WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (now 39-0, 38 KOs) has one-punch knockout power. How much power is unclear since, for the most part, he has steered clear of opponents with sturdy chins. And he has gravitated away from big punchers because his own chin is suspect.
Wilder’s ring skills have also come under attack.
“I fight with my heart,” Denotay said last month in response to the criticism. “I fight with my will. Forget skills. Skills ain’t got me nowhere in life.”
Two months ago, in an effort to silence his critics, Wilder signed to fight Luis Ortiz (27-0, 23 KOs) on November 4 at Barclays Center in a bout to be televised by Showtime. Ortiz a 38-year-old Cuban expatriate now living in Florida, looked his best in demolishing Bryant Jennings on a seventh-round knockout two years ago. But he hadn’t done much since then, and the prevailing view was that age might be catching up with him.
There was the usual smack-talking after the fight was announced.
“Somebody better endorse the bottom of Ortiz’s shoes,” Wilder advised the media, “because he’ll be on his back, staring at the ceiling, and they’ll be seeing both of them at the end of this fight.”
And of course, the usual hyperbole.
“Deontay Wilder versus Luis Ortiz is the best heavyweight championship fight that was makeable this year,” promoter Lou DiBella proclaimed.
That left open the question of where Anthony Joshua vs. Wladimir Klitschko (which drew 90,000 fans and was televised by two American premium cable networks) ranked in DiBella’s thought processes. But the matter became moot when Ortiz tested positive for chlorothiazide and hydrochlorothiazide (both of which are banned under the WADA code) and Wilder-Ortiz was cancelled.
In place of Ortiz, the promotion substituted Bermane Stiverne.
Fighting largely against the usual suspects, Stiverne had compiled a 25-and-2 (21 KOs) record. He won the WBC heavyweight belt by knocking out a badly-faded Chris Arreola in 2014 and lost to Wilder in his next outing. His other loss was a knockout defeat at the hands of an 11-and-15 fighter named Demetrice King. Stiverne is 39 years old. He’d fought only once since losing to Wilder (a controversial decision over Derric Rossy two years ago). Somehow, that qualified him to be the mandatory challenger for Wilder’s WBC title.
Sporting a new mustache (to support prostate cancer awareness) that didn’t quite conjure up images of a young Clark Gable, WBC president Mauricio Sulaiman told reporters at the final pre-fight press conference, “Whoever thinks this is not the best championship fight that can be made in the heavyweight division is wrong.”
But in truth, Wilder-Stiverne was a fight that no one except Team Stiverne and the WBC had much interest in seeing.
Wilder has voiced resentment in recent months over the fact that the American public hasn’t gotten behind him the way that the Brits support Anthony Joshua and other nations supported Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko.
“I’m the best, hardest-punching, most feared heavyweight in the world,” Deontay declared at an October 14 media sitdown. “I don’t have to put punches together. It’s one punch, goodnight. Tell your favorite fighter to come see me.”
Wilder also referenced the hardships of boxing, observing, “A lot of people say what I can’t do, but they’re not me. They don’t train. They don’t bust their ass every day in the gym, lay in the bed and you can’t really get a good position to sleep because your body is so sore.”
The promotion sought to infuse drama into Wilder-Stiverne by noting that Stiverne was the only opponent who’d gone the distance with Wilder. Bermane, in turn, said he’d lost to Deontay the first time around because of unspecified health issues. That led Wilder to reply, “People don’t want to hear excuses. They want a winner and they want a loser. The facts are the facts. The person that loses, nobody wants to hear the reason. They just want to hear you say, ‘Hey, I admit it. I lost, but I’m gonna try my best the next time.’ People respect that. People don’t like a loser that contradicts themselves. One minute, you’re good, you’re healthy. You’re talking so confidently. And then, when the time to fight happens, all of a sudden something just so dramatically happens in the ring.”
