Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Wilder-Stiverne-Joshua Charade 

by Eddie Goldman

When the alarm went off shortly before 9 PM Saturday night, I awoke from a short nap already in a crabby mood. It was time to get up and watch the fights on Showtime. I don't cover many of these things live anymore for all sorts of reasons, including it being far easier to watch them on TV than in the arena, and also that I may be getting too old to traipse all over the place on a regular basis to cover fights whose outcome even a moron or a dotard would know. I'd rather be outside playing, you know, at what remains of the affordable barrooms in New York, but like covering the fights live, I may be getting too old to keep doing that as well.

My cable company Spectrum, where more than 1700 techs in New York and New Jersey have had to be on strike for over seven months with no negotiations planned by this monopoly, cooperated in bolstering my crabbiness when I put on the TV to watch Showtime, to which I have duly subscribed for many a year. The picture on this channel, but not many others, was all pixelated and unwatchable. But since their service has been deteriorating even further of late into the depths of cable hell, and there is no other TV provider available to me, I had been experimenting using their service which lets you watch many channels online, all legally. Fortunately for me, they were showing the Showtime live feed of the fight, so to the computer it was. Legal streaming. Is there any other kind?

While the first two televised fights, Sergey Lipinets vs. Akihiro Kondo and Shawn Porter vs. Adrian Granados, were action-packed and entertaining, the main event was what was drawing most people in. WBC heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder was facing the only fighter whom he had not knocked out, Bermane Stiverne, in a rematch of their January 2015 fight, won by Wilder by a lopsided unanimous decision.

Originally it had been announced that Wilder was to face unbeaten heavyweight Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, but by now you probably know what happened to that match, although perhaps not why. Ortiz tested positive for banned substances on a prefight doping test conducted by VADA, the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, but his camp claimed they were just from taking a prescription blood pressure medication. Of course, when Ortiz's team helped him fill out the paperwork for VADA, they conveniently omitted mentioning this prescription medication, failed to ask for a therapeutic use exemption for it, and didn't even list any blood pressure problem for him.

Then, also conveniently, the WBC withdrew sanctioning for this bout as a title fight and Ortiz was pulled from the bout. Stiverne, the mandatory challenger who had taken step-aside money to let the more marketable and powerful Ortiz take his place, now became Wilder's opponent. Showtime, which had balked at showing Wilder-Stiverne 2, was already locked into this date, as was the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Coincidences or trickeration that Wilder, perhaps facing a dangerous title unification fight next year with the undefeated star Anthony Joshua, now had a sure-fire win? You make the call, but at least some people believe they know the score, as unprovable as that may be. Even Stiverne had repeatedly said, including on this fight's media conference call, that he knew that Wilder would never face Ortiz.

But what was left of Stiverne anyway? For this fight, he came in at an almost career-high of 254 3/4 pounds, his heaviest since a mismatch he won in 2008 and 15 3/4 pounds heavier than when he first fought Wilder in 2015. Stiverne alluded to numerous injuries he had suffered before and after that fight, why this heavy weight signified nothing since he had eaten before the weigh-in, and so forth.

Yes, both fighters had promised a war in the prefight p.r. propaganda, but when Stiverne walked his soft body to the ring, he looked like he had a date with the hangman.

Then the bell rang, with, to his credit, Showtime announcer Mauro Ranallo joining the tiny ranks of those in the media who properly pronounced Stiverne's name. (It is BER-man Sti-VERNE.)

So this was what we had waited for. Wilder came out loose and fired a few jabs in the first minute. Stiverne fired nought. Wilder then stepped up his attack, and as you may have already seen one way or another, knocked down Stiverne three times, with the third one crumpling him on the ropes. At just 2:59 of the first round, referee Arthur Mercante wrestled his way between these two men and stopped the fight.

CompuBox stats showed that Stiverne had thrown four punches, two jabs and power punches each, and landed exactly none. Zero. Yup, he had really come to fight.

Even Wilder's stats in this one-sided affair were modest, landing 15 of 39 punches to score three knockdowns in the last two minutes of this round.

The fight had gone as planned, according to those who smelled trickeration. Stiverne was there to be a punching bag, collecting a reported half-million bucks to stand there and get put to sleep. Even Showtime announcer Al Bernstein had to say on the air, with interpretation up to the viewer, "Bermane Stiverne was a cooperator."

