Bermane Stiverne could hardly have turned in a worse performance when he faced Deontay Wilder in January 2015.
Stiverne was making his first heavyweight world title defense against his mandatory challenger on that night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas -- and from the opening bell, it was all Wilder. He did as he pleased against a lethargic and utterly ineffective Stiverne, who wound up losing by scores of 120-108, 119-108 and 118-109.
If there was a silver lining for Stiverne, it was that he was the first (and remains the only) opponent to take massive-punching Wilder the distance. But Stiverne still wound up in a Las Vegas hospital for severe dehydration and muscle damage, which, he reasoned, was why he boxed so poorly.
Since then, Stiverne has badly wanted a rematch to erase that hideous showing. But his performance was so bad that when he wound up as Wilder's mandatory challenger, the fight was so uninteresting to the public and to television networks that it was dead on arrival. Besides, Wilder really wanted to face an opponent that would generate interest and help him lay to rest the immense criticism he has taken for fighting a soft schedule through his first five title defenses.
So the two camps made a deal in which Stiverne would agree to step aside for a $675,000 payment and a slot on Wilder's next undercard, while Wilder would take on top contender and dangerous, undefeated puncher Luis "King Kong" Ortiz on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
If Stiverne defeated contender Dominic Breazeale on the undercard and Wilder beat Ortiz, it would make the rematch at least salable. But when Ortiz tested positive for two banned substances in a random Voluntary Anti-Doping Association-conducted urine test late last month and was dropped from the fight, it left promoter Lou DiBella and Showtime with little choice if they wanted to save the show. It meant Stiverne would move up the card and face Wilder in the overdue mandatory fight.
It's not a fight Wilder particularly wanted, but he had no other choice if he wanted to fight, get paid and maintain his title.
"Stiverne had a lot of excuses after the last fight," Wilder said on Wednesday. "Nobody wants to hear excuses from the loser. He knows what happened. I beat him 12 rounds in a row. I think this fight will be even easier for me. He hasn't improved since we last fought, but I'm going to show him a whole new Deontay Wilder. This is the end of Bermane Stiverne's career right here.
"I thought the first Stiverne fight should have been stopped. He had knots all over his face and was concussed. I'm not trying to leave any doubt this time around.
"This is my mandatory opponent. I must face him, and that's just what it is. I've called out every name in the sport. All the top guys have ducked me, so I just have to take care of the people that are able to get in the ring."
Wilder-Ortiz was generating strong interest from boxing fans and media. Wilder-Stiverne II, not so much -- and that's one of the reasons ticket prices were lowered when Wilder's opponent changed.
The Haiti-born, Las Vegas-based Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KOs), who turned 39 on Wednesday, has heard the criticism of the match -- but Stiverne's only focus is on his second chance at glory, and revenge for the worst performance of his career.
"I have no fear heading into this fight. It's not that I didn't see the openings in the last fight; I just couldn't physically perform how I needed to," Stiverne said. "I had health concerns last fight, but now I've turned the chapter on that and I'm focused on Saturday night. This is going to be a completely different fight this time around. I'm hungry to win. I'm always motivated and excited about getting into the ring, but obviously this is the biggest chance I'm going to have.
"The stage is set and my destiny is in front of me. I always said I was going to be the first person to beat him, and that is going to come together on Saturday. Everything has been perfect in camp. Deontay is going to be in for a real rude awakening on Saturday. I'm going to let my fists do the talking for me."
In the co-feature, former welterweight titleholder Shawn Porter (27-2-1, 17 KOs), 30, of Las Vegas will risk his status as the mandatory challenger for unified titleholder Keith Thurman by taking on Adrian Granados (18-5-2, 12 KOs), 28, of Chicago in a voluntary eliminator. In the opening fight of the tripleheader, Sergey Lipinets (12-0, 10 KOs), 28, a Kazakhstan native fighting out of Los Angeles, and Akihiro Kondo (29-6-1, 16 KOs), 32, of Japan will fight for one of the junior welterweight titles that undisputed world champion Terence Crawford vacated in order to move up in weight.
One of the reasons the prospect of a rematch between Stiverne and Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs), 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was poorly received is that Stiverne hasn't done anything since the loss to show he might have a chance this time around.
Stiverne has fought only once since the loss, a much tougher than expected decision win against journeyman Derric Rossy, who knocked him down in the November 2015 bout.
Stiverne had a title eliminator against Alexander Povetkin scheduled for December, but it was canceled when Povetkin again failed a random pre-fight drug test. Instead of ordering Stiverne to fight somebody else in an eliminator, the WBC simply elevated him to mandatory status in a move members of the organization privately say was a mistake. Stiverne also had other bouts called off because of injury during the long layoff.
But he said that is all in the past. What matters -- the only thing that matters, he said -- is Saturday.
"I lost the fight, but I'm tired of talking about the first fight," Stiverne said. "Of course I believe I'm going to win [the rematch]. Everybody can talk whatever they want to talk. It doesn't even matter. Me talking right now, him talking right now, it doesn't even matter. It doesn't matter. Words don't matter. What matters is what happens on [Saturday]. That's what matters."
He insisted that his age and inactivity will not be factors in the rematch.
"Those factors are for people like you and the people that's out there," Stiverne said. "Age is nothing but a number. I can't say that I'm not inactive. When it comes to fighting in the ring, you could say that. But as far as being inactive, I haven't been inactive; I've been in the gym all day every day. And the fight with Rossy, that wasn't even a fight that I wanted to take. I just took the fight just because. The past three years since I lost the fight, there's only one fight that I'm interested in -- which is the fight that's happening on [Saturday].
"When I fought Rossy, I was still trying to digest the loss. I might have been there physically, but mentally or psychologically, it was not really the case. All that is in the past. That was then and this is now. And, like, people are trying to say that my inactivity is going to hurt me. I don't believe so. ... I'm not trying to look for excuses, but what I'm telling you is this second fight is going to be a whole lot different fight. There's going to be a whole different ending."