Let’s see him box from behind his long reach and use his jab as a tool to set up his right hand, opposed to winging it wildly out of desperation, and let’s see him not get hit with rudimentary jabs. With Anthony Joshua’s somewhat uninspired showing last weekend, Wilder can take away some of the play regarding negotiations if he looks good.

Eddie Hearn, who promotes Joshua, went out of his way to say after the Takam bout, without naming Wilder, that some fighters don’t have a realistic idea what they’re worth. Hearn knows Joshua is still the draw and is going to dictate the financial terms when he fights Wilder. In the last few days Hearn has been floating the idea of Joshua fighting WBO title holder Joseph Parker next. If Joshua were to beat Parker — and I can’t see why he wouldn’t — he would hold three of the four major titles (WBA/IBF/WBO) and that would only strengthen his position regarding the purse split with Wilder.

There’s no way Wilder can catch Joshua on Saturday as far as being considered the main man in the heavyweight division, but if he looks like a top level professional, exhibiting fundamental defense and boxing basics and stops Stiverne, he’ll be taken more seriously and may escape Joshua’s shadow, at least for a moment. Right now Hearn is letting the fight between Joshua and Wilder marinate, and he couldn’t care less that some fans may infer that he believes Joshua might not be ready for Wilder. Hearn knows that’s not reality.

The only thing Wilder can do is dispose of Stiverne in an impressive manner. If he can look better this weekend than Joshua did last weekend, there’s a chance he can take away some of the momentum that Joshua clearly has a stranglehold on.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel.

To comment on this article at The Fight Forum, CLICK HERE.