Now all the accolades poured in for Wilder, as if he had beaten a reincarnated Muhammad Ali or Joe Louis. Few noted that once more Wilder had been protected from a foe like Luis Ortiz who would have likely put him to sleep. But his perfect record was intact, now at 39-0 with 38 knockouts, and he could claim that he had finally knocked out every man he had faced, although there are more John Does on that list of his opponents than who register at the front desk of the short stay hotels.

Nowhere could I find in the media mentions of the astute comments made by Charles Farrell, mainly on Twitter (@cfarrell_boxing). Few had the guts, smarts, and/or integrity to repost them, so here are just two of them:

"Wilder can't fight, and he can't draw money, so the plan is to cash him out against Joshua. Anyone who knows boxing can see that."

"This was a beautifully executed hustle from the moment Ortiz was signed. It will end when Wilder is cashed out against Joshua. Great stuff."

Perhaps the only positive thing about Wilder that emerged from this fight was a comment that he made that also was barely mentioned in the media. In his televised postfight interview, he noted the death of Delrawn Small, an unarmed man murdered by a New York cop. Wilder has recently started speaking out more publicly about police brutality, joining a growing list of athletes.

But the main postfight focus and theatrics focused on a potential lucrative title unification fight with the IBF and WBA champ Anthony Joshua of the U.K., with Wilder having safely secured his WBC belt.

The WBC may try to intercede if Wilder can't get an immediate fight with Joshua. They first declared Dominic Breazeale, who stopped Eric Molina on the undercard, Wilder's new mandatory challenger, but had to pull back when reminded that there are still several fighters ranked ahead of the number six Breazeale, including Dillian Whyte and Andy Ruiz. Now they told whomever still listens that this was not the "final" eliminator, thus waiting to see where the most dollars and pesos in sanctioning fees would be for Wilder's next outing.

So after the fight, Wilder challenged Joshua again. But Joshua interestingly enough was not even at this fight, as some of us had thought he might be. Joshua's unspectacular tenth-round TKO of late replacement Carlos Takam the week earlier, also shown in the U.S. on Showtime, took place in front of about 78,000 fans in Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales, and was shown in the U.K. on pay-per-view. The reported attendance for the Wilder-Stiverne card was 10,924, with the entire mezzanine of the Barclays Center being reportedly covered up and reports of many free tickets being handed out.

While for the limited Wilder the only big money fight left is one with Joshua, there are numerous spectacular paydays awaiting Joshua in 2018 and beyond. He could have a unification fight with unbeaten WBO champ Joseph Parker, who now is based in the U.K. A fight with the colorful and outspoken David Haye, if he is healthy and gets by Tony Bellew in their Dec. 17 rematch in London, would do massive business. And, of course, there is the mercurial and unpredictable Tyson Fury, still suspended, unlicensed, and obese, and in questionable physical and mental shape. But if the unbeaten Fury manages to overcome all his demons and obstacles, a fight between the two men who last defeated Wladimir Klitschko could set any number of gate and TV records.

Wilder? Yeah, a fight with Joshua would do well, but it is just not as urgent for Joshua to unify with him. Wilder is neither a draw on TV nor in the arenas. He is not well-known outside of the U.S., or even beyond boxing's devotees in America.

Wilder and his team need Joshua, but not the reverse.

While Wilder was walking over Stiverne, not only was Joshua not in attendance, but neither was his loquacious promoter, Eddie Hearn. On that same day, Hearn was in Monte Carlo, Monaco, for a show he was promoting, and whose main event was a one-round, one-punch blowout by rising light heavyweight star Dmitry Bivol over Trent Broadhurst. And that fight, while Wilder-Stiverne was on Showtime, was aired live in the U.S. by Showtime's rival, HBO.

Hearn has recently set up Matchroom Boxing USA, with its debut show this Saturday, November 11, at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island, New York. Its main event will be a middleweight fight between Al Haymon-fighter Danny Jacobs and unbeaten but likely overmatched Luis Arias. The co-feature has yet another unbeaten heavyweight, Jarrell "Big Baby" Miller, against veteran former title challenger Mariusz Wach. And for a second week in a row, HBO will telecast a Hearn-promoted show.

