LOS ANGELES – One big right hand dramatically impacted the lives of two fighters Saturday night at the Galen Center.
Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola were engaged in a competitive fight for the vacant WBC heavyweight championship when, BAM!, a thunderous overhand right by Stiverne landed on Arreola’s chin and sent him to the canvas in the sixth round.
Arreola got up but was finished. He went down again seconds later … and managed to get up again … but couldn’t defend himself, prompting referee Jack Reiss to stop the fight to protect him.
Stiverne thus became the first heavyweight titleholder not named Klitschko since David Haye lost the WBA version to Wladimir Klitschko in 2011, putting the Haitian-Canadian in position to make millions of dollars.
Arreola would’ve become the first American to hold a major heavyweight title since Shannon Briggs in 2007.
Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 knockouts) won the first meeting with Arreola in April of last year, putting the Mexican-American down and breaking his nose in the third round and then dominating the rest of the fight to win a wide decision.
The fight on Saturday was close for five-plus rounds. Stiverne was able to land his jab and some clean power shots but Arreola outworked him, particularly in violent exchanges with Stiverne’s back against the ropes.
The official scores indicate how tight it was: Two judges had Arreola winning 48-47 (or three rounds to two) and one had Stiverne winning by the same score. I had it 48-47 for Arreola.
Then came the big punch about a minute into the final round, a right that at first wobbled Arreola and then caused him to fall. He got to his feet but clearly was hurt. Stiverne, wide-eyed and smelling victory, attacked and Arreola crashed into the ropes under a hail of hard punches for another knockdown.
This time Arreola’s legs could barely support his 239 pounds but he was able to stand once more. Stiverne attacked again, with little resistance from Arreola, and Reiss had no choice but to end the fight.
An elated Stiverne immediately ran across the ring to celebrate with his cornermen and then ended up face down and motionless on the canvas, as if he needed a moment to make sense of his life-changing achievement.
A public relations employee assigned to get quotes from the fighters in the ring got almost nothing from Stiverne, who said only that “it was the same punch as the first fight.”
“He was too overcome with emotion. He really couldn’t say anything,” the PR person said.
Stiverne had gathered himself by the time the post-fight news conference started.
"I came here on a mission because of things I've been through in my life," said Stiverne, who has lost several family members in the past few years. "I didn't come to lose. I did my homework on Chris. I've been watching tapes on Chris. Anybody who knows me knows I don’t have cable. I don't want cable. All I've been doing since last year when I fought Chris is watch Chris every day.
"I did my homework by watching his mistakes. That’s why I prevailed today."
Arreola seemed to recover quickly, allowing him to grasp what might’ve been. Only a few minutes after the fight ended, he stood alone with his arms resting on the top rope, looking out into a crowd of 3,992 fans largely there to support him and shook his head in disgust.
Arreola was stopped by Vitali Klitschko in 2009 in his only other title fight.
“I’m very disappointed, very disheartened. I want to get back into the ring as soon as possible," he said in the ring immediately after the fight and then continued at the news conference. "I can’t get away from that right hand. I felt I was up on the cards, but that’s boxing, especially heavyweight boxing. It only takes once punch to end a fight."
Stiverne’s immediate future should be interesting. He is obligated to defend his new title against mandatory challenger Deontay Wilder, the Alabaman who has caused a buzz in the boxing world by knocking out all 31 of his opponents. That fight certainly would be appealing to fans, particularly after the nature of Stiverne’s victory on Saturday.
However, as we know, nothing is set in stone in boxing. Stiverne said he would leave his immediate future to his promoter, Don King, who said his client doesn't necessarily have to face his mandatory challenger in his next fight.
Then there's RING champion Wladimir Klitschko, who holds three of the four major sanctioning-body titles and would love to have all four. The Ukrainian theoretically must wait in line behind Wilder but no one would be shocked if he ended up face to face with Stiverne sometime soon.
The only thing we know at the moment is that Bermane Stiverne punched his way to some very big paydays.