By Thomas Gerbasi
Don House likes to work. If the Las Vegas-based trainer is in your corner, you’re going to work too. Hard. That doesn’t always sit well with prizefighters, especially those in the heavyweight division, so when he saw Haiti’s Bermane Stiverne in the gym over eight years ago, he didn’t bat an eye. Heavyweights were too much trouble.
“I was watching (Joan) Guzman sparring with Kid Diamond,” recalled House. “Bermane was in the gym for about a week, but I didn’t pay no attention to him.”
Then he did.
“I had one of those Fairtex (punching) bags and this thing was about six feet tall, probably four feet in diameter, and must have weighed about 800 pounds,” said House. “I had it on this railing system, and I heard this loud thunder from behind me and I was like ‘what the hell is that?’ (Laughs) It was him hitting the bag. I said ‘do that again.’ He hit it again. I pushed this bag toward him and said ‘keep this bag off of you.’”
House, a trainer who has been around the game long enough to know when he was seeing something special, leveled with Stiverne.
“I said, ‘you know what? You’re gonna be champion. I’m gonna show you how. And I’m gonna show you how to beat Klitschko. Funnily enough, I didn’t think those guys were still gonna be around this long, so we’ve been training for Klitschko since Day One. Everybody else has just been in our way.”
That was 2005. In 2014, Stiverne will get his shot at the world heavyweight title when he faces Chris Arreola for the vacant WBC belt. It’s not fighting a Klitschko, either Vitali - who vacated the WBC title - or Wladimir – who owns the rest, but it will do.
“I kind of knew back in August, when he (Vitali) was saying my hand hurts, I’m running for this, I’m running for that,” said House. “I didn’t think he was going to fight him (Stiverne), but I really wasn’t disappointed. You want to get the belt anyway you can, but I would have preferred to fight him. Who knows, he might come back.”
House knows how the boxing public is, with the assumption being that by not fighting Vitali, Stiverne’s title isn’t ‘real.’
“It’s like nobody else could beat the guy, so he just gave up the belt,” he said, and what makes the situation seemingly even more difficult for the 35-year-old contender is that he already holds a lopsided 2012 win over Arreola. But Stiverne isn’t lacking for motivation in the slightest.
“He is so hungry right now for that belt,” said House, who has already had his fighter training for the last three weeks and will have him back this weekend after a brief break for Christmas. “When they said we were going to fight Chris Arreola again, his motivation was ‘okay, you know what, I’m really gonna get him now.’ I thought he was going to be disappointed, thinking like, oh well, I’m gonna go to the gym and he’s going to be pissed off. But he was like ‘you think I showed off then, I’m really gonna show off now.’”
It’s what you want to hear from a fighter, and as he closes in on the belt, the 23-1-1 Stiverne is in a division that has some interesting matchups for him in 2014. But first up is Arreola, and House doesn’t think much has changed with the “Nightmare” since the first bout, regardless of the California’s impressive first round blast out of Seth Mitchell in September.
“He just overpowered Mitchell,” said House of the bout. “Mitchell didn’t know what came at him. It wasn’t even clean and pretty, it was just all power. So what is Chris gonna do different? He’s gonna come in shape, is he gonna learn how to throw the jab now, or right hand? No. Chris is Chris. But one thing about Chris is, and I love Chris and him and I talk all the time, is that he’s a fighter. He’s gonna fight. He has no idea what the boxing science is about, but he’s a fighter and he’s gonna fight from the beginning to the end. And one thing about a guy like Chris for my guy, he’s the perfect match. My guy’s a boxer and he’s going to fight a fighter we don’t have to look for. We don’t have to find Chris. He’s going to be right there in front of you, so that makes it sort of easy. But we’ve still gotta put in the work because Chris is gonna be in front of you all night long, just like the first fight.”
Arreola is a durable sort, having gone 10 rounds with Vitali Klitschko before being stopped, and fighting through a badly broken nose to go the distance with Stiverne. But considering that he was dropped and lost a 118-109, 117-110 (twice) decision to the Canadian-based Stiverne, it’s hard to see a scenario where Arreola turns the tables the second time around. And if there is a similar result in the rematch, House’s ideal 2014 looks something like this:
“My prediction for 2014 for him is, he gets the title. The next person we go ahead and beat up on is Tyson Fury. Then I know Al Haymon’s been dying to get any kind of belt he can get in the heavyweight division, so we’ll come back and hopefully beat up Deontay Wilder – we’d love to have him. And then if Wladimir’s still around, we’ll finish the year off with him.”
Ambitious? Oh yeah. But with Vitali out of the picture, you get the impression that if House could have just one big fight for his charge next year, it would be the other Klitschko brother.
“To me, he (Vitali) was bigger and stronger than his brother, but he was still a robot,” said House. “I wanted to test my fighter’s skills against him. Now his brother is calling out and I’m like ‘are you serious?’ I really don’t have a problem strategizing to beat him.”
He’s not lying either. House lives this sport, and he’s more excited than ever to be within striking distance of not just a world championship, but a world heavyweight championship.
“With the heavyweights, it’s the crème de la crème,” he said. “You win that belt, you’re the baddest man on the planet. That just goes with the neighborhood. I can’t describe what that would feel like to have that title. Mike Tyson, Ali, Foreman. You name them, they had that title. He’ll be with those guys.”
With Don House right behind him.
“I’ve been with a lot of champions and been in a lot of camps, and sometimes I get there when the guy’s already a champion or three fights from a title fight,” he said. “But with this one, I’ve been there since the first fight. That makes this one so special. And I’ve never been with a champion that had the WBC. So it makes it twice as good.”