By Lyle Fitzsimmons
And here’s where it might just get interesting… finally.
Seeing how Bermane Stiverne has officially re-deposited Chris Arreola at the back of the heavyweight championship contenders line, the new World Boxing Council champion can go ahead and concentrate on what everyone now hopes will be an eventual summit meeting of large men.
For the five-or-so years in which the jeweled green belt was being held hostage by Wladimir Klitschko’s older, slightly more politically inclined sibling, the concept of an undisputed champion was left to the fantastical notion that two tightly-knit brothers would punch each other in the face for money.
Short of that impossibility, the heavyweights became little more than a faceless assembly line of wannabes – some shaped like superheroes, and others like, well… Arreola – trudging in for what typically amounted to a one-sided beatdown in exchange for a central European vacation.
Now that the landscape has changed, though, we can hope for a little more.
Had Arreola won Saturday, his knee-jerk claims of divisional supremacy would have been muted by the reality that the elder Klitschko bludgeoned him into a 10-round stoppage in 2009 and his subsequent wins had come against the decidedly un-Canastota likes of Brian Minto, Joey Abell and Seth Mitchell.
That’s not to say that the 22 men Stiverne has beaten alongside Arreola are anything adjacent to the Norton, Foreman, Frazier neighborhood – in fact, they’re preposterously far from it – but at least any claims he makes about being the best in the world will be novel, if not particularly sensible.
From what it seems, though, he might not be that sort of talker to begin with.
Stiverne was admittedly in “I’ve got a fight in front of me, I can’t focus past the weekend” mode when we chatted by phone last week, but it was still noticeable when he chose not to take the bait when asked if the winner of Saturday’s fight could legitimately call himself the best heavyweight in the world.
“When I win the fight I wouldn't say I'm the best heavyweight in the world, but that is my goal and all I can do is give my 110 percent to achieve it,” he said. “I'm very grateful to have the chance to fight for the title and be the king of the jungle. But right now (unifying the titles) to me is not important. Right now all that's important to me is giving my best and winning the WBC title.”
But lest anyone think he’s completely incapable of trashing it up, he did have choice words for Arreola that appear a lot more prescient on Monday afternoon than some thought they’d be Saturday night.
“It's gonna be a knockout,” he said, 96 hours out. “Which round, I don't know. But it will be a knockout.”
The two had already fought a year earlier and they went through the requisite weigh-in enmity the second time around with TV cameras and microphones close by, but the proceedings generated little in terms of buzz beyond ESPN – which had ponied up the case for the live broadcast from Los Angeles.
And admittedly, regardless of boastful acumen, it’s a stretch of belief to think that a guy whose next best non-Arreola win was a come-from-behind TKO of Ray Austin would be anything more than a bug on the windshield of a Klitschko freight train that’s been running nonstop since 2006.
But when you’ve gone 15 years without consensus, it’s easy to get aroused by aroma.
Given the existing state of the division – in which four of the top eight contenders have combined for five Klitschko losses (three Wladimir, two Vitali), and the other four sport a decidedly untested 90-0-1 slate – it’s no surprise that the slightest whiff of legitimacy sets the heart to racing.
Whether he likes it or not, Stiverne provides that scent; and now that we’re conceivably just one fight away from reconnecting to the undisputed likes of Lewis, Tyson and Ali, it’ll be difficult to hide the enthusiasm until the climactic night finally arrives.
“There is a crisis in the heavyweight division and the crisis is Klitschko,” Wladimir told ESPN after Stiverne’s victory. “It’s great that somebody is going to be out there and create news and that’s going to be interesting to get a unification fight. I hope it works. I think the fans really want it as well.
“I look forward to it, I really do.”
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO super middleweight title – Polideportivo, Colombia
Alexander Brand (No. 27 contender/No. 34 IWBR) vs. Don George (No. 36 contender/No. 22 IWBR)
Brand (22-1, 18 KO): First title fight; Twenty-first fight in Colombia (20-0)
George (25-4-2, 22 KO): First title fight; Second fight outside the United States (0-1)
Fitzbitz says: George is 29 years old, but he’s been in enough battles to add some significant mileage. If he’s still close to what he’s been against top foes, though, he should have enough here. George in 9
WBO junior bantamweight title – Villa Maria, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Antonio Garcia (No. 7 contender/unranked IWBR)
Narvaez (41-1-2, 22 KO): Tenth title defense; Held WBO title at 112 pounds (2002-09, 15 defenses)
Garcia (13-1, 6 KO): First title fight; Was 8 years old when Narvaez won first world title (2002)
Fitzbitz says: Argentina’s grand old (little) man is bound to lose his title status at some point, but not against a guy who’s barely half his age and hasn’t compiled nearly half the resume. Narvaez in 10
Last week's picks: 2-2
2014 picks record: 34-8 (80.9 percent)
Overall picks record: 581-202 (74.2 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.