by Johnny Walker
Tonight at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Haitian-Canadian (and soon to be American) Bermane Stiverne fought a strategic, patient fight against a very game Californian in Cristobal Arreola, knocking him out in round six of their rematch to become the WBC heavyweight champion, supplanting the now retired Vitali Klitschko of Ukraine.
The first round of the entertaining contest was fairly even, with Stiverne perhaps edging it based on the harder power shots he landed, hurting Arreola at one point. After that, however, Arreola came on strong, with a much higher work rate than when the two last fought.
Arreola applied his pressure tactics and often got Stiverne pinned against the ropes, while landing combinations. A big lead right by Arreola caught Stiverne flush on the cheek in round two. In round three, Arreola upped the ante some more, going to the body and then to the head, as Stiverne lay along the ropes, often talking to Arreola. One wicked flurry by Arreola seemed to leave Stiverne slightly wobbly as he went back to his corner.
In round four, after the two men exchanged big right hands, Stiverne regained a measure of control by going consistently to the left jab, flicked out sneakily from his hip. The Haitian-Canadian also rocked Arreola with a nifty combination, but Arreola rallied as the round ended (he later said he broke his hand in this round).
Nevertheless, Arreola kept applying the pressure in round five, scoring with a right hand and a combination. The Mexican-American again scored along the ropes, but troublingly, Stiverne now seemed mostly impervious to the blows as Arreola began to tire slightly, and he continued to taunt Arreola.
Stiverne kept his pre-fight promise to knock out Arreola in the sixth and final round. Early in the round, Arreola got caught on the temple by a wicked right hand, and he staggered to the canvas, his balance gone. He gamely attempted to continue, but was then put down into the ropes by the attacking Stiverne, his neck caught in a “hanged man” posture. That symbolism would prove meaningful as, after Arreola was given one more chance to continue, referee Jack Reiss realized that possible serious injury was in the offing, and called off the fight at 2:02 of the round, making Bermane Stiverne the WBA heavyweight champion of the world.
Next up for Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) will likely be a mandated challenge from undefeated American Deontay Wilder, who has been keeping busy in the gym by fighting Internet prankster Charlie Zelenoff. He’ll need to considerably up his game against Stiverne, who has now delivered two convincing performances in a row.
The holder of all the other meaningful heavyweight belts and recognized world champion, Wladimir Klitschko, has already indicated his desire to unify all of the titles by taking on Stiverne. However, the IBF is insisting that he fight deserving Bulgarian contender, the unbeaten Kubrat Pulev, who has been waiting impatiently while taking “stay busy” fights, which can often create more problems than they solve.
As for Chris Arreola (36-4-0, 31 KOs), given his good performance before the knockout (he was ahead on two of the judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage), it seems all may not be lost. In a post-fight interview, Arreola promised he’d be back as he continues to implement the lifestyle changes needed to remain at the top level. Only time will tell.