In the end, Trevor Bryan got everything he wanted—chief among them, a long-awaited return to the ring.
The unbeaten heavyweight ended a 29-month inactive stretch with a new trinket in tow. Bryan claims the vacant WBA “World” heavyweight title after stopping former WBC titlist Bermane Stiverne inside of 11 rounds Friday evening at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida.
Bryan floored Stiverne twice, with the fight stopped by referee Frank Gentile shortly after the second knockdown at 1:26 of round eleven. With the win, Bryan upgrades his interim title reign and now moves one step closer to chasing the big guns of the division.
“I want all the top guys,” Bryan told BoxingScene.com. “Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury. They are on my radar and I want to stay active until I get them.”
The belt was made available following a ruling made by the WBA on Friday afternoon, downgrading Mahmoud (Manuel) Charr (31-4, 17KOs) for failure to defend his title in a timely fashion. Charr has not fought since winning the belt in a 12-round decision over Alexander Ustinov in Nov. 2017, the inactive period extended after issues with event promoter Don King in securing a P1 travel visa in order to fly from Cologne, Germany to be able to fight in the United States.
Bryan controlled the action in the opening round, poking his jab through Stiverne’s guard and also working the body. Stiverne—who stepped in for an unavailable Charr—didn’t show any fear of the incoming but didn’t let his hands go to the point of preventing Bryan to shut down his offense.
Stiverne landed his first significant shot of the right early in round two, connecting with an overhand right. Bryan was affected by the shot, as Stiverne was able to follow with a straight right hand which buzzed his undefeated foe. Bryan bounced back, connecting with a one-two and finding his desired distance in the final minute of the round. Stiverne managed to cut off the ring but Bryan quickly adjusted and connected with a right uppercut.
Bryan engaged in a dedicated body attack in round three, throwing looping rights and left hooks downstairs. Stiverne was unfazed by the approach, constantly moving side to side while looking for the best angle through his overhand right.
Both boxers had their say in round four. Bryan initiated most of the action, though struggling to pin down the craftier Stiverne, who connected late with a right hand and left hook. Bryan took the shots well, continuing to work behind his jab but failing to seize sustained momentum.
Stiverne continued to look for ways to set traps in round five. Bryan was the busier of the two in terms of punch output but Stiverne effectively used every inch of the ring without getting on his bicycle. The jab continued to be key for Bryan, though having to remain wary of Stiverne’s overhand right.
The second half opened with little separation between the two. Stiverne continued to go through his bag of tricks while Bryan pumped his left in hopes of creating an opening for a right hand to follow.
Stiverne once again commanded the attention of Bryan courtesy of an overhand right midway through round eight. It awoke a sleeping giant, as Bryan responded with right hands of his own.
Bryan untracked his offense in round nine, connecting downstairs as Stiverne’s already low punch output further decreased. Stiverne made it count when he chose to let his hands, once again connecting with an overhand right. Bryan didn’t allow the shot to steal the round, scoring with an uppercut, right hand combination and having a response anytime Stiverne attempted to take the lead.
The jab was key for Bryan in round ten, while fatigue slowly began to set in for Stiverne. Action slowed as a result, save for a right hand from Stiverne over the top of Bryan’s guard in the final ten seconds.
Bryan closed the show in round eleven. A series of right hands sent Stiverne to the canvas for the first time in the fight. The former titlist from Las Vegas by way of Haiti made it to his feet but was back on the deck barely a minute into the round after getting clipped with a right hand in the corner. He was given every chance to fight back after once again beating the count but an ensuing volley by Bryan forced the stoppage.
Bryan improves to 21-0 (15KOs) with the win, his first since a 4th round stoppage of BJ Flores to win an interim belt in Aug. 2018. Stiverne falls to 25-5-1 (21KO), suffering his third straight knockout loss. The 42-year old heavyweight remains winless since Nov. 2015.
The goal for Bryan is to remain far more active in 2021, although his hope of landing a superfight with WBA "Super" champion Anthony Joshua (24-1, 22KOs; also IBF/WBO/IBO champ) remains out of reach for the time being.
England's Joshua is on course to next face countryman and Lineal/WBC champion Tyson Fury (30-0-1, 21KOs). As it stands, WBO number-one contender Oleksandr Usyk (18-0, 13KOs) is the next mandatory challenger in the rotation, although he has been ordered to enter an interim title fight with England's Joe Joyce to allow Fury and Joshua to first meet.
Whatever comes of Bryan's immediate future, anything other than years of inactivity will be welcomed.
"I know this ain't the old days where we can fight every 2-3 months," Bryan told BoxingScene.com. "But I certainly want to fight more than once every 2-3 years.
"This fight was to show everyone that I'm back!"
The bout topped a three-fight telecast which aired live on a Don King-distributed Pay-Per-View show.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox