Heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder's sixth defense will come in a rematch against Bermane Stiverne, the man from whom he took the belt in January 2015. But make no mistake -- this is not a fight anyone particularly wanted, except Team Stiverne.
Wilder was getting ready for a highly anticipated fight against big-punching contender Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, one of the most avoided fighters in the division. In fact, Wilder, so desperate to alleviate the intense criticism he has taken for facing such mediocre opponents through his first five defenses -- through no fault of his own -- agreed to pay mandatory challenger Stiverne $675,000 to step aside and allow him to first fight Ortiz with Stiverne getting a spot on the undercard.
With a solid performance and a Wilder win in the main event, Stiverne, with only one fight since losing the title to Wilder nearly three years ago (and that was a struggle against journeyman Derric Rossy in November 2015), could at least make a rematch mildly interesting. But then Ortiz flunked a drug test (his second positive test in three years) and was bounced from the fight last month. That left Stiverne as the only serious option to replace him in order to save the show.
So Wilder and Stiverne will meet again on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, in a fight many expect Wilder to win more easily than the first fight, in which he injured his hand in the third round and still cruised to a lopsided decision, 120-108, 119-108 and 118-109, and sent Stiverne to a Las Vegas hospital.
Wilder is so confident that he will win again that he vowed to retire if he loses.
This is your ESPN.com Ringside Seat for the fight:
Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) vs. Bermane Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KOs) II
Nothing to lose
Stiverne comes into the fight playing with house money. He wasn't supposed to face Wilder on Saturday and his position as the WBC's mandatory challenger has been heavily criticized.
The Haiti-born, Las Vegas-based Stiverne, who turned 39 on Wednesday, was handed the position when a title elimination fight against Alexander Povetkin to earn the title fight was canceled on the day of the bout because Povetkin had a second positive drug test in eight months; the first caused a fight with Wilder to be canceled.
"I always said I was going to be the first person to beat him, and that is going to come together on Saturday. 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."Bermane Stiverne
Wilder, 32, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, was beside himself when the Ortiz fight was canceled and there is a feeling by some that perhaps he is overlooking Stiverne, an experienced puncher with little to lose.
"In my mind, this is an extremely dangerous fight," said promoter Lou DiBella. "(Wilder) has been preparing for a career defining fight against Luis Ortiz, an unorthodox left-handed puncher, a guy that he was really mentally revved up to fight. And instead he's winding up with a rematch of a fight against Bermane Stiverne, a guy that's been in this kind of situation before who's a legitimate dangerous heavyweight contender.
"Frankly, in this situation, Bermane Stiverne has absolutely nothing to lose. And he must feel like this is Christmas Day. He was already preparing for a large right-handed opponent in (Dominic) Breazeale (on the undercard). He was going to be on that same card. It's now switched over to a fight that you have to think maybe Deontay is a little bit deflated to be forced to fight. But Bermane is the mandatory contender, and that's the fight that's going to happen. I know that he's confident and I also know that he's dangerous. And I know that it's all upside here for Bermane Stiverne and very little pressure."
Hungry for big fight
Wilder has been steadfast in his goal to fight the best and unify the titles. But he's already lost out on major fights with Ortiz and Povetkin because of their drug issues. Wilder also saw another opponent, Andrzej Wawrzyk, fail a drug test and get replaced by Gerald Washington in February.
Wilder is admittedly frustrated. But he also said he is not about to allow Stiverne to derail his plans.
"My head is in a peaceful state of mind. I still sit back now and still just analyze my career I'm like, 'What have I done so wrong to get the bad of the stick with every fight that comes in,' " he said. "All I ever wanted was to fight the best. It just saddens me. Man, it just saddens me. It makes me reevaluate my career. It almost made me lose the love of boxing for a little bit as well too because of certain things and activities that has been known in this sport with these guys avoiding or wanting to get on bad substances when they know they're not supposed to be taking it in the first place. I don't want to feel this way about boxing because I was once in love with it and it's starting to make me rethink my career. I'm so happy that I'm able to get my mandatory out of the way."
Once he takes care of Stiverne, Wilder wants the same fight so many fans want: a unification fight with unified titleholder Anthony Joshua (20-0, 20 KOs), the British star who retained his belts by 10th-round knockout of Carlos Takam last week.
"As soon as Anthony Joshua accepts the fight, then I'll be there," Wilder said. "They're trying to distract people because they know that I'm a danger to anybody's career. All their excuses have nothing to do with the sport of boxing. The only thing people care about is the best fighting the best, and that's what I'm trying to do. (Stiverne) 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 has been a knockout machine from Day 1, but only one man has managed to hear the final bell: Stiverne.
Going into their first fight one of the major storylines was could Wilder go 12 rounds? Up to that point he'd never been past four. Wilder proved that he could. So one of his motivations for a fight that has to be hard for him to get up for -- given how easily he won the first time and how disappointed he was that Ortiz failed a drug test -- is to knock Stiverne out this time.
"The first time around, my heart desired the knockout, but in reality, it was the best for me to be able to go 12 rounds. It was the best thing to ever happen to me in my career because even to that point, a lot of people doubted me," Wilder said. "When Bermane was able to last 12 rounds, it was a blessing for me because I proved to so many people what I can do instead of them looking negative at me of what I can't do. So this time around it comes in, it makes it even better because now I can redeem myself. I showed you all what I can do. And now I'm coming back around completing what I meant to do in the first place.
"The ambulance better be ready. The medical teams better be ready. The referee better be ready. They better have that towel to be able to throw it in because every blow is going to mean something."Deontay Wilder
"Stiverne was the only man to survive the 'Alabama Slammer' and avoid a knockout. When I knock him out, then nobody will be able to say they made it through against me. He was nothing but a lot of lumps and excuses after the first fight. Stiverne is going to see me come to Barclays Center and finish the job on Saturday. He survived the first time. I will finish the job this time."
Wilder poured it on even harder verbally at the final news conference Thursday:
"The ambulance better be ready. The medical teams better be ready. The referee better be ready," he said. "They better have that towel to be able to throw it in because every blow is going to mean something.
"There's nothing different that he can bring to the table. He brought everything he could bring the first time. He brought all his tricks, all his power. There's nothing he's going to be able to do this time. The only thing he's going to be able to do is pick his spot on the ground where he's going to lay at."
Stiverne was unmoved by Wilder's predictions.
"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," Stiverne said. "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. 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."
Wilder: 38-0 (37 KO); sixth defense of WBC heavyweight title
Wilder: Last six fights lasted 54 rounds, first 32 fights lasted 58
Wilder: 97 percent KO rate, second-highest all time among heavywights (Anthony Joshua: 100 percent)
Wilder: Last fought 252 days ago, career-long layoff
Stiverne: 25-2-1 (21 KOs); only fighter to go 12 rounds with Wilder
Stiverne: Outlanded by Wilder 110-227 in first fight
Stiverne: 14 first-round KOs
Stiverne: Last fought November 2015, career-long layoff
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 co-feature. If Porter wins he will remain Thurman's mandatory challenger. If Granados pulls the upset he will take over the position.
In the televised opener, 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.
Rafael's prediction: Wilder by knockout.