Bermane Stiverne had the same dream as most kids growing up in North America — he wanted to be a professional athlete.
In Stiverne’s case, he envisioned himself playing linebacker in the NFL. But a knee injury suffered in high school pretty much ended that dream.
But sometimes fate has a funny way of intervening. Stiverne found boxing and fell in love with the sport. He learned quickly, had some early success and, despite having only 25 professional fights and being 35 years old, stands on the precipice of being heavyweight champion of the world.
Stiverne (23-1-1, 20 knockouts) faces Chris Arreola on Saturday at the Galen Center on the University of Southern California campus in an ESPN-televised fight. And if he replicates his performance of April 27, 2013, when he knocked Arreola down in the third round and went on to post a 12-round unanimous decision, he will become the World Boxing Council’s heavyweight champion.
“It was always in the back of my mind, but I thought it would be impossible,” Stiverne said. “But I never gave up dreaming.”
His journey to this point is not the average boxing storyline. He was born in Haiti, moved to Miami when he was 10, then moved to Montreal, then back to Miami, where he learned to play football and chased his NFL dream until the knee injury.
Stiverne discovered boxing in 1999 as a means to lose weight. After failing to earn a spot in the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, fighting for Canada, where he has dual citizenship along with Haiti, Stiverne turned pro in 2005.
In 2007, he made his way to Las Vegas, where he began to hone his craft training at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym. He has spent most of the past eight years training and fighting in Las Vegas.
“What’s amazing about my journey is my journey,” Stiverne said. “Not just boxing but in life. As a kid, I was getting in trouble in Miami, so I moved to Montreal to live with my father. I didn’t know what my future held.
“When I moved back to Miami to be with my mom, I thought I was going to be a football player. All I knew about boxing back then was (Mike) Tyson and Muhammad Ali. But then I hurt my knee, I took up boxing and I love it. I love that it’s just me in the ring, and it’s all about what I do.”
Stiverne also has learned how to prepare for a fight. Working at Mayweather’s gym, he gets to see what the owner — boxing’s pound-for-pound king who is 46-0 — does on a daily basis to get ready.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching Floyd,” Stiverne said. “He trains the same way for every fight. He’s consistent in everything he does. That’s what I try to do. I try to be consistent in the gym and work hard and get better. That’s how I got to this point.”
Stiverne said he’s not disappointed he won’t face Vitali Klitschko, the longtime WBC champ who retired in December to devote himself to politics in his native Ukraine and whose vacated belt is at stake. And he’s certainly not disappointed his opponent is Arreola (36-3, 31 KOs).
“Honestly, I’m just happy to be fighting for the title,” Stiverne said. “I felt not getting a shot from Klitschko was a sign of disrespect. But that’s all in the past. I’m getting my chance to fight for the title, and that’s all that matters.”
And if Stiverne defeats Arreola, he joins a list of boxing immortals.
“Sometimes it’s kind of scary when you think about all these great heavyweights that had the title and I’m to the point where, ‘Wow, I’ll be able to put my hands on the title that Tyson had, and Ali and Lennox Lewis had,’ ” Stiverne said. “It’s a dream that’s in front of me. All I have to do is go and grab it.”
■ NOTES — Las Vegas heavyweight Michael Hunter was scheduled to fight a six-round bout on Saturday’s undercard against Jerry Forrest, but a rib injury suffered in sparring Monday forced Hunter to pull out. ... The ESPN broadcast begins at 5 p.m.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.