Then Stiverne upped the ante, telling the media at the final pre-fight press conference, “One thing that really caught my attention – and I don’t really pay attention to social media and all that stuff – is that he said that he fears for my life.” At that point, Stiverne turned to face Wilder. “You fear for my life, man? You fear for my life? I don’t fear for your life because I’m a killer! If that’s what it takes for me to take that title, that’s what I’m gonna do. And I’m gonna walk away with a smile on my face.”
“I don’t have to say what I’m gonna do because I’m gonna show him,” Wilder responded. “It will be a show-and-tell on Saturday night. Like my daddy said; I’ll whup you because I love you.”
Most of the excitement in the pre-fight promotion was supplied by Don King.
King sightings in boxing are rare these days. But DK has a promotional interest in Stiverne (and also in Eric Molina, who’d been brought in as an opponent for Dominic Breazeale in an undercard fight).
King turned 86 in August. His hair is no longer thick enough to rise dramatically toward the heavens. His frame is a bit stooped and he walks more slowly than before. The custom-made “Only in America” jacket he wears is fraying and discolored at the cuffs. But he remains a man of remarkable energy and vitality. His booming voice and high-pitched laugh still pierce the air. He commands attention wherever he goes. King might not look seventy anymore, but he doesn’t look 86 either.
“God has sent Bermane Stiverne to do His work,” King proclaimed at the final pre-fight press conference. “Bermane is going to do what Donald Trump did and triumph against all odds.”
The announced attendance on fight night was 10,924, but that included a lot of giveaway tickets.
Once upon a time, King would have had both fighters in the main event and controlled the undercard. Now he was on site with a 15-to-1 underdog (Stiverne) and a 7-to-2 long-shot (Molina).
Breazeale stopped Molina in eight rounds.
In the first Showtime bout of the evening, Sergey Lipinets (12-0, 10 KOs) and Akihiro Kondo (29-6-1, 16 KOs) battled for an IBF 140-pound belt of questionable provenance. Three of Kondo’s opponents during the past two years had records of 0-0, 0-1, and 0-0 at the time he fought them. Lipinets decisioned Kondo by a 118-110, 117-111, 117-111 margin in a fight that was much closer than the scorecards indicated.
Next, Shawn Porter (27-2-1, 17 KOs) took on Adrian Granados (18-5-2, 12 KOs).
Porter came out on the short end of razor-thin decisions in his two biggest fights (against Kell Brook and Keith Thurman) and has scored victories over past-their prime former champions Andre Berto, Paulie Malignaggi, Devon Alexander, and Adrien Broner. He’s a volume puncher whose mauling brawling style and chin make him a tough out for anyone. If Shawn shortened his punches and placed them more judiciously, they’d be more effective.
Granados was an opponent for young fighters on the rise until two years ago, when he upset an applecart by knocking out Amir Imam. That got him a fight against Adrien Broner in which he acquitted himself well but lost. Now he’s an opponent again.
This was a stay-busy fight for Porter while he waits for Keith Thurman to heal, have a comeback bout against a soft opponent, stay healthy, and then (maybe) fight Shawn again.
As expected, Porter mauled and brawled for most of the fight. Granados fought with heart and a measure of skill. But Adrian’s defense is porous and he had nothing to keep Shawn off. Porter dominated the first ten rounds before an injured left hand led to his avoiding contact in the final two stanzas. That cut his margin of victory to 117-111, 117-111,117-111.
Then it was time for Wilder-Stiverne.
Bermane was never svelte. He turned pro twelve years ago at 233 pounds and has entered the ring as high as 258. For his most recent outing against Derric Rossy, he weighed in at 254. Facing Wilder two years ago, he tipped the scales at 239.
This time, Stiverne weighed in at an unsculpted 254-3/4 pounds. One could imagine Don King arguing, “Bermane is in shape. Round is a shape.”
Wilder weighed in at 220-3/4.
This time against Stiverne, Wilder came out behind an aggressive jab and Bermane did nothing. More than a minute passed before the challenger threw his first punch, a meaningless stay-away-from-me jab that fell far short of the mark. That was followed twenty seconds later by a tentative jab in the direction of Wilder’s mid-section.
