A Star is Born: American Deontay Wilder Wins Heavyweight Belt with Unanimous Decision over Stiverne

January 18, 2015

Wilder connects with right / Photo: Esther Lin (Showtime)

Fed a steady diet of tomato cans and easy knockout wins during his career, undefeated American heavyweight contender and former 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder still had several unanswered questions looming over him entering Saturday's WBC title bout against champion Bermane Stiverne: Could he go 12 rounds? Does he have a chin? Can his power hurt the larger heavyweights in the division?

Now we have our answers: Yes, yes, and yes.

In an impressive performance that brought him legitimacy and respect, Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs) dethroned Stiverne via unanimous decision, bagging rounds by taking advantage of his longer reach, effective left jab, and lateral movement.  The judges scored the fight 118-109, 119-108, and 120-107.

Wilder became the first undefeated American heavyweight champion since Riddick Bowe in 1992, and the first American champion since Shannon Briggs won the crown in 2006.

"I'm just excited and happy to bring this belt back to America," Wilder said. "It's going to mean a lot. I think I answered a lot of questions tonight. We knew we could go 12 rounds. We knew we could take a punch. We knew we could do it."

Prior to Saturday, the 6-foot-7 Wilder had never fought past the fourth round and had knocked out all 32 of his professional opponents.  In addition to his talent, a major reason for that success was his lack of quality opposition.

But against Stiverne -- a powerful, crafty counterpuncher, and a winner of two bouts over respected contender Chris Arreola -- Wilder faced a test far tougher than in his prior 32 fights.

Wilder answered his critics with a disciplined game plan and a high volume attack, landing more than double the total punches and throwing 420 jabs to Stiverne's 139.

Still, the fight was not as lopsided as the scores might have indicated, particularly the absurd 120-107 score.

Stiverne (24-2-1, 21 KOs) competed, put pressure on Wilder, displayed a great chin, and landed some flush shots of his own.  However, Stiverne failed to cut off the ring and did not throw enough punches, as Wilder was allowed to circle the ring and throw his jab at will.

"It wasn't my night," Stiverne said. "I felt 100 percent before the fight but once I got in the ring I couldn't cut the ring, I couldn't move my head like I usually do. What can I say? Congrats to him."

Stiverne landed just 39 jabs compared to Wilder's 120, perhaps a somewhat understandable discrepancy given the difficulty of getting into a jabbing contest with the longer Wilder.

"I knew I was trying to throw combos of four or five punches and I could only throw two of them,"said Stiverne.  "I just felt like I was flat in the ring. What I know I could do I didn't do. I just have to go back and learn from my mistakes and find out what happened tonight."

As for those three questions . . .

First, Wilder proved he had the stamina to go 12 rounds on a big stage in a pressure-laden fight.

"When I saw he could take a great punch we knew we were in for the long run," said Wilder.  "Twelve rounds is nothing. I want to bring excitement back to the heavyweight division. Whoever is ready, I'm ready."

Second, Wilder (219 pounds) showed he can take the shots of a larger heavyweight, as the 239-pound Stiverne never really had him in any significant trouble during the bout.

Third, Wilder's power indeed was a factor and did in fact have an effect on an elite heavyweight, as he stunned Stiverne at least twice with his right hand.

As for Wilder's future, one cannot help but envision a matchup down the line with Wladimir Klitschko, another tall champion who boasts a powerful left jab.

Wilder may still be a little green, and he remains quite light in weight for this division of heavy giants, but nevertheless, his height, reach, and power make him an intriguing potential matchup -- perhaps the only interesting one out there -- for fellow champion Wladimir Klitschko.

Super Bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz wins again

WBC Super Bantamweight Champion Leo Santa Cruz (29-0-1, 17 KOs) defended his crown for the fourth time with an eighth-round TKO of Jesus Ruiz and afterword called out fellow champions Abner Mares and Guillermo Rigondeaux.

"Like I expected, it was a war," Santa Cruz said. "He came prepared. We hurt him and we didn't let the chance go away. We kept going after him and we stopped him. I hurt him with the right hand. I knew he was hurt so I went after him. I knew Kenny Bayless would stop it because he wasn't throwing punches."

The early rounds were close and competitive, but Santa Cruz was landing the cleaner punches.  Santa Cruz appeared to hurt his opponent in the seventh round, and immediately went on the attack in Round Eight, landing a big right cross and following it up with a barrage of shots.

With Ruiz (32-6-5, 21 KOs) taking shots on the ropes and not trying to tie up up Santa Cruz, referee Kenny Bayless jumped in and stopped the bout with Ruiz still on his feet at :29 of the eighth round.

Ruiz, who only landed 22 percent of his total punches, disagreed with the stoppage.

"I want a rematch," Ruiz said. "I don't feel they should have stopped the fight, but I have to accept it. But I'm fine. Look at me - I'm not cut. He didn't even drop me."

The champion landed 43 percent of his total punches and nearly 50 percent of his power punches, while landing an impressive 73 power shots to the body.

"I want the best and I want to please the fans," said Santa Cruz.  "I want (Abner) Mares, I want (Guillermo) Rigondeaux. Hopefully our next fight is against one of the best."

By Staff of TheDailySportsHerald.com and news services

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