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Return of the heavyweights: Stiverne-Wilder clash for title

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Deontay Wilder thinks he’ll be the next great American heavyweight champion, a complete package with the punching power of George Foreman and the lip of Muhammad Ali.

Bermane Stiverne thinks he picked the wrong guy to try to win his first title.

“At the end of the day, all it comes down to is who knocked out Deontay Wilder and that’s where my name will pop up,” Stiverne said. “We’re going to find out just how good he is.”

A lot of people in boxing are interested in the answer to that question, which will play out Saturday night at the MGM Grand arena. Wilder, the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, has rampaged through every opponent in front of him since turning pro, knocking out all 32 of them — and all within four rounds.

But the quality of his opposition has been suspect, to say the least. And Stiverne is a proven quantity of sorts, with a piece of the heavyweight title to prove it after knocking out Chris Arreola in his last fight to win the vacant WBC belt.

“Technically, on paper I’m not even supposed to last 30 seconds,” Stiverne said. “When you look at his record it’s outstanding, it’s more than perfect. Mike Tyson didn’t even have that good of a record.”

Wilder’s punching power and immense potential have sparked talk that he could be the fighter who finally brings excitement back to a long moribund heavyweight division. He could also become the first American to hold a piece of the crown — Stiverne lives in Las Vegas but was born in Haiti — since Shannon Briggs briefly held a sliver of the title in 2006.

But the former football player from Alabama isn’t just content to win a title. He wants to win over the country with both his fists and his mouth, both of which should be on display in the fight televised by Showtime.

“I was born to do this,” Wilder said. “I have the total package. I’m exciting, I have charisma and I’m entertaining. And the No. 1 thing people want to see is knockouts, and I have knockout power.”

Of that, there is little dispute. The 6-foot-7 Wilder has 18 first round knockouts, and no one who has entered the ring with him has lasted past the fourth round. But he also has some boxing skills, in addition to a personality that he hopes will quickly make people forget that the heavyweight division has been dominated for years by the Klitschko brothers of Ukraine, who fight mostly in Germany.

“At one point in time the most famous person in America was Muhammad Ali, the heavyweight champion of the world,” Wilder said. “He captivated everybody and they paused to listen to him. I love how he was so involved in his fans and loved his kids. That’s kind of my story.”

Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 knockouts) understands that people are attracted to that kind of story. But the soft-spoken 35-year-old thinks his story needs to be told, too.

“I’ve been in deep water. I’ve been hit, I’ve been hurt,” he said. “I went through it all but what I always do is give my best out there. I’m not going to say I’m the best fighter that ever lived, but I want to be the best fighter.”

If Stiverne isn’t the talker that Wilder is, he at least has some help. He is promoted by Don King, who made a rare recent appearance at age 83.

“The fact of the matter is, the heavyweight title has not been the world championship,” King crowed at this week’s final press conference. “It’s been the German championship.”

That will change, Wilder said, when he stops Stiverne. In Ali-like style, he even had a rhyme to predict the outcome.

“I’m about to send the Haitian on a permanent vacation,” he said.

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