LOS ANGELES – There are many story lines accompanying the May 10 rematch between heavyweight contenders Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola.
For starters, the WBC title recently vacated by Vitali Klitschko will be up for grabs, which means the championship chokehold that Klitschko and his younger brother Wladimir, who holds all the other major belts, have held the division in since 2011 will come to an end.
There’s the “history” angle. Should Stiverne, who dropped Arreola en route to winning a unanimous decision in their first fight last April, scores a repeat victory, the Las Vegas-based Canadian will be the first boxer of Haitian descent to win a piece of the heavyweight title. If Arreola evens the score he will become the first boxer of Mexican descent to win a major heavyweight belt.
Then there’s the venue – the Galen Center on the campus of USC. The seven-year-old 10,000-seat indoor arena is home to the Trojan basketball and volleyball teams and has hosted numerous concerts and theatrical events but never championship boxing. The Southern California boxing community is hopeful that the Galen Center will keep its doors open to the sport after May 10.
And, of course, there’s the fight itself. Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 knockouts), THE RING’s No. 3-rated heavyweight, and Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs), the magazine’s No. 6-rated contender, make for a good matchup. Both big men come to fight and both can punch, as evidenced by their 80-percent KO ratios.
However, the most significant storyline in the rematch is arguably the network that will air it live in the U.S. – ESPN. The global cable giant’s involvement in world-class boxing could have a far-reaching and positive impact on the sport, especially in the U.S. where elite-level boxing is usually televised on the two big subscription cable networks, HBO and Showtime.
ESPN has been involved in the sport since 1980, but its flagship boxing series Friday Night Fights, which is on ESPN2, usually features up-and-comers, mid-level matchups and, occasionally, lower-weight class title bouts.
Should “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” which is in three times the number of American households that subscribe to HBO and Showtime, market the WBC heavyweight title match appropriately, and continue to showcase top-level boxers, it could attract general sports fans and casual boxing fans to a sport in desperate need of new followers.
Dan Goossen, Arreola’s promoter, says only good can come of ESPN’s decision to televise the rematch – especially if his fighter wins.
“We’ve got a trifecta with this arrangement,” Goossen told RingTV.com after Thursday’s kick-off press conference at Heritage Hall on USC’s campus. “We’ve got a heavyweight championship in California, the great USC Galen Center hosting it, but then you throw in ESPN, the mother ship of all sports programming with 100 million-plus homes, and we’ve got a chance to really make something special happen in boxing.
“We just need three things to happen on May 10: One, we need to sellout the Galen Center; two, we need to do great ratings on ESPN; and three, we need Chris to win. That’s not asking for too much is it?”
There’s no doubt that a Mexican-American heavyweight titleholder – especially one as entertaining and affable as Arreola – would be huge, not only for Goossen’s promotional company, but for the sport. Arreola, a 33-year-old L.A. native who resides in Riverside, Calif., could quickly become one of boxing’s bigger attractions if he won a legit title and found a home to defend it as nice and conveniently located as the Galen Center.
However, even if Goossen only scores on two out of his three wishes – the sellout and the good ratings – May 10 will have been a successful night for the sport, provided ESPN sees fit to buy more fights that would normally land on HBO or Showtime.
Goossen, who would have had a difficult time finding a slot in the already crowded boxing calendars of HBO and Showtime, says it’s very possible.
“I met with ESPN executive Brian Kweder after promoting a Friday Night Fights show (headlined by Thomas Williams-Cornelius White) in (Shelton) Washington in January,” Goossen said.
“He told me to let him know about future fights that could be showcased on ESPN, and added that included ‘anything out-of-the-box’ of its usual boxing programming. He meant fights that are out of the price range of the usual Friday Night Fights show. He told me he couldn’t promise me anything, but if I made an offer for something big he would check with his bosses. So I did.
“He called me a few days later and said ‘My bosses have interest in the rematch.’ I won’t say that I was surprised, we’re talking about a heavyweight championship on ESPN, but it was magic to my ears. Over the next few days, we had a meeting of the minds with Don King (Stiverne’s promoter) and ESPN, and we got things done on a quick pace.”
King is confident that his fighter, who pretty much dominated the first bout, which was televised on HBO, will perform even better in the rematch. Goossen is confident that Arreola, who didn’t train well for the first fight, has finally learned the value of a good camp – which he had before his impressive first-round blowout of Seth Mitchell in his last bout last September.
If both promoters are right, ESPN – and a lot of viewers – will be treated to a damn good fight. And that should lead to more bigtime boxing on ESPN.
“Success only brings more success,” Goossen said.
Unlike his promoter, Stiverne kept his podium comments short and on-target, just like the right hand that dropped Arreola and nearly shattered the out-of-shape contender’s nose in Round 3 of their first fight.
“May 10, I will be crowned the heavyweight champion of the world,” the 35-year-old contender said during the press conference. “It’s not about shape, it’s about skills. I have better skills and I’m always in shape.
“I don’t have anything personal against Chris. I’m not saying I’m going to walk over Chris easily. I think the two best heavyweights are Chris and I. It will be a fight.”
Arreola agrees that the rematch will be a hard-fought contest, but added that the first fight should have ended in a knockout given the condition of his nose.
“I’ve been waiting for this fight since I stepped out of the ring after I got my ass kicked,” Arreola said. “I won’t blame it on my conditioning. He caught me with a punch I didn’t see. I should have been on my Ps and Qs. I got caught and he beat my butt. End of story.
“But having said that, my nose was broken in the third round. I was wounded. I should have been taken out of that fight any round after the third.
“I respect Stiverne. We can shake hands now and after the fight, but in the ring, I don’t like him. I’m going to do to him what he did to me. And I’m the kind of fighter if I see someone wounded, if I see someone hurt, I’m taking his ass out.”
When asked why he wasn’t able to finish Arreola in the first fight, Stiverne said that he was not 100 percent healthy going into the bout.
“We went into the fight injured,” he said. “My right shoulder was injured. My back was injured. If you noticed, I didn’t throw many right hands. The one right hand I threw, I hurt him. But Plan B was for me to use my jab. You didn’t get to see Plan A because of my injuries.”
Arreola said he only has a Plan A for the rematch – taking the fight to Stiverne.
“And don’t get caught,” he added. “I have to be on him from Round 1 to Round 12. I can’t throw a lazy jab and follow him around. I have to be on him. I’m going to bring the pressure to him, and pressure busts pipes.”
Video by Daniel Morales
Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @dougiefischer