By Jake Donovan
There appears to be light at the end of the tunnel in the ongoing stretch of negotiations between heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne and unbeaten challenger Deontay Wilder. While terms have not yet been finalized, members from both camps have confirmed that the fight is likely to take place in early 2015.
ESPN.com reported a targeted date of January 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. However, those with knowledge of the situation merely recognize it as one of at least two potential fight dates.
Stiverne (24-1-1, 21KOs) emerged as one of the best heavyweights in the world following his pair of wins over Chris Arreola. The second of the two wins came with a vacant title at stake, making Stiverne the first-ever Haiti-born fighter to lay claim to any portion of the heavyweight crown.
Success has been hard to come by in the wake of the historic victory, though. In fact, Stiverne’s idle status is in line with the past several years of his career. The supremely talented heavyweight—Haiti-born, raised in Canada and Miami before relocating to Las Vegas in 2004—has only fought six times in the past five calendar years, including just one fight in each of the past three years.
The delay between fights with Arreola was largely due to Stiverne’s lengthy legal battle with promoter Don King, though also partly attributable to injuries. Between the two issues, the two best wins of Stiverne’s career have been his lone ring activity for the past two years.
The combination of King as his promoter and having to negotiate with Al Haymon—Wilder’s adviser—has now kept Stiverne out of the ring sine May, with at least eight months between fights should his first title defense land as early as January.
Wilder (32-0, 32KOs) has fought just twice in 2014. The first test of his career was to come with his showdown with Malik Scott this past March in Puerto Rico. However, the fight was over before it had a chance to get going, with a left hook/right hand combination putting Scott down and out just 96 seconds into the Showtime-televised bout.
The win netted Wilder a mandatory shot at the winner of the scheduled rematch between Stiverne and Arreola. Once negotiations began to drag out between Haymon and King, Wilder wisely took a stay-busy bout in August, stopping journeyman Jason Gavern after four rounds in Carson, California.
While the pro résumé remains on the thin side, there is major marketing upside to Wilder, a fact not lost on his handlers or American TV network executives.
The hulking Alabama native is the last American male fighter to have won an Olympic medal, capturing the bronze as a heavyweight in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A countback win over Morocco’s Mohamed Arjaoui was met with dubious circumstances—Arjaoui was issued a warning for dipping his head below Wilder’s waist late in round three, such infraction resulting in two points added to Wilder’s score.
By his own admission (at the time), Wilder dodged a bullet in remaining the last American boxer standing in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. His success is the only hardware to be found among the last two U.S. male boxing teams to compete in the Olympics, as the 2012 squad was shut out in London.
Now he remains the best shot at an American-born heavyweight claiming title status for the first time in more than five years. Long before he lost his mind and began stalking Wladimir Klitschko for a living, Shannon Briggs was the last American to hold a heavyweight belt.
The former lineal champ became a two-time titlist after scoring a literal last second knockout over Siarhai Liakhovich in Nov. ’06, only to concede the crown in his very next fight, dropping a wide decision to Sultan Ibragimov in their June ’07 clash in Atlantic City.
Whenever terms are finalized for this particular showdown, Wilder will once again enter a boxing ring while carrying the weight of a nation on his shoulders.
Everyone else—including Stiverne—carries the burden of simply having to wait for this matchup to finally become a reality.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox