Prior to his rematch with Bermane Stiverne this past Saturday night, there was a lot of pressure on WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder to not only win, but to score a knockout and look impressive over the only fighter who had gone the distance with him. Deontay was ornery, uptight and focused on beating Stiverne by stoppage this time with the shadow of IBF/WBA champ Anthony Joshua hovering over his performance. And to his credit, Wilder did the best thing he could do in an attempt to erase it; he devastated Stiverne inside of one round, dropping him three times with the referee not even needing to count after the third knockdown. Wilder has now stopped every opponent he’s faced, just as Anthony Joshua has.
Prior to the bout most insiders felt Stiverne was just showing up for a payday, and when he weighed in at 254, 15 pounds more than he did for their first fight, that opinion was further endorsed. Once in the ring Stiverne looked like a doughboy, with no sweat on his body. I can’t remember the last time I saw a challenger about to fight for the heavyweight title who looked so flat and disinterested. And when Wilder came out jabbing and forcing the fight as if winning really meant something to him, Stiverne seemed to shrink before he was even hit.
Wilder drilled Stiverne with a beautiful one-two to the chin to score the first knockdown, and with that it was just a matter of finishing Stiverne – and he did with two subsequent knockdowns with a mixed array of his arsenal, a whistling left and right causing the second, and the third due to a couple of round cuffing punches high on the head and gloves. Stiverne offered no resistance from the onset and according to one report threw four punches and landed none. He was inactive leading up to the bout and, as predicted here, looked like a fighter who knew his title challenging days were gone forever and is resigned to becoming a steppingstone for younger prospects if he remains in boxing.
Deontay is still wild and unconventional in his finishing attack, but so far it’s working for him. We didn’t learn anything from this fight that we didn’t already know. We knew Wilder could hit with his right hand and we surmised that Stiverne wasn’t going to show up with the mindset of a man who refused to lose. Actually Stiverne looked too complacent before the bout started for my liking, but I’m glad this fight is over and we can hopefully move on to the real issue, and that’s Joshua vs. Wilder. With both Anthony Joshua 20-0 (20) and Deontay Wilder 39-0 (38) winning via stoppage on Showtime on consecutive weekends, it sets up a fight between them perfectly.
Before Joshua fought Carlos Takam on October 28th, it was probably split 80/20 in favor of Joshua if you took a poll who’d win between them. With Wilder winning more impressively than Joshua, that will now tighten up. And that makes the fight all the more intriguing because fans are now more split on who would win. Not that it counts for much these days, but boxing fans want to see it. It would perhaps be the most anticipated fight since Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson in 2002 and the winner would own three belts: WBA, IBF, and WBC.
Let’s Go Champs!
The heavyweight division was in the same conundrum 25 years ago, almost to the very day. That’s when the boxing world was seething with anticipation to see undisputed heavyweight champ Riddick Bowe 32-0 (27) fight the man who beat him at the 1988 Olympics for a gold medal and was considered the most dangerous young heavyweight in the world, Lennox Lewis 22-0 (19).
The match gained momentum when on Saturday night, October 31st, 1992, Lewis scored the signature win of his career with a power surge that saw him stop hard punching Razor Ruddock in the second round of their WBC elimination bout. Two weeks later, on Friday night, November 13th, Bowe won a unanimous decision over undefeated Evander Holyfield to win the WBA, WBC, IBF and lineal heavyweight titles and was then met and challenged by Lewis as he was leaving the ring on the way to his dressing room. One month later, Bowe vacated his WBC belt, literally throwing it in a trash can, when he and Lewis couldn’t agree on a split on the rumored $32 million purse.
Among boxers who stood over six-foot-three, Lewis and Bowe were stylistically the most talented since Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. It was boxing’s loss that Lewis and Bowe never fought and 25 years later it is still passionately argued who would’ve won had they met when Lewis was 27 and Bowe was 25. With Joshua and Wilder coming off high profile bouts on back-to-back weekends, the parallels between them are similar to Lewis and Bowe. Here are a few that stand out.
Like Bowe, Joshua is considered the more complete and polished boxer. However, Wilder, like Lewis, is thought to be the bigger puncher. When Lewis and Bowe were on a collision course, most observers considered Bowe’s resume better than Lewis’s, and that applies to Joshua’s body of work when compared to Wilder’s. Something else that Joshua shares with Riddick Bowe is that in their signature bouts against the best opponent they had ever faced, both overcame adversity. Evander Holyfield pushed Bowe to the brink of defeat a few times before Riddick’s physicality wore him down. Joshua had to get up off the canvas and stage a late rally to beat Wladimir Klitschko.
There are many other similarities, but the point is that Joshua and Wilder are the two most talked-about heavyweights in the world. They’re legitimate title holders and capable of ending any bout with a single punch. And most importantly, they’re at or near their peak, something that seldom happens in the heavyweight division. In most cases when two big names clash in the heavyweight division with the title on the line, one of the fighters is on the way up and the other is on the decline. For every Frazier-Ali and Holyfield-Bowe, there’s twice as many Ali-Holmes and Holmes-Tyson pairings.
Boxing is close to wrapping up one of its most exciting and fulfilling years in a long time. After Lennox Lewis retired in 2004, the best heavyweight title fight could never be realized because the combatants, Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, were brothers. Had they agreed to fight, the anticipation would’ve been monumental. However, they weren’t about to break the promise they made to their mother that they would never fight each other.
Well, there are no stumbling blocks preventing Joshua, 28, and Wilder, 32, from settling things as to who is the real heavyweight champ. I sense Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn may be looking to stall the fight in hopes of building the gate, and by doing that the gate and anticipation will no doubt escalate. The only problem with that is that neither Joshua nor Wilder are unbeatable and if by chance one of them loses in 2018, the match may go the way of Lewis and Bowe. And once again boxing fans would be robbed of seeing a fight that they wanted to see, instead of one they were told they should want to see.
Had Riddick Bowe and Lennox Lewis fought in 1993, I would have favored Bowe….if Joshua and Wilder face each other next year, I favor Joshua.
Photo credit: Tom Casino / SHOWTIME
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Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com