by David P. Greisman
Bermane Stiverne knew who the true heavyweight champion was.
He recognized that Wladimir Klitschko has long stood atop the division, an athletic, intelligent and powerful 6-foot-6 tactician who is 62-3 with 52 knockouts, who has not lost for nearly a decade, who has won 20 fights in a row and made 16 consecutive title defenses during a reign that has lasted nearly as long as Stiverne has been a pro boxer.
He knew that the belt he was fighting for had once belonged to another man, Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir’s older brother, that the belt had been vacated when Vitali retired to focus on politics in Ukraine. He knew that he would not be taking the title from its previous owner, but rather could win it by defeating an opponent he’d already beaten about a year before.
None of this took away from the moment. None of that took away from its meaning.
Stiverne had just scored a sixth-round technical knockout over Chris Arreola, and the moment the fight ended meant his time as a heavyweight titleholder had just begun. He marched jubilantly around the ring, his arms reaching out to his sides. He jumped and strutted, then went down to his knees before lying flat, face down on the mat for nearly half a minute, either overcome with emotion or merely finding a spot to let everything sink in before everyone else poured into the ring. Soon he rose and hugged Arreola, their embrace longer and warmer than the ceremonial showing of sportsmanship typically seen after a fight.
Pro boxers are more likely to come from homes that were poor or working-class than they are from families whose means bring security, if not outright prosperity. After all, it takes desperation and desire to head out on grueling morning runs, to lace up for round after round of sparring, and to dedicate yourself to dieting and training, all for the purpose of stepping into the ring with another person who is hoping to hurt you. This sport becomes their best way out, punching people instead of punching a time clock, literally fighting to elevate their position in life by dropping their opponents.
Bermane Stiverne was born into a large family in the poor country of Haiti. They later moved to Miami, and he relocated to Montreal and, finally, Las Vegas. He didn’t start boxing until he was 19, a football player initially donning the gloves solely as a way to lose weight.
He continued boxing, though, turned pro in 2005 at the age of 26 and slowly worked his way up through the ranks, suffering his sole defeat, a surprising stoppage loss in 2007 to Demetrice King, who had more losses on his record than wins. It wasn’t until 2011 that Stiverne made his HBO debut underneath a card featuring Devon Alexander vs. Lucas Matthysse. Stiverne stopped Ray Austin in the 10th round, then didn’t appear again on the network again for nearly two years.
He is a heavyweight, competing in a division that had largely fallen out of favor with boxing broadcasters in the United States. He is promoted by Don King, once a significant figure in the business, now a diminished one whose influence is limited. He also is not aligned with one of the few major managers and was not going to have the wheels greased for him the way that other prospects do.
He fought once in 2012, going eight rounds with a keep-busy opponent. He didn’t fight again for another 378 days, returning to HBO in April 2013 as part of a split-site tripleheader underneath Sergio Martinez’s bout with Martin Murray. He topped Arreola that night, knocking him down early, breaking Arreola’s nose, taking the unanimous decision and winning the right to challenge Vitali Klitschko for the title.
The purse bid for the Klitschko fight kept getting postponed, though. Then Klitschko retired. The rematch with Arreola would be for the vacant belt, another 378 days after his last appearance, their previous meeting.
(Late last year Stiverne sued King, alleging that his contract violated the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act, before settling the case out of court.)
This was an incredibly important fight for Arreola as well. He had once been the darling of HBO, a rotund, wisecracking brawler who looked like he would be as comfortable downing pints at a bar as he would be throwing punches in that same establishment. Yet his limitations were clear in a 2009 loss to Vitali Klitschko, and a majority decision loss to the smaller Tomasz Adamek seven months later was an even worse setback.
It took seven wins against lesser opposition to land him last year’s Stiverne fight, which ended with Arreola suffering his third defeat. He returned this past September to make quick work of Seth Mitchell, then readied himself for the Stiverne rematch with clear knowledge of its implications.
It wasn’t just a fight for a world title, but for his career. He had been fortunate, thanks to his affiliation with powerful adviser Al Haymon and to his own marketable style and personality, that he’d received the Klitschko title shot — and gotten a second and third chance at contention despite the fact that he’d never beaten a notable heavyweight opponent. This was potentially his final opportunity, and so he finally committed himself to training and a better diet in a manner that he’d avoided before.
In the opening round this past Saturday, Arreola pressured Stiverne to the ropes and sent out shots. In the final minute of the round, with Stiverne once again on the ropes, Stiverne landed a right hand and a left hook that regained Arreola’s respect and had him backing away temporarily. That combination landed once more in the last seconds, wobbling Arreola.
Arreola found success in the second, with a long flurry of offense earlier and a second, shorter one later. Stiverne laced in a nice left hook counter, and later threaded a right hand counter in, each shot reminding Arreola of the threat that remained. Arreola could try to overwhelm Stiverne, could attempt to break him down, but Stiverne still had the ability to catch Arreola and the power to hurt him. It didn’t matter what kind of shape Arreola was in; he was still there to be hit.
That’s Arreola’s kind of fight, though. He’s willing to take the punishment — so long as he can take it — in order to be in position to land. And with a minute to go in the third, he had Stiverne backing away, reeling from a right hand and then covering up on the ropes as the round reached its end.
Stiverne needed to be away from those ropes, and so he came forward to begin the fourth. That didn’t last long. Arreola backed him up again and caught him with a left hook. Stiverne began to buy himself distance and time, landing single shots and then ducking Arreola’s return fire and moving away, or flicking out jabs or one-two combinations and then resetting. It was a necessary switch in strategy, partially because of Arreola’s persistent presence and offense, and partially because Stiverne was coming off an extended layoff and had to pace himself for the possibility of 12 rounds.
Or he was also waiting, looking for another opening for another well-timed, well-placed punch that could hurt Arreola.
That moment came a minute into the sixth, when Stiverne threw a jab and quickly followed with a looping right hand that caught Arreola on the left ear, an equilibrium shot that had Arreola’s legs resembling those of a deer on ice. Arreola couldn’t regain his footing and went down. He got up at eight, beating the count but looking unsure of himself. Stiverne saw this, too, and came out of the neutral corner, only to be pushed back by the referee.
There still was plenty of time. Stiverne kept punching and kept landing, and again Arreola went down, falling face first into the ropes. He got up at eight but stumbled while doing so. For some reason Jack Reiss allowed the fight to continue — though not for much longer. Stiverne came forward again, more left hooks and right hands connecting on Arreola’s head, and Reiss jumped in. Stiverne celebrated.
He had good reason.
He is not the true heavyweight champion, but he has a world title in a sport where those belts can bring additional value to a fighter. He needs it. He is a 35-year-old in a division that no longer carries the cachet it once did. He is signed to a promoter who is now in the news more often for his struggles than for his successes. He is not affiliated with Al Haymon, not like Arreola and not like his mandatory challenger, the heavy-hitting, undefeated and untested Deontay Wilder, are.
But Bermane Stiverne has power — and now he has the glory.
The 10 Count
1. It will be interesting to see what the rating was for ESPN’s broadcast of the Bermane Stiverne-Chris Arreola rematch. This was the second heavyweight title bout aired in recent weeks on the network; a couple of weeks ago, ESPN showed Wladimir Klitschko’s win over Alex Leapai.
Klitschko-Leapai pulled in just 468,000 viewers, a big drop from the network’s normal audience of 1.4 million people watching at 5 p.m. Eastern on a Saturday, according to Kevin Iole of Yahoo! Sports.
Part of that may be due to a lack of familiarity with Klitschko in the mainstream audience, and no familiarity with Leapai whatsoever. Or maybe it’s actually due to too much familiarity with Klitschko, whose reputation for boring and/or one-sided fights precedes him.
And even the typical boxing audience might not have tuned in for the latter reason, and instead enjoyed their Saturday before settling in later that evening for the tripleheader on Showtime.
Stiverne and Arreola don’t have big names, though Arreola is at least known among the boxing crowd. Their fight was expected to be entertaining. It was aired at 8 p.m. Eastern on Saturday. And it was preceded by the third day of the NFL Draft, which pulled in an average of 1,962,000 viewers, according to Zap2it.com’s “TV by the Numbers” site.
Then again, there was plenty of competition Saturday night from sports broadcasts, including the average of 4.69 million people who watched the NBA playoff game on ABC and the 5.15 million who tuned in to NASCAR on FOX, never mind the hockey playoffs that were on, baseball’s regular season games, and even Showtime’s rebroadcast of Floyd Mayweather vs. Marcos Maidana, which came on at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Saturday.
2. A reporter for BuzzFeed found exiled boxing judge CJ Ross and wrote an extended feature on her. It’s called “The Woman Who KO’d Manny Pacquiao” and while I don’t agree with some of it, it’s worth a read:
3. Boxers Behaving Badly: One of the women seen in a sex tape with Adrien Broner has sued the former three-division titleholder, claiming damages from that footage subsequently going public.
Broner is accused of breach of contract; breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in contract; breach of good faith and fair dealing in tort; negligence; public disclosure of private facts; appropriation/right to privacy; intentional infliction of emotional distress; and negligent infliction of emotional distress.
But breaking through that legalese, the basis of the lawsuit is a claim that the woman had agreed to participate in the sex tape under an agreement that it would remain private, and that Broner didn’t stick to that agreement, releasing the footage without her permission.
It claims Broner “negligently disclosed” the footage to “third parties and/or permitted the disclosure and distribution” of them "in order to realize profits and/or gain notoriety and fame or to otherwise promote and advance [his] commercial interests.” That release “caused irreparable injury … and has forever defined the manner in which [the woman] will be viewed by individuals with whom she comes in contact,” the lawsuit says.
It is seeking a minimum of $10,000 for general damages, a minimum of $10,000 for special damages, and a minimum of $10,000 for exemplary/punitive damages, plus the payment of the plaintiff’s attorney fees and costs. An attorney friend explained to me that these amounts “are just placeholders and don’t have to represent an actual estimate of amount,” but instead are numbers high enough to keep the case out of small claims court and to land a jury trial in “regular” court without there being any ceiling on the damages.
The plaintiff is Andrea Reyes, who the lawsuit says is a 23-year-old waitress “at a small family-owned restaurant in Las Vegas.” It says Reyes met Broner last year through a mutual acquaintance, and that Broner subsequently went to where Reyes worked “on several occasions” to ask for her phone number. She ultimately gave it to him, they went out on a date, and then for about three months they “spent substantial time together and formed a romantic relationship,” the lawsuit claims.
Broner asked Reyes to allow him to record them “engaged in a private sexual act with a third-party female.” The woman said she didn't know about the footage being public until her father told her about it, the lawsuit claims.
The filing also calls Broner “a professional boxer and aspiring musician who is known more for his exploits outside the ring than for any actualized boxing or musical success. Throughout the course of Defendant's boxing and musical career, Defendant has engaged in a series of abhorrent, loathsome and offensive acts which were performed specifically for the intent to increase Defendant's fame and notoriety.”
4. That wasn’t the only news involving Adrien Broner last week. The World Boxing Council, in its wholly finite wisdom, has suspended Broner due to his post-fight interview following his May 3 win over Carlos Molina.
“At the end of the day, I’m still Adrien ‘The Problem’ Broner, ‘The Can Man.’ Anybody can get it. Afri-cans. I just beat the f*** out of a Mexi-can,’ ” Broner said as part of his usual rehearsed, recycled shtick before interviewer Jim Gray cut him off.
Here’s what the WBC said in a statement sent out to boxing media:
“The World Boxing Council holds human equality as its banner and will not accept a former WBC champion to make racially offensive statements. Since words can be interpreted in different ways, the WBC is issuing this open letter to Mr. Broner to either clarify his statement, or to issue a public apology if those words were intended to be disrespectful and offensive.
“Mr. Broner is hereby suspended from participating in any WBC-sanctioned championships, and will be excluded from the WBC ratings until he makes a public apology satisfactory to the public of the world. Boxing is a great sport. It is a world sport, and boxers should be honorable and exemplary members of the community. Fair play and human equality must always be upheld.”
5. Broner held the WBC’s title when he was a lightweight. He had the World Boxing Organization’s belt at 130 and the World Boxing Association’s belt at 147.
If Broner is to stay at 140, and if for some reason he were to refuse to have his publicist or lawyer issue an apology on his behalf, this suspension still probably wouldn’t affect him too much.
