By Jake Donovan
You have to give Bermane Stiverne credit. The once-beaten heavyweight waited… and waited… and waited for his overdue title shot to arrive. Getting to that point meant winning on the road, waiting for the belt to become vacant, and then heading back on the road to face the very fighter he easily defeated to earn the title shot in the first place.
Yet through it all, the promotion for his May 10 rematch with Chris Arreola hasn’t entirely centered around the matchup itself. It has barely touched on Stiverne’s dominant performance last April, expect when repeatedly pointing to the fact that Arreola is in much better shape this time around.
In other words, Stiverne is once again asked to play the role of bridesmaid heading into Saturday’s affair at the USC Galen Center in Los Angeles. Until the final verdict is handed down this weekend, the show remains Chris Arreola versus what’s his name.
That’s alright with ‘the other guy.’ After all, he played the same role to perfection a year ago.
“I didn’t feel like I was the underdog, but I knew I was,” Stiverne (23-1-1, 20KO) recalled of last year’s fight, in which he busted Arreola’s nose early and dropped him en route to a wide decision win in their HBO-televised heavyweight eliminator. “Whether you talk about the fans or the media, Arreola was a big favorite, a huge favorite. And listen, I’ve been watching Arreola for so long I knew – and I know still today – that Arreola is tailor-made for me.
“I have the style, and I’m able to be smart in the ring and do certain things that he can’t do. So to me I just have to prove to whoever thought that it was impossible for me to win the fight, go out there and beat him (again).”
The win over Arreola was the last time Stiverne has been seen in the ring. The Haitian-Canadian – who has called Las Vegas home for the past ten years or so – has since waited for a title shot that was to come against Vitali Klitschko, only for the long-reigning three-time titlist to retire from the ring to instead focus his time and energy against civil unrest in his native Ukraine.
Stiverne was perfectly fine with waiting for his title shot, so long as he was next in line and that his next fight was in fact for a title. It meant going some 54 weeks without a fight and coming against an opponent who is being given the same opportunity more so than having actually earned it.
None of that matters to the 35-year old heavyweight contender. All that matters is being given a chance to make history.
“[T]o me personally it wasn’t about whom I was going to fight. I knew I was going to fight for the title… to me honestly I’m just happy to fight for the title,” Stiverne insists, claiming no preference whether the shot came against the elder Klitschko or in a vacant title fight.
You don’t have a lot of heavyweights that even fight for the title.
“Some heavyweights have been there for 20, 25 years and never fought for the title, and I’m thankful and grateful to be able to do so. So I’m really happy about being able to fight for the title. I mean, it didn’t matter who; it was just I wanted to fight for the title and have that chance to become a champion.”
The fight will make history one way or another, barring a draw or no-contest. A win by Stiverne will make him the first ever Haiti-born heavyweight to lay claim to the title, whereas Arreola is aiming to become the first fighter of Mexican-descent to win a heavyweight belt.
Stiverne is the lesser-known fighter of the two, and also the less active. The latter part is par for the course for any given fighter in Don King’s stable these days. Aiding the cause was a lawsuit between the two, as Stiverne claimed the promoter violated the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act in attempting to force a contract extension prior to his June ’11 fight with Ray Austin.
Ironically, Stiverne turned in one of his least impressive winning performances in that fight, suffering a knockdown and having to rally from a deficit on two of the three scorecards to stop the middle-aged heavyweight in 10 rounds.
The bout was his second of 2011, the only year in any of the past four in which he’s fought more than once. Just 12 fights have come since the lone loss of his career, a shocking 4th round knockout against Demetrie King in July ’07.
Stiverne is 11-0-1 (8KO) since that night. He was never granted the chance to avenge the defeat against the sub .500 journeyman, and was also held to a draw versus Charles Davis – a .500 fighter at the time of their April ’09 encounter.
In fact, nothing on his résumé suggested he had any business beating Arreola last year, especially in the manner in which he did. But that’s why the fights take place in the ring and not on paper. Whereas most of the industry believed the fight would happen one way, Stiverne and his team – even if in the minority – knew it would turn out very different, purely on faith in his natural talent.
“Well, believing what I can do,” Stiverne simply claims as the secret to his manhandling of Arreola last year, against all odds. “I knew what I could do in the ring, so people that didn’t know me obviously would judge me from the fight with Austin, which I didn’t look too good. But I always believed in myself and believed in my skills, so no matter what people said about me I never doubted myself.”
The reward was a year-long wait for his mandatory title shot, though it gave him time to reconcile with his promoter and enter the biggest fight of his career with a clear frame of mind. A win on Saturday will justify the long and winding road leading to this point, including the incredible familial sacrifices made along the way.
“I’m working hard for this,” Stiverne insists. “I’m putting everything I’ve got to this, a lot of sacrifices that half the people I know wouldn’t do. I mean you’re talking about literally turning my back on my loved ones and kids and not being able to see them for a couple months.
“I’ve been gone since December, and this is the only way I do it. This is the only way I know how to do it is to leave and go to camp and kind of like be in my little cave mentally and physically. So I put a lot on the line – not a lot. I put everything I’ve got on the line for this, and it will pay off. I believe it will pay off, and this is where I’m at with it.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox