Destroyer: Deontay Wilder stops Stiverne in one, calls for Anthony Joshua

Undefeated WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (standing) vs. Bermane Stiverne. Photo credit: Tom Casino/Showtime


In the end, no amount of Don King malapropisms was going to cover up the heavyweight farce that took place last Saturday night at the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, New York, when Deontay Wilder successfully defended his WBC title by blowing out a shamefully overweight and unprepared Bermane Stiverne in the first round of a rematch many observers considered to be redundant, even risible. Even on paper, the fight looked as threadbare as King’s trademark denim patchwork jacket.


King may be no more than a figurehead in boxing today but his presence, in all its seamy, miasmic decadence, seemed like a fitting touch to a night that resembled one of the promoter’s own series of inordinate heavyweight matches in the 1980s. Indeed, what was Stiverne on Saturday but an homage to what Carlos Acevedo referred to as the “strange collective ennui” of Greg Page, Tony Tubbs and Tim Witherspoon – all former King vassals, who once routinely “entered the ring with various body parts jiggling, as if their training diets consisted of Twinkies and not T-bone steaks.” Stiverne’s 250-plus pounds of flab surely jiggled for the 2 minutes and 59 seconds it was active in the ring before it lay motionless on the canvas, the head slumped over the bottom rope. Here lay the latest underwhelming recipient of Wilder’s artless brawn, as a vociferous Brooklyn crowd rejoiced in a meritless competition.


“The only thing between a sparring partner and this,” the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native surmised afterward, “is that I think I went more rounds in sparring.”


“Bermane was in shape this time,” King, smiling from ear to ear, insisted. “Last time, he was dehydrated. But there are no excuses.”


As one longtime middleman put it unequivocally during the undercard, “Wherever DK goes, I go.” To Broward County, Florida, then, he and his fellow hangers-on return. Until, of course, the next time King strongarms Mauricio Sulaiman Jr. into giving him another opportunity for a title shot cameo.


With Saul Alvarez-Gennady Golovkin now a memory, attention has shifted to the next mega-match-up to make in boxing: a heavyweight unification contest between Wilder and U.K. box office titan and IBF/WBA titlist Anthony Joshua. As it stands, Joshua-Wilder is the most lucrative and significant fight in boxing. The two fighters share similarities. In addition to having one-punch knockout power, both boast charisma to go along with undefeated records. One, however, can lay claim to being the bigger financial draw. Last weekend, Joshua went 10 hard rounds with Carlos Takam before referee Phil Edwards stopped the fight in front of 78,000 spectators in Cardiff, Wales. By contrast, Wilder’s charade with an unready Stiverne took place in front of 10,924.


In a rare public appearance after the fight on Saturday, Wilder’s manager Shelly Finkel shared the dais with his charge. “What you see on TV is more people,” Finkel cautioned to the packed room, “but not necessarily more dollars. When you go to Vegas – if (the Joshua camp) want this fight – (Las Vegas) can put up more than anywhere.”


(Asked to elaborate on what he meant by “more” in an email, Finkel responded to, stating, “The Klitschko-Joshua fight did about $15 million; Las Vegas can pay $20 million or more anytime.” He did not provide further comment.)


Then in a strategic move, Finkel revealed an episode in his ongoing dealings with the Joshua camp.


“About six weeks ago, I got an email from (Joshua promoter) Eddie Hearn,” Finkel told a crowded room. “And he said, ‘If you fight Dillian Whyte, we’ll get you Joshua next. I couldn’t get on the phone quick enough to him. He didn’t answer and I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He said, ‘Please give me a day; I just lost the fight with (Kubrat Pulev).’ So the next day, I said to him, ‘What’s the deal?’ He said, ‘What do you want to fight Dillian Whyte?’ I said, ‘That will be made easy. When do we get Joshua?’ (Hearn) never called me back.


“I’ve been around this game long enough. If someone wants to fight, they fight…Joshua finished his mandatory and you haven’t heard a word from him. (Wilder) will go anywhere to fight him. And he said it. So there’s no silence, no avoiding. It’s up to Joshua. And if it’s not, he has his reasons not to.”


Finkel clarified to that they want a Joshua fight directly but would accept a deal to fight Whyte, only on the understanding that Joshua would be next and provided the money is right.


But can a heavyweight champion who has yet to appear on a pay-per-view telecast, much less break two million buys, command the playing field in question? While defeating Charles Martin, Dominic Breazeale and Eric Molina (all opponents Wilder has also faced) are hardly achievements on which to hang one’s hat, Joshua has, to his name, a convincing knockout victory over Wladimir Klitschko, the most dominant heavyweight champion in recent memory, in a fight that quelled concerns about the Londoner’s chin and late-round toughness. That accomplishment alone is worth more than Wilder’s nearly three-year reign as champion. The American heavyweight’s reign has as much substance as the press briefings from the current White House administration. To wit, after defeating Stiverne for the first time in 2015, Wilder went on to face a slew of no-hopers, who include, in chronological order, Eric Molina, Johann Duhaupas, Artur Szpilka, Chris Arreola, Gerald Washington and, again, Stiverne.


Of course, Wilder has also been a recent victim of circumstance. He was supposed to fight Alexander Povetkin in Russia last year, before Povetkin tested positive for PEDs, and Luis Ortiz on Saturday night, until Ortiz failed a drug test last month. Both Povetkin and Ortiz have a history of PED use. Wilder’s promoter Lou DiBella played the pity game last Thursday in Manhattan.


“When people are doing the right thing, you can’t say ‘Doing the right thing hurt us…’ It’s not an easy thing to read about yourself getting criticized because of stuff that is through no fault of your own but because of circumstance…because you had another defining fight got canceled because another piece of paper came adverse from VADA. It’s not your fault.”


But for all the bloviating, there is no such thing as a moral high ground in an amoral sport. Wilder is 32 years old and incredibly, has yet to get in the ring with a single elite opponent. That is not by circumstance but design. The pressure is on Wilder to make his career a truly meritorious one. This much is clear: Taking out a flabby B-side does not burnish your legacy nor does it buy you more heft for the negotiating table. King, no one’s idea of precise, still managed to get to the fact of the matter when he recently tried to pitch Wilder on becoming his promoter. “Oh, he can talk. He’s got the glib gift…but nobody knows him yet!”




Sean Nam is a contributor to The Cruelest Sport and UCNLive. He also writes about film for Slant Magazine and Mubi Notebook.





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