DEONTAY Wilder became the first American to win a piece of the heavyweight title in nearly a decade on Saturday night, staggering Bermane Stiverne early on his way to a 12-round unanimous decision that kept him unbeaten in 33 fights.
Going deep into a fight for the first time in his career, Wilder controlled the fight with a big left jab, often followed by right hands up the middle as he piled up points early on his way to the biggest win of his career.
The 2008 Olympic bronze medallist, who had never been past the fourth round in winning all 32 of his previous fights, had to go the distance in this one. But the pay-off was the WBC heavyweight title.
One ringside judge gave Wilder every round, scoring it 120-107, and he won 119-108 and 118-109 on the other two.
“I’m going to bring excitement back to the heavyweight division,” Wilder said. “I’m not going to sit around. Whoever is ready, I’m ready.”
Wilder had stopped all 32 of his previous opponents, 18 of them in the first round, while none had lasted beyond the fourth. But his opponents were a suspect lot, and Stiverne (24-2-1) was his first big test as a pro.
Ringside punch stats showed Wilder’s dominance, crediting him with landing 227 of 621 punches, including 120 of 420 jabs. Stiverne landed 110 of 327 punches, and only 38 jabs.
It was the first heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand since Mike Tyson bit off a piece of Evander Holyfield’s ear there 18 years ago. Both Tyson and Holyfield were on hand to watch, as was Larry Holmes, who fought often on the big stage as heavyweight champion in the 1970s and ’80s. And Wilder became the first American to hold a piece of the heavyweight title since Shannon Briggs in 2006.
“I think I answered a lot of questions tonight,” Wilder said. “We knew we could go 12 rounds, we knew we could take a punch.” Wilder took some, but with a huge reach advantage he was able to keep Stiverne on the outside most of the night and made him pay the price when he came inside. Stiverne was never knocked down but was staggered several times.
“I wasn’t myself. I felt 100 per cent but I couldn’t cut the ring off like I usually do,” Stiverne said. “I was throwing hard punches but I could only throw two of them at a time.”
Stiverne was defending the title he won last May when he stopped Chris Arreola in the sixth round. The WBC title had become vacant by the retirement of Vitali Klitschko, whose brother, Wladimir, is considered the true heavyweight champion.
Even in uncharted territory past the fourth round, Wilder continued to control the fight, moving backward and throwing left jabs to keep Stiverne away. But Stiverne kept coming, and his punches started landing more often as the fight entered the middle rounds.
“Come on, fight,” Stiverne yelled at Wilder after hitting him with a left hook in the sixth round.
The crowd of 8,453 was on its feet in the seventh round as Wilder staggered Stiverne yet again, landing a left jab followed by a straight right up the middle. Stiverne went into the ropes but managed to escape once more.
Both fighters tired toward the end of the bout, but Wilder still piled up the points with his jab.
Adding to the scene was 83-year-old promoter Don King, who also staged the “Bite Fight”. King, who promotes Stiverne but has largely been inactive in recent years, waved a variety of flags as he climbed into the ring with his fighter, a big cigar clenched between his teeth.
Like Stiverne, though, he left the ring disappointed.