While Wilder and Joshua both are signed to fight for Showtime in the U.S., Joshua's deals could be matched by HBO. Showtime was set to sign the fight between Joshua and his original opponent, Kubrat Pulev, but had the offer reportedly doubled by HBO. They obliged, but will no doubt face tough competition from HBO in keeping Joshua when their deal is finally up.

Hearn is already leveraging HBO and Showtime against each other. Does he plan to take Joshua with him to HBO when the contract allows? Who will blink in a bidding war between HBO and Showtime? HBO now has a freer budget than recently thanks to the retirements of Andre Ward and Wladimir Klitschko, and the departure to ESPN of Top Rank's fighters including Manny Pacquiao. Showtime only delivered a lukewarm number of views for the Joshua-Takam fight, shown in the U.S. in the afternoon, of 334,000 viewers.

This gamesmanship may explain why HBO sent three announcers and apparently paid a rights fee, for a one-round obvious mismatch in Monaco, the only fight they aired. Supposedly they have a tight boxing budget, right? HBO seems to be doing whatever Hearn asks of them to butter him up for when Joshua becomes free of his Showtime deal. This HBO show was like an investment, a loss leader, for HBO's bid for Joshua, who is the real prize in all of this.

If Joshua ends up at HBO, that might complicate or even scuttle a deal for a Wilder fight if he stays with Showtime. But with Joshua seemingly guaranteed to earn immense paydays for years to come by fighting on U.K. pay-per-view and in sold-out football stadiums there, and supplemented by ballooning rights fees from Showtime or HBO, what's the rush from his standpoint to fight Wilder?

Yeah, the belts. By now you should know what happens there. The more you unify, the more mandatories you have. And since you can't fight them all at once, and since some or even most of them aren't marketable or don't deserve to be mandatory challengers for a fight to be heavyweight champion of the world as much as Vince McMahon does, you don't fight them and end up getting stripped of one or more of the belts. And nobody will fucking care.

So who needs Wilder? Joshua certainly doesn't, at least now. Joshua also has a WBA mandatory he must face sometime, which he has indicated he intends to do. Wilder, thus, must take a number and stand in line.

With half the Barclays Center in Brooklyn empty, on the other side of the East River, UFC was having one of its brawls at Madison Square Garden. It drew a reported 18,201 fans and was on pay-per-view. The number of people who watched that on pay-per-view may be about the same or even more than saw Wilder-Stiverne on regular Showtime, although numbers aren't available yet.

The reviews of this UFC show were all positive from that milieu, with three title changes. Of course, UFC's present-day fan base is generally younger, whiter, richer, Trumpier, and far less knowledgeable about the art of striking than boxing's present-day fan base. While Stiverne standing like a statue raised questions in boxing, in MMA in general and particularly in UFC, that style of fighting is preferred, even though it has been ridiculed as being professional toughman or, to use the phrase of the late MMA fight manager Phyllis Lee, junior boxing. But the UFC fans lap this up, especially when one fighter is almost helplessly pounded repeatedly on the head while on the ground, in a sport which once purported to be safer than boxing. But even though it is a dumber sport than boxing, today's MMA has outsmarted boxing in terms of marketing and even matchmaking.

Now after assessing all this after the fight, it was too late to head to the barrooms, even with the extra hour due to the end of Daylight Savings Time. Yet I was even crabbier than before, and still wide awake. We had been shown a charade which should have infuriated people, or at least not have been taken seriously. So it was time to find an entertaining, light-hearted, and feel-good charade. Fortunately, someone had posted on YouTube for free a full, uncut version of the classic 1963 film "Charade" starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn (it turns out this film has always been in the public domain because of a copyright screwup when it first came out).

I'm far from being a film historian, but articles about this comedy-drama-mystery have glowingly called it the last sparkle of Hollywood's golden age. Even though it came out 54 years ago, I won't post spoilers, although Cary Grant's character is named Peter Joshua. But there's no Wilder in this story, either, as there may not be for the Joshua named Anthony.

Watching this late night dose of unreality, romance, and superb acting, dialogue, and writing was a fitting way to start to heal the intellectual wounds suffered from watching Saturday's boxing charade. Now would that some of these boxers in their upcoming in-ring charades inject a bit of ironic reality into them by using as walkout music Henry Mancini's theme from "Charade"!

(Photo of Deontay Wilder and Bermane Stiverne by Tom Casino/Showtime. Photo of Anthony Joshua by Esther Lin/Showtime.)

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