As some expected, the much anticipated Stiverne vs Wilder heavyweight title match did not live up to the hopes of fight fans. Instead of action, high drama and a knockout finish, we saw a rather tedious 12 round match in which one man appeared largely disinterested in taking risks and another man didn’t need to. Wilder surprised everyone with his tactics, patience and boxing ability as he utilized his height and reach advantages to outjab and outbox the defending champion, in the process winning almost every round as the crowd at times booed the lack of serious action.
Wilder deserves credit for his choice of tactics and being able to execute his strategy for the full twelve rounds. As for Stiverne, it is difficult to understand how he expected to win. He failed to establish his jab, cut off the ring or bring meaningful pressure to bear in a performance which simply made no logical sense. Those who picked Stiverne to win took the champion at his word when he said he was going to show everyone “how to chop down a tree,” which implied constant pressure and a withering body attack. But instead of chopping down the tree, Stiverne never even got himself in position to swing his axe.
No doubt part of Stiverne’s ineffectiveness had much to do with “The Bronze Bomber” choosing to box at long range instead of taking the fight to the champion and trying to score another early round knockout. No one had seen this side of Wilder, so there was little reason to anticipate him sticking and moving as he did. He threw us, and Stiverne, a curve ball and “B.Ware’s” bat found nothing but air for the most part. He won the fourth round with body punches, and had his best moments in the sixth, but even then his frustration showed as he taunted the challenger and waved at him to go toe-to-toe, but Deontay declined the invitation and kept working that long left jab.
Afterwards, Stiverne declared he was “flat,” and just wasn’t on his game. “That wasn’t me tonight,” he said, while adding he didn’t want to take anything away from the new champion. But it looked to these eyes more like Stiverne simply couldn’t adjust to Wilder’s surprising tactical choice. The Haitian is more comfortable when his opponent comes to him and gives him something to counter, as we saw in the Arreola fights. Thus, he never found his groove because he was left waiting for Wilder to do what he never really did, which was attack.
Though Stiverne was no doubt also affected by the challenger’s power. In round two he was clearly hurt by a right hand and was forced to hang on for dear life to avoid a knockdown. Both men tumbled to the canvas as a result and the referee did not call a knockdown, but at that moment it was obvious to all Wilder could hurt the otherwise tough Stiverne. The champion had to respect Wilder’s power from that point on and he was seriously rocked a second time in round seven.
With the win, Deontay Wilder is the first American to claim a piece of the world heavyweight title since Shannon Briggs briefly held a version of it back in 2006. This alone makes him a marketable prizefighter but coupled with his physical prowess and obvious ease in front of cameras and microphones, Wilder may have the potential to become a major star in the U.S., something boxing desperately needs. But first he will need to conquer Wladimir Klitschko to truly establish himself, and it’s anyone’s guess as to when that match might happen. — Robert Portis