Just past the two-minute mark of round one, Wilder jabbed and followed with an uncharacteristically (for him) straight right that landed smack in the center of Stiverne’s face. Bermane went down hard and rose unsteadily. Every punch Deontay threw after that seemed to come in as wide an arc as was anatomically possible. But they landed often enough and hard enough to do damage. Referee Arthur Mercante halted the carnage after the third knockdown at 2:59 of the round. CompuBox credited Stiverne with throwing four punches. He landed none.
One week ago, WBA-IBF heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua looked less than scintillating en route to a tenth-round stoppage of Carlos Takam. Joshua won virtually every minute of the fight. He’s a big strong guy who can do damage both from a distance and on the inside. But A.J. has also been more hittable than his partisans would like.
Wilder has fast hands. And he can whack.
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Arthur Mercante Sr (the “Sr” was added when the Hall-of-Fame referee’s son followed his father’s footsteps into refereeing) was a textbook on the art of how the third man in the ring should oversee a fight. One of the things Mercante was firm about was his belief that, during a fight, the referee should touch the fighters as little as possible.
“A referee should control a fight through positioning and voice commands,” Mercante told me. “If a fighter doesn’t respond appropriately, you warn him that, the next time it happens, you’ll take a point away. Then, if it happens again, you deduct a point. And after that, he’ll listen.”
Mercante’s thoughts are relevant today because two referees were overly physical with the fighters at Barclays Center on Saturday night. Danny Schiavone, who refereed the undercard bout between Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina, was constantly pushing and pulling at the fighters and tugging at their arms to break them apart. Gary Rosato did the same thing with Shawn Porter and Adrian Granados.
Some good referees ply their trade in New York with Harvey Dock heading the list. But the New York State Athletic Commission needs to train a new generation of referees. And every knowledgeable person in boxing knows it.
* * *
Boxing is very much a “what have you done for me lately” business. That said; something that happened at Barclays Center on Saturday night troubled me.
Seanie Monaghan is an honest hardworking fighter and a thoroughly decent man, who has been a fixture on the New York boxing scene for years. In his last fight, he suffered the first loss of his ring career, a knockout defeat at the hands of Marcus Browne.
Monaghan began his comeback on Saturday night in an eight-round bout against Evert Bravo. One day prior to the fight, DiBella Entertainment (the promoter of record) advised Team Monaghan that Seanie’s fight might be a “swing” bout. Monaghan and company weren’t happy about it but were told they had no choice.
DiBella Entertainment didn’t control the bout order. That was decided by Showtime in conjunction with Al Haymon. Showtime didn’t care when Monaghan-Bravo was contested because it wasn’t a TV fight. The decision was made by Haymon, who had a financial stake in most of the other undercard fighters but not in Monaghan.
P.J. Kavanagh (Monaghan’s manager) told this writer on Sunday, “We got to Barclays when they told us to, which was six o’clock. At first, we were on the list as the sixth fight of the night. Then they told us that we weren’t going on until after the Wilder fight. Seanie took it like a professional and didn’t complain. All he said was, ‘Let’s stay positive.’”
Monaghan didn’t glove up and start warming up until Wilder began his ring walk. Then, after the Wilder fight, the powers that be put another swing bout on before Monaghan-Bravo.
Here, one might add that, unlike most undercard fighters, Seanie is a good ticketseller. His team sold hundreds of tickets in bars and other outlets for his comeback fight. And that’s not counting the tickets his fans bought at the box office and online.
The bell for round one of Monaghan-Bravo didn’t ring until 12:22 AM. The fight went the full eight-rounds and ended at 12:53 with Seanie winning a unanimous decision.
“It’s the hand we were dealt and we played it,” Kavanagh says. “And Lou DiBella has been good to us. But we’ve gotten a lot of complaints from fans who felt that they and Seanie were disrespected.”
Seanie Monaghan has earned the right to be more than a walk-out bout and to know in advance what time he’s fighting. He and his fans deserved better.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book – There Will Always Be Boxing – was just published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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