Bermane Stiverne stopped Chris Arreola at 2:02 of the sixth round Saturday night to become the first heavyweight titlist of Haitian heritage. ESPN picked up the anticipated rematch and aired it live on the main network rather than ESPN2, which is the home of their popular “Friday Night Fights” series. Here’s a look back at a great event.
It was a unique setting for a heavyweight world title bout, with the card taking place on the University of Southern California campus in Los Angeles. By contrast, the first Stiverne-Arreola match last April was held in front of a larger audience at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California.
Saturday’s attendance was somewhat disappointing, officially coming in at 3,992, yet the fans that did make it were passionate and made for a memorable atmosphere. The USC marching band crowded into the ring and played the national anthem to get things started. Numerous fighters were spotted ringside including undefeated American knockout artist Deontay Wilder, and former titlists David Haye and Shannon Briggs, among others.
A Tale of Two Fights:
For the first three rounds, Chris Arreola appeared in control. He fought aggressively, but intelligently, working behind the jab and giving his opponent angels when he worked on the inside. Momentum began to shift however, as “The Nightmare” seemed to slow down and abandon the jab. Was it Arreola’s conditioning failing him yet again? Was it the broken left hand that he claimed to suffer in the fourth? Or was it the effects of Bermane Stiverne’s dedicated body attack early on and subtle, yet highly effective, counter punching off the ropes?
“B WARE” had given away the early rounds, taking numerous punches along the way, yet he had invested in the body and remained dedicated to an ingenious game plan. As the old boxing adage goes, Stiverne “saw something” when he looked at footage of his opponent in camp. He talked about this during the post fight press conference, as well as bringing in five different sparring partners with different styles, so as to be prepared for anything that Arreola brought into the ring. Indeed for the first couple rounds it appeared that Bermane was feeling Chris out, not knowing exactly what to expect. Once he saw what was coming to him, Stiverne settled into a groove and began executing his strategy.
As B WARE backed into the ropes, he covered up well, letting his opponent get off with combinations, yet blocking most of it and countering HARD to the body. Once Arreola had visibly slowed down, Stiverne stepped it up with the counters and began landing left hooks that backed his opponent off. It only took until the sixth round until Chris took a left hook to the temple that he never saw coming, disabling his equilibrium and dropping him to the canvas. Once Bermane smelled blood, the writing was on the wall and the match was over just seconds later.
Nothing but Respect:
After all the trash talk and bravado, it was nothing but respect in the post fight press conference. Both heavyweights spoke highly complementary of each other, and at one point Stiverne actually turned to his foe and said, “whatever you need, I got your back” and they shook hands. The fighter who was so intense and surly leading up to the fight had opened up and became vulnerable afterwards. Bermane spoke of all the struggles he and his family had endured, the bond he had formed with his team, and his friendship with manager Camille Estephan, the only one who believed in him early in his career. He fought back tears when he talked about recent deaths in the family, and thanked his brother (standing with the team beside Bermane) for helping him get through it all. It was an emotional and inspiring press conference that showed the real Bermane Stiverne and the real Chris Arreola, two true warriors who both win and lose with humility.
Deontay Wilder became the WBC mandatory with his victory over Malik Scott in March, but don’t expect newly crowned titlist Bermane Stiverne to fulfill that obligation any time soon. Generally speaking, the WBC allows their titlists a year to fight mandatory opponents, and you have to figure that promoter Don King will want to get his fighter an optional defense against a softer opponent before taking on Wilder. King makes his home in Florida and Stiverne lived in Miami before coming to Las Vegas a few years ago. Couple that with the fact that Miami has a large Haitian population and this writer predicts an optional title defense for B WARE in southern Florida later this year. After all his travels and battles on unfriendly territory, the new WBC titlist deserves to fight in front of a supportive, partisan crowd.
As for Chris Arreola, this may have been his last chance. His injured left hand will need healing over the coming months, but that’s small potatoes compared to the mental and emotional recovery that lie ahead. His greatest foe has always been the scale, and inactivity will only make that opponent stronger. Where Chris goes from here, only he knows.
Questions, comments, hate mail? You know what to do.