By becoming the first American to win a heavyweight title since 2006, unbeaten slugger Deontay Wilder silenced his critics with a wide unanimous decision win over Bermane Stiverne on Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
Here are five things we learned from Wilder’s victory:
1. He answered every question we had of him
Wilder had knocked out all 32 of his opponents entering the fight yet hadn’t faced the kind of step-up opponent to instill a necessary amount of confidence that he was ready for Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 KOs). Outside of his massive power, we knew very little about Wilder’s intangibles. But short of delivering a knockout, Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs) backed up just about every word spoken leading up to the fight. Despite feeling Stiverne’s power and twice appearing to be hurt, Wilder’s chin was more than equal to the task against a heavy puncher. He also dispelled any notions of him being simply a puncher. Although the fight was far from a technical showcase, it was exciting and Wilder got the better of the action by proving that he can box, too. Behind his long jab, Wilder kept himself out of trouble, controlled the distance and utilized a fairly responsible defense.
2. Wilder benefited from the fight going the distance
Raise your hand if you had this fight going the full 12 rounds? Or how about simply more than four rounds, which was the most Wilder had gone in six years as a professional? That’s what I thought. Not only did Wilder impress by showcasing the better gas tank in the championship rounds (despite a few sloppy moments from both), but also it was the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native’s reputation that most benefited from the fight going the distance. Had Stiverne, who was hurt and dropped at the bell in Round 1 (although referee Tony Weeks did not rule it a knockdown) become stoppage victim No. 33 in the early rounds, Wilder would have likely retained his critics. Instead, he was given every opportunity to prove himself as anything but a one-dimensional hype job. “The Bronze Bomber” made Stiverne think twice about coming forward with big right hands, and he knew enough to rely on his size advantage with the lead in hand late in the bout. Wilder was taken into deep waters -- a place many figured he would drown -- and he passed the test with flying colors.
3. Stiverne was game, yet not ready for prime time
Deservedly so, the prevailing narrative from the fight centered around what Wilder was able to do in order to claim a piece of the heavyweight crown. But while Wilder’s performance made a statement, it was far from complete, benefitting greatly from the things that Stiverne, 36, was unable to do. Not only was it a shock to most watching at home that both fighters were still standing late in the fight, it was Stiverne who looked the most surprised. The native of Haiti, who fights out of Canada, was simply unable to cut off the ring consistently and was far too patient (throwing just 327 punches compared to 621 for Wilder) in looking to pick his spot with heavy counter shots. Despite showing a strong chin, Stiverne failed to establish his jab, gassed out late in the fight and never varied his attack or moved his head. While it was Wilder’s thin resume that drew plenty of criticism coming in, it clouded the fact -- in hindsight -- that Stiverne’s wasn’t much to write home about either outside of a pair of wins over brawler Chris Arreola.
4. Wilder very well could be that guy
He’s unbeaten and athletic with crushing power. He’s 6-foot-7, lean and ripped and covered in tattoos. And boy can he create a colorful sound bite. Wilder, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist with the All-American back story who picked up the sport late, has all of the makings to be a crossover star. The 29-year-old possesses the kind of must-see excitement that the division has lacked for over a decade. But if he continues to improve and knock out those placed in front of him, he also represents a potential missing link to reconnect the sport with its casual fan base. And with advisor Al Haymon having announced this week a deal with NBC to bring boxing back to network TV in prime time, Wilder very well could get that chance in a division that’s not exactly overflowing with elite talent.
5. But don’t expect a unification bout anytime soon
While Wilder’s victory brings excitement to an often dormant division, it doesn’t lend itself toward any future clarity thanks to the way things stand politically. With recognized heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko -- who holds the three remaining titles -- having signed an exclusive deal with HBO and Haymon’s fighters currently persona non grata on the network, the search for an undisputed champion will likely have to wait. For now, at least.