Stiverne eyes heavyweight history
Haitian-born fighter confident entering Saturday's vacant title bout with Arreola
For as much thunder as heavyweight contender Bermane Stiverne carries in his punches, his outside-the-ring demeanor would never suggest it. He's about as low-key as it gets, speaking in a nearly hushed tone that a listener must sometimes strain to hear and rarely showing emotion.
It is that kind of laid-back attitude that surely has been a bonus as he has waited, and waited, and waited for his mandatory title opportunity and never, at least outwardly, displayed frustration.
In fact, Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 KOs) won the first of two elimination bouts in June 2011 by stopping former title challenger Ray Austin in the 10th round, yet a title shot did not come.
Where: Galen Center, Los Angeles
When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
Stiverne, 35, has fought only twice since -- a meaningless eight-round decision against journeyman Willie Herring in 2012, then a wide unanimous decision against Chris Arreola in another eliminator 13 months ago.
It was after that elimination bout against Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs) that Stiverne thought he would be fighting for a world title against Vitali Klitschko by year's end. As much as his promoter, Don King, put the pressure on, there were multiple delays in the purse bid. Then Klitschko announced he had an injury and asked for a delay as well as for time to decide whether he wanted the fight, which came at a time when everyone knew he was considering retirement. Then, finally, Klitschko did retire in December, vacating his title in the process, to turn his focus to his political aspirations in Ukraine, where he is one of the leaders of the opposition party.
Stiverne, meanwhile, knew that just by waiting he would eventually get a mandatory shot at the title. It is finally upon him, as he will fight for the vacant belt in a rematch with Arreola, the next leading available contender, on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 ET) at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.
"I'm just happy to be a part of this. Personally, to me, it's a long time coming," Stiverne said. "I've been patient for quite a while. I'm just happy to be able to fight for the title. Obviously, I believe that I will be crowned the heavyweight champion. Basically, I'm just happy. I'm just happy that ESPN was able to jump on board and surprise everybody [by buying the fight]. So I'm ready to go."
The wait has been difficult. Stiverne, a native of Haiti who lives in Las Vegas and trains at Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s gym, knew he would fight for a title. But he didn't know when or even whom in the wake of Klitschko's retirement; Wladimir Klitschko, Vitali's younger brother, is the recognized world champion and owner of the lineal title as well as three of the major alphabet titles.
"I'm to the point where I don't want to be in the gym anymore. I'm ready to go. I'm ready to go right away," Stiverne said. "I'm really looking forward to making history and bringing the title back to America and also being the first Haitian to be heavyweight champion of the world.
"It wasn't about whom I was going to fight. I knew I was going to fight for the title. I'm just happy to fight for the title. You don't have a lot of heavyweights that even fight for the title. Some heavyweights have been there for 20, 25 years and never fought for the title, and I'm thankful and grateful to be able to do so. I mean, it didn't matter who; it was just I wanted to fight for the title and have that chance to become a champion."
Stiverne said all through the uncertainty of what Vitali Klitschko was going to do he kept the faith because he knew that no matter what the decision was he would eventually fight for the belt, be it against Klitschko or for the vacant title against somebody else.
"I wouldn't say disappointed [in Klitschko taking his time], I think it was a lack of respect because I believe that he knew what he was going to do," said Stiverne, who is one of 14 children and began boxing at 19. "So he pretty much took his time, and he was babysitting the title, so to speak. But it didn't really frustrate me because I knew somehow one day I would be fighting for the title, and I also knew that nobody could take that away from me. But I never got frustrated. I just felt that at a point I was being disrespected. But we're here today, so all that is in the past. So I'm happy about the outcome."
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Klitschko had been untouchable during his title reign. Arreola, a 33-year-old who was once knocked out by Klitschko in a 2009 title fight, is a different story.
Stiverne beat him easily when they met last year. The fight changed from a competitive match to a Stiverne rout in the third round, when he caught Arreola with a booming right hand to drop him. The punch shattered Arreola's nose, and blood poured from it. Arreola, of Riverside, Calif., had trouble breathing for the rest of the fight. It was surprising he could even make it to the final bell, and Stiverne won 118-109, 117-110, 117-110 on the scorecards.
Stiverne has not fought since while awaiting his title shot, while Arreola rebounded to knock out Seth Mitchell in the first round in September and set the stage for Saturday's rematch.
Stiverne plans to duplicate his accomplishment from the first fight without doing much differently.
"Different as whatever I did in the first fight I would do it better, way better," he said. "I'm not going in the ring with my last performance, so we're getting ready for a new type of Arreola. So whatever Arreola shows up, I'll be able to handle that. And to be honest, I think this fight, I think Chris will be in shape. That's his excuse [for the first performance]. But I believe that Chris is going to bring the best out of me. That's how I see it. The more in shape that he is, the more trouble he's going to be in."
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