The heavyweight division has a new lord. On Saturday Bermane “B. Ware” Stiverne stopped Chris “The Nightmare” Arreola in the sixth round to capture the WBC heavyweight championship, which had been vacated by Vitali Klitschko. Stiverne now shares the division’s peak with the other Klitschko, Wladimir, despite occupying less real estate, as “B.Ware” possesses one title to his three.
The Haitian had perhaps the quietest title ascendancy of any recent champion, but it culminated in a deafening show of talent and calculation on Saturday. Stiverne withstood Arreola’s early barrage, waited for the opening he knew would arrive, and then smashed Arreola with a crippling right hand to the temple. The referee intervened a minute later, and a triumphant Stiverne collapsed to the mat, where he floated overtop his sport’s zenith.
Even though it went half the distance, Saturday’s scrap was far more competitive than Stiverne-Arreola I. This is attributable to Arreola’s uptick in tempo. In the first fight “The Nightmare” failed to open up, which is antithetical for someone whose best chance is to brawl. He didn’t make this same mistake on Saturday. Rather than let Stiverne dominate with his jab, Arreola pressured him against the ropes where he threw shots with both hands. Arreola’s best moment came in the third, when a flurry of bombs had Stiverne seemingly on the precipice of defeat. This provoked unabashed delight in ESPN’s Teddy Atlas, who gifted us with this keen culinary metaphor: “Arreola wants to eat. And how do you eat? Well you set the table with the jab and then ya’ go with the right and ya’ devour.”
Arreola carried this momentum into the fourth, but Stiverne managed to subdue his pressure by regaining control of the middle of the ring. Bermane found his jab again, and used this and skilful footwork to maintain the necessary distance. Unlike in the first fight, however, Arreola continued to come forward, aware he couldn’t become sucked into Stiverne’s preferred methodical pace. His efforts weren’t wasted. After the fifth round Arreola was up on two of the judges’ scorecards, who appreciated his superior work rate, a byproduct of improved conditioning.
However, the downside of Arreola’s exciting, brawling style, is his susceptibility to counter punches. With a minute gone in the sixth, Arreola got caught trying to walk Stiverne down. Using footwork to disrupt Arreola’s rhythm, Stiverne threw a sharp jab that caught Arreola’s attention and left him open to a right. “B.Ware” landed a flush shot on the side of Arreola’s face, and the big man wavered momentarily before hitting the mat. After the referee’s count a troubled Arreola rose to his feet, whereupon he was immediately attacked again and sloppily knocked into the ropes. Again, ref Jack Reiss let him continue, but another flurry of punches from Stiverne prompted the stoppage and a new heavyweight champion was born.
It was an action fight ESPN broadcaster Joe Tessitore rightly extolled as a bargain compared to paying $75 for PPV, only to be disappointed by something pedestrian and pathetic (think Klitschko vs. Povetkin). And indeed it was an exciting brawl, rare in an era in which heavyweight title fights have been dominated by a man whose conservative style could bore a PCP addict. For Arreola, he fought the style of fight he needed to but, unfortunately for him, Stiverne’s chin could withstand the brunt of his opponent’s bombs, and his, evidently, could not. He isn’t done as a top heavyweight, but it seems unlikely he’ll contend for a title if Wladimir Klitschko and Bermane Stiverne are still around.
Conversely, Bermane Stiverne now appears to be the sport’s second best heavyweight. His is an interesting story. Born in Haiti, reared in Montreal and Miami, and now a resident of Las Vegas, Stiverne is like a ghost who’s materialized at an opportune time to seize a title. His gifts are anything but ephemeral, however. Stiverne is a polished boxer who does everything fairly well. Like many contemporary heavyweights, he got a late start in pugilism and will turn 36 this year. That is obviously late for a professional athlete to become a household name, but it’s a similar career arc as that of fellow Haitian-Montrealer Adonis Stevenson. Their collective motto could well be, “Better late than never.” Now both are set to cash-in big-time.
That said, Stiverne may find it difficult to become a major figure in boxing because, in addition to his generally subdued personality (though we saw a different side at last week’s tension-filled and entertaining press conference), he’s afflicted by the same disease that plagued Lennox Lewis: fans can’t place him geographically, which, in boxing’s tribal star-making system, makes it more difficult to root for or against him. Stiverne was born in Haiti, raised for a time in Montreal, and has ties to the Miami area. Every recap of Saturday’s fight mentioned that he’s the first-ever Haitian heavyweight champion, which speaks to the opportunities that have been denied Haitian athletes. His origins are indivisible from who he is, and the best way to capitalize on them might well be to fight out of Montreal, with its sizeable Haitian population and booming fight scene. In no other city could he command the same attention.
His next opponent will likely be Deontay Wilder, the spindly Alabaman with a cannonading right hand. Wilder knocks out everyone he fights and promised on Saturday that Stiverne would be an easy foe. This might be an underestimation of “B. Ware’s” talents. Wilder might have the biggest punch in boxing, but we haven’t seen his chin tested. In two fights against Arreola, Stiverne made an emphatic statement about his own power, and it’s an open question as to whether Wilder has developed enough to handle Stiverne’s unique amalgam of speed, strength, skill, and ring smarts. When they do fight, I hardly believe it would go the distance, and what better venue to stage it at than the Bell Center, where twenty-thousand fans worked themselves into hysterics over Bute-Pascal, a fight with far less relevance than Stiverne-Wilder.
When asked about future opponents after Saturday’s win, Stiverne demurred, preferring to focus on his own accomplishment, one that should be further legitimized when Stiverne takes on the few heavyweights capable of presenting a serious challenge. Whether this happens in Canada is unknown, but “B. Ware” is promoted by the unkillable Don King, who can sniff out a financial opportunity like a reptile would a rodent. Many hope his nose leads Stiverne to Montreal.
— Eliott McCormick