Stiverne drops Arreola for heavyweight title
Bermane Stiverne languished on the ropes for long stretches and did not throw many punches against Chris Arreola but he made them count, especially a huge right hand in the sixth round.
That big right hand, which knocked Arreola down, ultimately won him a vacant heavyweight world title before 3,992 on Saturday night in the first boxing event to be held at the Galen Center on the campus of the University of Southern California.
Stiverne dropped Arreola later in the round with a series of blows and had him in major trouble again moments later, forcing referee Jack Reiss to call it off at two minutes, two seconds and sending Stiverne into a wild celebration.
"I studied his tapes. I knew I could knock him out," said an emotional Stiverne after the fight, as he cried. "He busted my lip but he never hurt me. I was patient. When he got too comfortable I landed that shot. I knew I could knock him out."
Stiverne, who had dropped Arreola with a powerful right hand and broke his nose en route to a unanimous decision win the first time they met in an April 2013 title elimination fight, had a tougher time in the rematch before the concussive ending.
"I'm devastated, man. I came here to win," said Arreola, 33, who was the heavy crowd favourite.
With the victory, Stiverne became the first Haitian-born heavyweight titleholder as he claimed the belt that Vitali Klitschko vacated in December to turn his focus on politics in Ukraine, where he is the leader of the opposition party. The win also put Don King, an afterthought in recent years, back in a powerful position as the promoter of a heavyweight titleholder.
Due to him beating Arreola last year, Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs), 35, was supposed to be Klitschko's mandatory challenger. But Klitschko, after putting off the fight time and again, eventually retired, leaving Stiverne to face the next leading available contender, which was Arreola, who had bounced back from the loss to Stiverne to knock out Seth Mitchell in the first round in September.
For most of the fight, Arreola (35-4, 31 KOs) looked to be in command of what was an action-packed bout - and the first heavyweight title fight in the United States since Klitschko stopped Arreola in the 10th round at the Staples Center in 2008.
Having previously blamed losses on the fact that he was not in top condition and didn't give himself the best chance to win, Arreola could not make that excuse this time. He was in good condition at 239 pounds, seven less than he was for the first fight with Stiverne, who was also seemingly in better shape, coming in at 239½ compared to 248 for the first meeting.
It was a spirited opening round. While Arreola was busier, Stiverne was the harder puncher and wobbled Arreola with a right hand just as the round ended.
Arreola responded with a big second round, hurting Stiverne along the ropes with a heavy right hand as well as other big shots in an extended combination. Stiverne was cursing at Arreola, who continued to fire punches.
They went back and forth landing shots in some fierce exchanges, but Stiverne continually backed into the ropes, giving Arreola a chance to blast away. He had Stiverne in trouble multiple times, but could not drop him.
"He has a hard head," Arreola said. "My jab was better this time. I will be back in the ring again in even better shape."
In the sixth round, Stiverne finally found a home for a clean right hand. He nailed Arreola, who badly wobbled and then fell to the mat on a delayed reaction.
"I was winning the fight and I was hurting him anytime I wanted to," Stiverne said. "He caught me and I countered him. It was exactly the same punch as last time [that caused the knockdown in the first fight]. It was exactly how we planned it. When I had him hurt, I jumped on him and the fight was over."
Arreola calmly beat the count, but was very shaky and soon found himself on his knees with his face between the ropes after getting dropped again by a flurry of shots.
He beat the count again, but Stiverne was all over him and rocking him, forcing Reiss to intervene.
"He got me with the same right hand [as the knockdown in the first fight] and that's all she wrote. The exact punch," Arreola said. "I believe the fight was stopped a little too soon but I respect the ref's decision. I busted my hand in the fourth round.
"I was winning the fight before [the knockout] but I have to tip my hat to him. He's a world-class champion. All the [trash talk] that went on beforehand was to promote the fight. I would like to fight him again; I will go back to training as soon as possible and get my career back on track as soon as possible."
At the time of the stoppage, Arreola led 48-47 on two scorecards while Stiverne was ahead by the same score on the third card. Arreola was bidding to become the first heavyweight titleholder of Mexican descent as well as the first American to hold a heavyweight world title since Shannon Briggs lost his piece of the title in 2007.
Undefeated American Deontay Wilder, the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, was ringside and looms as the mandatory challenger for Stiverne in a fight that has already been ordered, although the biggest fight in the division would be for Stiverne to meet lineal and three-belt champion Wladimir Klitschko, the No.1 heavyweight in the world, to unify all the belts.
Klitschko wants that fight because he wants to win the one belt he has never had, the one held for so long by his older brother, Vitali. However, it remains to be seen if the sanctioning bodies will cooperate by allowing that fight to happen.
Earlier on Saturday, Klitschko, who fights in Germany, said he wanted to face the winner in his next fight and perhaps have it in the United States, where he has not boxed since outpointing Sultan Ibragimov to unify two titles at New York's Madison Square Garden in 2008.
"It is my biggest dream to unify all four titles. I hope to get the chance to fight the Stiverne versus Arreola winner and to bring back Vitali's belt," Klitschko said.
Manager Bernd Boente added, "Boxing fans all over the world are waiting eagerly for this fight, to have only one heavyweight champion."
What will happen with Stiverne's next fight is up in the air. For now, he and King plan to enjoy the big moment and celebrate.
"I want to take him on a world tour," King said. "But he'll be back in the ring as soon as possible."
Said Stiverne, "Shoutout to Haiti. Next? Who cares right now. I'm the world champion!"
This article originally appeared on ESPN.com