1. Deontay Wilder is the latest American heavyweight hope
Of the four heavyweight titles, here are the last four Americans to hold those belts.
WBA: John Ruiz (2005)
IBF: Chris Byrd (2006)
WBC: Hasim Rahman (2006)
WBO: Shannon Briggs (2007)
So the most recent American heavyweight champion was Briggs, who is now 43 and encountering sharks and harassing Wladimir Klitschko at sea, desperately trying to secure a money fight that will only end badly for him if it ever actually happens. Ruiz and Byrd are retired. Rahman has been a non-factor since losing his title in '06, even though he was later granted a sorta-title shot against Alexander Povetkin, showing up grossly out of shape and looking 15 years older than he actually was.
Deontay Wilder was 21 years old the last time an American held a heavyweight title. He had only been boxing at all since October 2005, so a little less than two years by the time that Briggs lost to Sultan Ibragimov (who is also now long retired). He hadn't scored upsets in the amateur ranks that sent him to Beijing in 2008, hadn't won his bronze medal there, hadn't done anything at all.
In the interim, there have been American heavyweight hopefuls. Chris Arreola came up well short against his better opposition, often victim of not watching his weight between fights. Former college football player Seth "Mayhem" Mitchell was a quick learner and had a lot of heart and power, but didn't have the chin. Malik Scott stalled before he fizzled. Chazz Witherspoon, Joe Hanks, Tor Hamer, all flamed out. Guys like Tony Thompson and Ray Austin hung around, but little more.
We're at a new era for the "American hopefuls" in the division, being led by KO artist Wilder, who at 32-0 has stopped every pro opponent, and Bryant Jennings, who likely will face Wladimir Klitschko in April on HBO. Jennings is not considered by many to be a real threat to Klitschko, but Wilder, despite a very soft list of opponents, has the one-punch knockout power to beat anyone. That said, power alone doesn't win at the highest level very often, and Wilder is in against by far his best opponent to date. If he can't do it tonight, and Jennings can't do it in April, we may have to start looking toward yet another "next generation," perhaps led by 2012 Olympians Dominic Breazeale and Michael Hunter.
2. Bermane Stiverne is a real deal heavyweight
Much of the focus is on Wilder's pro-America quest, but Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KO) should really be considered the favorite here. The 36-year-old Haitian is a quietly crafty fighter with good punching power and a lot more developed skill than we've ever seen from Wilder.
At 6'2" with an 80" reach, Stiverne isn't the biggest heavyweight out there, and just as a visual, the matchup sort of resembles the two bouts between Tyson Fury and Dereck Chisora. Fury won both times, easily outboxing Chisora and maintaining distance, but two things about that:
- Wilder has not shown -- or ever needed to show -- the patience and skill of Fury, who has matured into a very effective fighter over the years.
- Stiverne is a good bit better than Chisora and can do more than maul opponents.
3. This is, for once, a genuinely intriguing main event
While I believe Stiverne deserves to be considered the favorite, that doesn't mean I'm counting out Wilder or even picking against him. Truth be told, I really can't decide who I believe will win this fight. I think Stiverne is obviously more seasoned, has faced tougher opposition, and is probably the more intelligent, well-rounded fighter. But Wilder's power is legitimate, and a couple good cracks on anyone's chin could be goodnight in a hurry.
At 29, Wilder has developed his physique nicely and is no longer the stick-thin kid who came out of the 2008 Olympics after fighting at the 201 pound limit. He's going to need real grown man power to get to Stiverne, so we'll see if his weighing in lighter than normal for this fight will matter, but it probably won't (unless he overtrained).
Most premium cable and pay-per-view main events are nowhere close to true pick'em matchups. How many upsets do we get at this level anymore? How many times a year are you surprised by what happens, or even go into a fight not having a clear winner in mind? This doesn't feel like the usual setup, where the A-side is all over the poster and will clearly be winning. This is a fight that could be a brawl, could be a lopsided one-way beating, could end in a knockout in the first 30 seconds -- we don't know until they fight the fight.
4. Leo Santa Cruz wants to give a good fight for the fans
One that they will like and think is good.
5. Amir Imam vs Fidel Maldonado Jr
Maldonado (19-2, 16 KO) lost a couple fights in 2012 to Fernando Carcamo (who turned out to be better than thought) and Michael Perez (a solid young fighter). But at 23, he's just kept going on, not letting the early setbacks take him out of the game. He's 6-0 (1 no contest) since those losses, and now will look to knock off Don King's junior welterweight prospect, Amir Imam (15-0, 13 KO). This is a really nice matchup to kick off the triple-header.
BLH will have live coverage tonight starting at 8:00 pm EST on SHOWTIME Extreme for prelim bouts, and then at 10:00 pm EST on SHOWTIME for the main fights.