Far removed from the backdrop of a world title fight, an undercard bout at Miami Jai-Alai Fronton nearly three years ago spurred Bermane Stiverne to championship standing.
Two fights after his victory over journeyman Willie Herring in April 2012, Stiverne has become the first heavyweight champion without a Klitschko surname since 2011.
On Saturday night, Stiverne will take another significant step in his late-blooming career. Stiverne, who turned 36 in November, will make the first defense of his World Boxing Council title against 2008 U.S. Olympian Deontay Wilder at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“Defending my title in Vegas at the MGM Grand is a dream,” Stiverne said. “Nobody will beat me.”
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This was not the first time Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) has thoughts of invincibility.
During his consecutive fights with contender Chris Arreola that earned the Haiti native and former Miami resident the heavyweight belt, Stiverne was also unbeatable. Stiverne won a lopsided decision over Arreola in a title eliminator then stopped him in six rounds to win the WBC title, vacated after former champion Vitali Klitschko retired.
“The heavyweight champion is what it’s all about,” Stiverne said. “It’s the King of the Jungle. It is the champion of all champions.”
Stiverne wants to play a role in reviving the heavyweight division’s impact in the North American fight market. Brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko, both based in Europe, have monopolized the titles over the past decade.
“The WBC heavyweight belt has been held by many great champions,” Stiverne said. “It’s the biggest prize out there.
“The belt is great — it’s meant a lot but I’m still hungry. I still want more.”
Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs) will attempt to become the first U.S.-born fighter to win a heavyweight crown since Shannon Briggs’ eight-month title reign in 2006-07. For Wilder, 29, the path to a title fight took longer than expected, considering his Olympic pedigree, which includes a bronze-winning medal performance.
“I am ready to make history and be one of the greats,” Wilder said. “Representing the U.S. in a heavyweight fight, bringing it back home, it’s an honor. It’s time for the heavyweight division to be important again and I’m the guy to do it.”
Hall of fame
Two-time light-heavyweight champion Uriah Grant and 1990s heavyweight contender Phil Jackson head the 2015 Florida Boxing Hall of Fame class in Fort Myers.
Grant, a native of Jamaica and long-time Miami resident, had a 20-year career, highlighted by stints as 175-pound champion in 1997 and 2000. Jackson, a native of Miami Beach, was a national Golden Gloves amateur champion and unsuccessfully challenged Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight title in 1994.
The 2015 class also features former heavyweight champion Tony Tucker, 1960s welterweight titleholder Benny “Kid” Paret and Hialeah resident Julio Martinez, who has promoted shows in South Florida for the past 35 years.
The Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be June 19-21 in Tampa. For information, call 813-384-7711 or visit www.floridaboxinghallfoffame.com.
Friday (9 p.m., ESPN2): Petr Petrov vs. Henry Lundy, 10, lightweights.