Deontay Wilder takes heavyweight title in star-making performance

Kevin Iole
Boxing
Deontay Wilder takes heavyweight title in star-making performance
Deontay Wilder takes heavyweight title in star-making performance

LAS VEGAS – It was a familiar scene. Don King was at the podium, adorned in his black tuxedo, filibustering, quoting Shakespeare, telling stories about Muhammad Ali and paying tribute to an unbeaten American heavyweight champion.

It was like a time warp at the MGM Grand Garden, which on Saturday hosted its first heavyweight title fight since Mike Tyson gnawed Evander Holyfield's ear on June 28, 1997.

Just as that infamous night ended with a heavyweight title belt around an American's waist, so, too, did this one, as Alabama's Deontay Wilder routed Bermane Stiverne to win the WBC heavyweight champion.

It's still fair to regard Wladimir Klitschko as the heavyweight champion, since he's unbeaten in 12 years and has run laps around the sport's best big men ever since.

But Wilder, the last American man to win an Olympic boxing medal, became the first American with a heavyweight title belt around his waist since Shannon Briggs lost his belt in 2007, by routing Stiverne in the Haitian's first defense of the belt he won in May.

Wilder entered the fight with 32 knockouts in 32 fights, but on this night, it was his boxing ability that led him to the championship. Craig Metcalfe had it 120-107, Adalaide Byrd saw it 118-109 and Jerry Roth scored it 119-108, all for Wilder.

Referee Tony Weeks, left, Deontay Wilder, right, and Bermane Stiverne fall to the mat during the WBC heavyweight championship boxing match Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Referee Tony Weeks, left, Deontay Wilder, right, and Bermane Stiverne fall to the mat during the WBC heavyweight championship boxing match Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

Chants of "USA! USA!" rose from the crowd of 8,453 as Wilder used a strong jab and a powerful right hand to completely shut down Stiverne.

As impressive as he was in the ring – and he was extraordinary – he was just as impressive at the post-fight news conference.

"Deontay is a promoter's dream," Stiverne promoter Don King said of Wilder. "He goes out and talks to the people and gets them addicted to him. I thought that guy did a terrific job."

Wilder said in a perfect world, he'd make his first defense against Tyson Fury and then meet Klitschko in a unification bout later in the year.

He spoke eloquently of his friend, Amp Webster, a former boxer who was hit by a drunk driver and saw his career end. Webster did a rap from his wheelchair as Wilder made his ring walk.

 "I had a well-known artist who was set to do it, but I thought it would mean more to Amp," Wilder said.

He silenced the critics who questioned his ability to go rounds and to take a punch. He controlled the fight from start to finish and hurt Stiverne a number of times.

It was a star-making performance, and it would make a lot of sense for him to make his first title defense on the new Premier Boxing Champions series on NBC.

 "He proved everyone wrong," trainer Jay Deas said. "Can he go 12 rounds? Yes, he can. Does he have a power punch? Yes, he does. Can he overcome adversity? Yes, he can. Can he be the heavyweight champion of the world? Yes, he can, and, yes, he did."

 Wilder hurt his right hand in the fourth and held an ice pack on it at the post-fight news conference. He also had a freak accident on Friday as he was stretching before a light workout. Just as happened to Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Wilder was using a rubber band to stretch when it slipped off his shoe and rebounded and snapped into his eye.

 He had distorted vision in the eye during the fight, but managed nonetheless to fight flawlessly.

He'll face a tall task in getting past Klitschko. Stiverne seemed to have openings, but didn't let his hands go. King was disappointed that Stiverne seemed unable to pull the trigger.

"Everyone knows when the Marines land, they come fighting from all sides and all ways," King said. "That's what will make a fighter. [Stiverne] will come back and do what he can do and what he does best. I've been around a long time and I know you can't win a fight if you don't let your hands go."

Wilder let his hands go just enough. There were no official knockdowns, though he seemed to hurt Stiverne a number of times and appeared to drop him at the end of the second.

Stiverne was clearly hurt by a combination and staggered into Wilder. The bell sounded and referee Tony Weeks got between them and all three of them hit the deck. Weeks didn't call it a knockdown, but the power made Stiverne wary.

Wilder did what he had to do the rest of the way and put his name into the record book.

One gets the sense this may be only the first of many such memorable nights for Wilder.

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 17: Deontay Wilder poses with members of his camp after defeating WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wilder took the title by unanimous decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 17: Deontay Wilder poses with members of his camp after defeating WBC heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on January 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Wilder took the title by unanimous decision. (Photo by Steve Marcus/Getty Images)

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