LOS ANGELES -- Heavyweight world champion Wladimir Klitschko has powered his way through 16 lopsided title defenses during an eight-year-plus reign, but rarely has there been an opponent he was really pumped up to face.
Now there is Bermane Stiverne, who on Saturday night knocked out Chris Arreola in their rematch at the Galen Center to win a vacant heavyweight belt, the one that Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir’s older brother, vacated in December when he retired to pursue his political career in Ukraine.
When the Klitschko brothers both held titles they would not fight each other, for obvious reasons. But now that the 35-year-old Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) -- the first Haitian-born heavyweight titlist -- has the belt, Wladimir Klitschko would like a chance to win the one title that he has never had, return it to the family and unify all four major titles (although he is the lineal champion and universally recognized as the No. 1 heavyweight).
Hours before Stiverne’s knockout victory, Klitschko told me that he would be watching the fight on ESPN with interest with the hope of fighting the winner in his next fight.
It is the biggest fight in the division but it’s complicated for a few reasons. Don King promotes Stiverne and making a deal with him can be impossible. Further, both Klitschko and Stiverne have mandatory obligations that are due.
Klitschko (62-3, 53 KOs), 38, who obliterated Alex Leapai, the WBO mandatory challenger on April 26, owes Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev an IBF mandatory defense, although the IBF is the one organization that embraces unification fights and allows them to take precedence over a mandatory. So if Klitschko requests an exception, the IBF is likely to grant it.
Stiverne, however, won the vacant WBC belt and even before the fight the organization had already ordered the winner to face undefeated American Deontay Wilder (who was ringside) next. It remains to be seen if the organization would allow the unification bout before the mandatory. It is also is unclear just how much Stiverne and King want a Klitschko fight. Both were non-committal at Saturday night’s post-fight news conference.
One thing is for sure -- there is a lot more money for Stiverne and King in a Klitschko fight than a Wilder fight. And more money for the WBC also.
Klitschko wants the fight and made that clear when we spoke.
“I hope that the sanctioning bodies will speak the same language and we find a solution to allow me to fight for the WBC title,” Klitschko told ESPN.com. “If not, I will go the other way. I have no influence on it. I know it’s complicated to become champion and get things like that done. There are a lot of sanctioning bodies and obligations. I just hope the sanctioning bodies will be supportive of this unification fight, whoever wins.”
Klitschko also said a fight with Stiverne would be something that could bring him back to fight in the United States, where he has not boxed since outpointing Sultan Ibragimov to unify two titles at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2008.
“I hope this fight can happen in the States,” Klitschko said. “Hopefully, it will work out. It’s not that easy. We need to find a U.S. broadcaster because my opponents are expensive.”
At the very least, Klitschko said it’s good that there is a new name in the division for fans to get excited about in a title fight.
“Some people are going very happy because there are some new names because there is a crisis in the heavyweight division and the crises is Klitschko,” he said. “I think it’s great that somebody is going to be out there and create news and that’s going to be interesting to get a unification fight. I hope it works. I think the fans really want it as well. I look forward to it, I really do.
“I heard some of the comments with the Pulev fight. Some say it would be great, but they are from Bulgaria. I will get criticized again by some because he’s only got 20 fights, good boxing skills but too raw or green behind his ears. A unification fight would be great. Fans would love to see it and I would love to see it myself for the undisputed championship and all the titles. I am super interested.”