Chris Arreola, Bermane Stiverne trying to boost heavyweight interest in U.S.

Kevin Iole
Yahoo Sports
Chris Arreola, above, faces Bermane Stiverne on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

Chris Arreola

Chris Arreola, above, faces Bermane Stiverne on Saturday night. (Getty Images)

Everyone with a vested interest in the success of Saturday's WBC world heavyweight title fight in Los Angeles has spoken, repeatedly and enthusiastically, about the significance of bringing the title back to the United States.

The bout between Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne at the Galen Center on the USC campus on Saturday for the vacant WBC belt, which will be televised live in prime time on ESPN, will be the first heavyweight championship match on American soil since Sept. 26, 2009.

That night, Vitali Klitschko easily thrashed Arreola at Staples Center to retain his belt.

There is a historical significance to Saturday's match, if only because heavyweight title fights in the U.S. have become so rare. Prior to the Klitschko-Arreola bout, the previous heavyweight title fight in the U.S. was 19 months earlier, on Feb. 23, 2008, when Wladimir Klitschko defeated Sultan Ibragimov in New York.

There hasn't been a heavyweight title bout in Las Vegas, the boxing capital of the world, since Aug. 12, 2006, when Oleg Maskaev knocked out Hasim Rahman.

From an American point of view, the heavyweight championship has largely become a regional title, defended almost exclusively in Europe over the last six years. The Klitschko brothers rake in big dough from German television and have had little interest in exploring, and exploiting, the American market.

The American fan, as a result, has essentially lost interest in the division. Vitali Klitschko has retired to concentrate on his burgeoning political career, but Wladimir Klitschko said he has no thought of stepping aside.

He's a brilliant athlete and doesn't get nearly the respect for his accomplishments that he deserves. But his fights are routinely less-than-enthralling, both because there are few quality challengers and because he prefers a play-it-safe, low-risk style.

The fact that Arreola and Stiverne will fight Saturday for the belt that Vitali Klitschko surrendered hardly signifies a sea change in the division or the perception of it.

Rest assured that Wladimir Klitschko has great interest in fighting for the WBC belt in order to unify the titles. He holds the IBF/WBA/WBO belts and the WBC is the only one missing from the collection.

Deontay Wilder is the mandatory challenger for the Arreola-Stiverne winner, so it's unlikely that Klitschko will get a crack at the WBC belt before early 2015. That means, of course, there will be another heavyweight title fight in the U.S. later this year.

But Americans won't be too impressed until there's a fighter who can defeat Klitschko and is unquestionably the best heavyweight in the world.

Right now, the best is Klitschko and his team has little interest in mining the American market.

The Arreola-Stiverne fight is a rematch of a surprisingly entertaining April 27, 2013, bout on HBO that Stiverne won. The rematch also figures to be a good fight.

But given the way Arreola was dominated by Vitali Klitschko in 2009 – Arreola only won one of the 10 rounds before the fight was stopped – it's unlikely the public will buy Saturday's winner as a legitimate challenger to Wladimir Klitschko as the heavyweight champion.

Now, if the Arreola-Stiverne winner goes on to defeat Wilder, who is 31-0 with 31 knockouts against a mostly low level of opposition, then, perhaps, the public will bestow credibility on him.

Klitschko has won 17 heavyweight title fights in succession and is 23-2 all-time in championship fights. Nothing that Arreola or Stiverne might do on Saturday is going to change the perception of Klitschko as the best.

Stiverne, though, believes the heavyweight division in the U.S. is finally showing signs of life.

"Oh, the state of the heavyweight division right now is, or will be back [Saturday]," he said. "I believe that I am going to bring the excitement back. I believe that I am in my prime right now, and, like I said, I'm looking forward to [Saturday] because this is going to be a great fight, not only for me or for Chris, but it's going to be a good fight for the fans, and we'll be able to honor the sport on ESPN and be able to bring that excitement that was missed, that all the fans missed for so long.

"Like [promoter] Dan Goossen said, not since Mike Tyson or Lennox [Lewis] has there been too much excitement in that division. So I'm looking forward to bringing that back."

The division has been lackluster for so long, particularly in the U.S., that it's going to take more than one good fight to resuscitate it.

That said, Arreola-Stiverne is a good start.

Hopefully, by the time Klitschko gets around to fighting in the U.S. again, it's more than an afterthought and a genuine reason for legitimate excitement.

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