Steve Bunce: Bermane Stiverne's fight with Deontay Wilder is finally an all-American heavyweight contest to relish

The pair meet in Las Vegas on 17 January

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The Independent Online

There will be no tacky crowns lined with chinchilla, no pay-per-view and no world tour when Bermane Stiverne meets Deontay Wilder in the best heavyweight world title fight to take place in America for over a decade.

The pair will fight for Stiverne’s WBC title on 17 January at the MGM in Las Vegas in a contest that has taken some of the sport’s finest fixers over six months to make. It is, hopefully, part of a larger mission to somehow unify the diluted trophy that has resided in the shovel-like but deserving hands of a Klitschko brother for a long, long time.

Wladimir Klitschko, perhaps aware that at 38 and after 60 fights he is getting ever closer to the end, has decided to leave the comfort of his base in Germany to fight in the slipstream of the Stiverne and Wilder (above) scrap in America in March or April.

Klitschko holds three of the four belts and Stiverne has the fourth, which became vacant when Vitali, the eldest brother, finally succumbed to his creaking body and quit earlier this year; Wladimir, so the storyline goes, wants the family jewel back.

Klitschko.jpg
Wladimir Klitschko holds three of four heavyweight belts

The brothers, you see, have dominated the heavyweight division for more than 10 years, taking part in 43 world title fights – only eight of which have gone the distance. The pair have also been on an unofficial mission to leave the American heavyweight division in turmoil, having stopped or knocked out nearly 70 Americans during their careers.

Too many boxers, not just the seemingly endless stream of misguided Americans, promised great fights, made assurances that they had the puzzle solved when matched with a Klitschko – they have then fallen so far short on the night in embarrassment after embarrassment.

The litany of pre-fight claims would be comical without the post-fight images of boxers sprawled on the canvas, needing assistance to get up and fumbling for a lost gumshield still packed with dislodged teeth.

“There is a buzz again about the heavyweights and that is a great thing for the sport,” said Don King, who has been involved in more heavyweight championship fights than any other promoter. “The young men we have now are blessed with the intestinal fortitude, wit and grit that will help them become great champions. America is the land of the heavyweights and they are back.”

The Wilder-Stiverne fight has several of the crucial elements that make heavyweights so enjoyable, unpredictable and watchable. Wilder, you see, has knocked out every one of the 32 men that he has faced in the ring and delivers to the fight the cockiness, brashness and raw drama that the technically gifted Ukraine siblings sucked out with their measured excellence.

The last real heavyweight fight in Las Vegas was for the same WBC belt and on that night in 2006 at the Thomas and Mack Centre Oleg Maskaev, at the time an emigre from Kazakhstan,  beat Hasim Rahman in the last round. However, the pay-per-view was a disaster, the promotion lost a few million dollars and that was it for the big boys; Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao soon moved into town and changed the shape of boxing in the gambling city.

The Wilder-Stiverne fight will not salvage an entire division and it will not immediately put a permanent end to the exile, but it is a great start.

Stiverne, who lives in Las Vegas but was born in Haiti, has that delightful heavyweight trait of fighting like a fool the moment he gets clipped and swinging his fists in a berserk dance of survival.

It is hard to see the fight going three rounds and that is what we demand of our heavyweights – and what we have missed for so long.

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