Photo Credits: Hoganphotos/Golden Boy Promotions
LAS VEGAS — The US heavyweight title drought is over. For the first time since 2006, a heavyweight from the United States holds a portion of the biggest prize in boxing, as Deontay Wilder relied on movement and a punishing jab to decision Bermane Stiverne last night at the MGM Grand.
There were many questions going into last night. Can Wilder fight past 4 rounds? Can the undefeated slugger takes punches as well as he gives them? While there are a few that are still outstanding, Wilder did answer the most pressing ones — he’s not a “fraud” and is a serious threat to any fighter in the division.
STIVERNE WALKS WILDER DOWN…WITH NO PUNCHES?!: The atmosphere was tense in the early rounds with Stiverne coming with a high guard, attempting to catch Wilder’s stiff jab and right hands before countering with single, hard shots. If you’re a Stiverne fan, you had optimism early on because the Haitian champion was able to get very close to Wilder without having to jab his way in. However, we witnessed the first problem with this strategy at the end of the second, when Stiverne was badly staggered by a right hand around the gloves and a succession of short hooks. Stiverne was forced to hold and tackled Wilder to end the round.
From there, Stiverne did an unwise imitation of Dereck Chisora’s recent rematch strategy against Tyson Fury. He plodded after Wilder without much head movement, hoping to land a haymaker counter once Wilder threw a wild shot. But Wilder kept those wild moments to a bare minimum. He’d occasionally throw a hard 1-2, but banked most rounds by simply jabbing and moving away. His height and reach also eliminated the effectiveness of Stiverne’s usually dangerous overhand right.
CHIN ANSWERS: Stiverne did manage to test Wilder’s chin a few times. The fourth round was the first time Stiverne consistently landed hooks to the body, which started to make Wilder’s backpedaling less fluid and lowered his guard. A left hook wobbled the challenger early in the sixth. However, Wilder remained composed and relied on his long jab to stifle Stiverne’s chances to follow-up.
By the seventh, the chin questions turned away from Wilder’s and to how much more Stiverne could take. The champion was staggered by a right hand, but still had the awareness to try to land a counter right as Wilder rushed him with more power punches. In the ninth, Wilder abused Stiverne with power jabs and right crosses. The championship rounds offered little reprieve for Stiverne until the 12th, when Wilder opted to maul and smother Stiverne inside to prevent any chances of a Hail Mary shot.
LATE EDUCATION: Deontay Wilder shouldn’t have been matched so lowly that he had to wait until his first title shot to go 12 rounds. Nonetheless, the experience he got last night will prove invaluable for his confidence as a world titlist.
“I’m just excited and happy to bring this belt back to America,” Wilder said. “It’s going to mean a lot. I think I answered a lot of questions tonight. We knew we could go 12 rounds. We knew we could take a punch. We knew we could do it.”
With Al Haymon in his corner, Wilder is in a great position. His options include an international trash-talking bonanza against Tyson Fury, going for all the glory against Wladimir Klitschko later this year, or the assortment of ranked credible contenders in the WBC (#2 Alexander Povetkin, #3 Bryant Jennings, #4 Mike Perez).
When asked about his head-scratching strategy, Stiverne seemed clueless himself in pin-pointing what went wrong.
“It wasn’t my night,” Stiverne said. “I felt 100 percent before the fight but once I got in the ring I couldn’t cut the ring, I couldn’t move my head like I usually do. What can I say? Congrats to him.
“I knew I was trying to throw combos of four or five punches and I could only throw two of them. I just felt like I was flat in the ring. What I know I could do I didn’t do. I just have to go back and learn from my mistakes and find out what happened tonight.”
Stiverne is still a capable fighter, but as a 36 year-old, this might be the last time we see him in the title picture.
THE AMIR IMAM-FIDEL MALDONADO SHOOTOUT: Many, myself included, dubbed this the sleeper fight of the night and that ended up being an understatement with 5 knockdowns between them before Imam scored a TKO in the fifth round.
Maldonado had a high activity rate in the first round and landed some nice left hooks. But Maldonado got too bold and was dropped hard with a short right in the waning moments of the second. From there, any strategy on Maldonado’s part went out the window. The very next round, Maldonado put Imam down for the first time in his career with a straight left in the opening seconds. But between the two, Imam was the harder puncher, and the Maldonado’s brawling got him dropped twice more in the round via two right hands.
The finale would come at the close of the fifth. Maldonado was suckered into a modified “rope-a-dope” and got badly stung by a right hand, then dropped by a left hook. Maldonado got up from this fourth knockdown, but referee Robert Byrd wisely ruled him in no shape to continue.
“I just got caught with a couple of punches,” Maldonado reflected. “He kept his composure and he came out with the W. I just got caught. I got lazy in there and he capitalized. He was the better man tonight. I got kind of bored at the end of the rounds and I paid for it.”
This was a crossroads fight for both prospects, and Imam now feels he’s ready for a title shot at 140. His first target was Adrien Broner, who reportedly declined. I like Imam’s ambition, but he needs to take down a Top 10-15 guy first before even considering a Broner or the champ, Danny Garcia.
LEO SANTA CRUZ TKO8 JESUS RUIZ: Leo Santa Cruz’s latest high-priced exhibition took a little longer than expected with the WBC super bantamweight titlist scoring a technical stoppage in the eighth. Early on, Ruiz fought on even terms during the phone booth exchanges. But Santa Cruz’s superior class began to take over in the middle rounds with his consistent body attack (73 power shots overall) and short hooks inside. A right cross made Ruiz stagger into the ropes. Santa Cruz rained down non-stop punches as Ruiz attempting to fight off the ropes. Referee Kenny Bayless made the call for a questionable stoppage, mostly due to a few of the shots snapping back Ruiz’s head.
“I want a rematch,” Ruiz said. “I don’t feel they should have stopped the fight, but I have to accept it. But I’m fine. Look at me – I’m not cut. He didn’t even drop me.”
With all the backlash from about his recent competition, Santa Cruz has started saying all the right things about wanting to face either Guillermo Rigondeaux or Abner Mares. Considering that Mares and Santa Cruz are both signed to Golden Boy, bank on that being the next fight. And with their styles, I’d wager it could be a potential Fight of the Year.
Vyacheslav Shabranskyy RTD9 GARRETT WILSON: Undefeated light heavyweight prospect Vyacheslav Shabranskyy delivered a dominant performance over Garrett Wilson, scoring two knockdowns and forcing a corner stoppage before the ninth. The height and reach disparity forced Wilson into dangerous gambles, allowing Shabranskyy to catch him with hard counter shots. A badly swollen jaw and the rounds of one-way traffic punishment caused referee Jay Nady to make the right decision in calling the fight off. Shabranskyy improves to 12-0 while Wilson loses his fourth straight, falling to 13-9-1.
ERIC MOLINA TKO8 RAPHAEL ZUMBANO: The evening opened with an entertaining heavyweight contest in Eric Molina sharp-shooting Raphael Zumbano in route to an eighth round stoppage. Zumbrano’s best asset was his ability to come forward. But with no semblance of defense from Zumbano, Molina made him consistently pay with right hooks and uppercuts. Zumbrano was stopped on the ropes after eating 76% of Molina’s power shots.
Since Molina is a Don King heavyweight like Stiverne, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see them matched up next.