Bermane Stiverne speaks slowly and deliberately, stopping to think about every word he says. He’ll adjust his feet or take a few extra chomps on his piece of gum before elaborating or beginning his next point. His disposition is cool, cultivated by adoration for jazz and blues music.
He’s not shy—no man built like a brick shed has any reason to be—he just wants to be certain that every line has maximum clarity and impact.
The Haitian-Canadian heavyweight succeeded in that regard during the final press conference for his HBO-televised clash with Chris Arreola this Saturday. Stiverne took to the podium with his dreadlocks pulled back in a beanie and announced that he was coming to “chop his head off.”
His steely demeanor and harsh delivery startled more than a few observers.
“However he took it is fine, I still feel the same way. I was just trying to find my best words to describe how I felt about the situation,” Stiverne (22-1-1, 20 KOs) told RingTV.com. “I was referring to, where I’m from in Haiti, we had our independence in 1804. I remember a quote from the people who fought the French; they said “there’s no way but to chop their heads.” That’s how I felt yesterday, so I expressed that. I’ve been reading about our ancestors, and I feel that I’m in the same type of fight.”
Stiverne’s approach on the dais is identical to his method in the ring. He won’t be challenging Ike Ibeabuchi’s CompuBox records any time soon, but at least one of the purposeful punches he throws in a fight tends to put an end to it. All but two of his 22 wins have come by way of knockout—the other two came against survival specialist Robert Hawkins, and most recently against Willie Herring, a fight in which his injured his right hand.
That brand of patience has carried him through an athletic career that hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Had everything gone as originally planned, he would be an NFL linebacker today, having received a scholarship to play for the Michigan State Spartans. Knee and ankle injuries derailed his gridiron dreams before they ever started, and he spiralled into obesity working as a telemarketer in Miami.
After two years at the office, and in and out of trouble, Stiverne relocated to Montreal with his father. Still having the athletic itch, he went to the legendary Olympic Plaza boxing gym to try and lose weight. Unfortunately, gym memberships cost money, and Stiverne only had what he could muster in the streets through petty crime.
“I was up to no good. I wanted to stay in the street, and I was trying to get some money and survive out there,” explained Stiverne.
Though he didn’t have any natural boxing talent, coaches Dave Campanile and Mike Moffa in particular saw something in time. For one, he had athletic talent, and an 80-inch reach jetting out from a thick frame. But more importantly, he had a plight they were sympathetic to. Fighters like Joachim Alcine and Adonis Stevenson had come to the gym in the past—both Haitian, both with checkered backgrounds and little money—and it had been a safe haven for them.
“Mike Moffa actually asked me where I’d been, because I didn’t show up to the gym for like, at least six months. I told him I just couldn’t afford it. And then both of them looked at me and said don’t worry about it. It took a big weight off my shoulders. My Mom didn’t want to pay for it; nobody wanted to pay for it. If they would have told me I had to pay for the gym, I probably would have went back to the streets and been up to no good,” said Stiverne.
What would “no good” have constituted?
“Honestly?” Stiverne pauses, takes a deep breath and exhales. “Honestly, I’d probably be in jail.”
Nine months later, he began his amateur career, which nearly culminated with a birth in the Olympics in 2004, if not for a controversial decision loss to George Garcia in the semi-finals of the Canadian trials. Stiverne knocked Garcia down three times, but it wasn’t enough for the judges.
With two sporting dreams already taken away from him, he wasn’t about to watch a third slip away, so he inked with Don King and took off the headgear and singlet for good. He relocated again to Las Vegas as a result, but he still divides his time between Sin City, Miami and Montreal. He can always be found at Canadian events, particularly supporting junior welterweight contender Dierry Jean, another Haitian-born Canuck who is trained by Moffa and managed by Stiverne’s guide Camille Estephan.
The move brought about a new trainer in Don House to polish his admittedly professional-suited skillset, but Stiverne always credits Moffa et al for making everything possible.
Those skills have been now refined enough to have him one step away from a crack at a world title, with the Arreola bout being a WBC final eliminator. The escalator has been jammed a few times though, so to speak. The bout has been delayed three times, with the most recent being right before the two were set to fight on March 9.
“All the other times it didn’t bother me, because it wasn’t so close to the fight. But the last time, March 9, the week before the fight they called it off. That got to me a little bit, but by after a few hours I was like, it’s whatever,” said Stiverne.
The fight will go off tomorrow night, and it is a contrast in personalities and approaches in general. Arreola is the walking epitome of impulsiveness. On the microphone, he certainly won’t be referencing the Haitian Revolution, but rather, will let whatever expletives and emotions fly as they come to mind. His admitted fondness for Coronas and Mexican cuisine has caused him to balloon in weight in the past, but has never halted his hard-charging brawling style. In the ring, the Los Angeles native hits anything and everything as often as he has the energy for.
“I have a smarter way and a faster way of getting to him. He only has one way to fight. Chris always brings the heat and tries to smother his opponent and back them up,” said Stiverne. “It will be a knockout. I can’t predict the round or whatever it is, but it will be a knockout.”
Slowly and deliberately, he’ll try to make his point this weekend.
“If I’m not ready right now, I never will be ready,” he said.
Video: Goossen Tutor
Photo / Ray Flores-Goossen Tutor
Corey Erdman is a staff writer for RingTV.com, television host at Fight Network in Canada, radio host on SIRIUS/XM, and a regular commentator for WealthTV. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter @corey_erdman.