The WBC titleholder at junior welterweight is Danny Garcia, but Garcia also has the WBA belt. Broner could face Garcia, the top guy at 140, do so without any belts involved and still have it be a big fight. He could face Garcia for the WBA title only. Or the WBC could relent and say its point was made — a decision that would then get them a percentage cut of both boxer’s purses.
I expect an apology eventually.
6. Of course, the WBC is the same organization that suspended Chris Arreola from its rankings and from fighting for its world title for six months just because he used three variations of the F-word in a post-fight interview following his loss to Vitali Klitschko. The suspension was meaningless given that he was still able to fight again within months without the WBC being involved, and as he wasn’t going to be fighting for its world title again within half a year anyway.
And as I noted after the Arreola suspension, the WBC never penalized Ricardo Mayorga for speaking of reuniting Cory Spinks with his dead mother and older brother; never penalized David Haye, who had a T-shirt showing him holding the Klitschko brothers’ decapitated heads; and never penalized David Diaz, who cursed numerous times after his loss to Manny Pacquiao.
7. Mind you, I don’t endorse Broner’s post-fight comments, but I also find it funny that the WBC never publicly objected to any of his previous antics, including but not at all limited to:
- The aforementioned sex tape
- Another video, this one of Broner performing oral sex on a stripper inside a club
- Inflammatory statements he’s made on Twitter
- A video of Broner flushing $20 bills down a toilet on which he was seated
- The Paulie Malignaggi “sidepiece” saga.
8. Boxers Behaving Badly update: Junior middleweight titleholder Carlos Molina was released from jail last week and has since returned to Mexico after being held in the Clark County Detention Center for about two months, according to Salvador Rodriguez of ESPN.com.
Molina had been taken into custody just five days before his scheduled March 8 defense against Jermall Charlo on the undercard to Canelo Alvarez vs. Alfredo Angulo. He was arrested on open warrants and also was being held for alleged immigration violations.
Wisconsin online court records note that Molina allegedly failed to register as a sex offender, a felony that dates back to July 2006, with the warrant filed in January 2007. A misdemeanor disorderly conduct accusation dates back to May 2005, with the warrant issued in September 2005. Hearings in those cases have been scheduled for May 29, according to online court records.
In 2002, Molina pleaded no contest to a charge of second-degree sexual assault of a child. When Molina was 18, he had sex with a 13-year-old girl, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Molina lost his status as a permanent resident and was deported in 2006, the article said. He returned to the United States illegally. Every single one of his boxing matches since then took place in America. Now it looks like his next title defense will take place in Mexico, according to what Molina’s promoter told ESPN.
The 30-year-old, who is 22-5-2 with 6 knockouts, won the International Boxing Federation’s junior middleweight title in September 2013 with a split decision over Ishe Smith. The IBF ratings say Molina’s mandatory defense of the title is due by June 14. Cornelius Bundrage is currently the No. 1 ranked challenger.
9. Jim Ross, the Hall of Fame pro wrestling announcer, announced last week that he will be calling the Memorial Day (May 26) boxing card on Fox Sports 1 featuring a main event between featherweights Rene Alvarado and Rocky Juarez.
It will air at the same time as Ross’ former gig, WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”
Ross recently started writing for Fox Sports, so a partnership was already in place. And he’s shown himself to be a casual boxing fan, at the very least. Though I’m not sure what role he’ll play within the ringside commentary team on May 26, I know he’s a pro who takes his work seriously, does plenty of research ahead of time, and is a proven veteran in his field, experience that shouldn’t be written off whatsoever just because it came from calling “sports entertainment.”
10. The history of sports has brought some wonderfully bizarre off-the-field injuries — a baseball player hurts his wrist thanks to the “Guitar Hero” video game, a football player accidentally shoots himself in the leg — and boxing apparently isn’t immune from the insanity.
A bout scheduled for last week between junior lightweights Maxi Hughes and Joseph Laryea was called off just days beforehand because Laryea injured after "slipping in an airport toilet" in between fights en route to the U.K., according to a report by Boxingscene.com UK News Editor Shaun Brown .
Sure, the story grabs your attention, but let’s not pretend that this is the first time a boxing match has gone down the toilet…
“Fighting Words” appears every Monday on BoxingScene.com. Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]