Heavyweight title hasn’t changed Stiverne

It’s just past 10:30 a.m. Things aren’t going to get busy at Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s gym off Spring Mountain Road for a couple of hours.

Behind the locked doors, without distractions, with no entourage, Bermane Stiverne goes about his business of defending what took him years to win. The only trappings that one might associate with the fighter’s workout is the obligatory rap music in the background. Otherwise, the gym is a cocoon of concentration. He goes from one drill to the next seamlessly, devoting 100 percent of his energies to whatever task is put in front of him.

In eight days, Stiverne, the World Boxing Council heavyweight champion who is 24-1-1 with 21 knockouts, will defend his title against undefeated Deontay Wilder at the MGM Grand Garden. And keeping the belt, Stiverne says, is as important as winning it.

“They say it’s easy to win the title but hard to keep it,” he said after a two-hour workout Tuesday. “To be here from where I came from and how hard I had to work to get this, I’m not going to let this leave me.”

So while Wilder grabs the headlines and the hype with his 32-0 record, all by knockout, and his declarations of taking down Stiverne, the champion doesn’t say much. He’s not going to say or do something stupid just to get a few more people to tune in to the Showtime telecast Jan. 17. But whatever he does say, he says with conviction.

“I’ve always been a low-key person,” Stiverne said. “I was taught to respect others. So for me to go out and brag that I’m going to do this or I’m going to do that, that isn’t who I am. I’m not a talker. I have to be true to myself.”

Winning the WBC title May 10 with a sixth-round technical knockout over Chris Arreola hasn’t changed him. Hasn’t given him a big head. Nothing fazes him. Still has a level-headed, even-keeled demeanor in an era in which big egos tend to be the norm in world-class athletes.

Since he won the title, Stiverne, 36, is far more recognizable in public. Some people come up to him and are pleased to meet him. Others stare at him as if they’re not sure what to make of him. They see him and it’s like, “This guy is the heavyweight champion of the world?”

“I like people,” Stiverne said. “For the most part, everyone’s been nice to me. I appreciate it when the fans come up to me and are kind with their words. I just try to be polite to everyone because it’s my responsibility as a champion to be respectful of the title.”

It’s also part of his DNA. Born in Haiti, Stiverne grew up without the trappings of affluence. He moved to Miami to live with his mom, then to Montreal to be near his father. He found boxing as a way to stay in shape while a senior in high school after a knee injury kept him from playing football, and he has stayed in the gym since.

He moved to Las Vegas in 2007, and as far as he’s concerned, this is home. Which is why making his first title defense at the MGM Grand means so much to him.

“This city has been wonderful to me,” he said. “So to defend my title at the MGM is very important. It’s special. It’s every boxer’s dream.”

Don House, who has been Stiverne’s trainer from the start, said he never has seen an athlete who stays so consistent emotionally as his fighter.

“From day one, he has been focused on winning the title,” House said. “He’s got the perfect disposition. He never gets too high, and he never gets too low.”

House said he thought Stiverne lacked confidence until beating Arreola by unanimous decision in April 2013, then knocking him out more than a year later to win the title.

“He’s always had it in him to be great,” House said. “But sometimes it takes time for a fighter to pull it all together. When he fought Arreola the first time, I think he saw how good he was. And when they fought the second time, I could see his confidence grow. It was like, ‘I got this,’ and everyone saw what he did to Chris in the second fight. Now, it’s like you can’t turn him off. It’s all systems go.”

Stiverne has worked hard on improving his fundamentals. His footwork is better. His defense is better. His head and body movement have improved.

But it’s his punching that perhaps has improved the most. Where before he would throw a looping punch, he now throws his punches much more directly with his entire body behind them. There’s a violence to Stiverne’s punches that wasn’t there in past fights.

“We’ve been working on things,” Stiverne said. “I knew if I was going to be world champion and if I was going to remain world champion, I had to get better. So we’ve been able to improve some things, and I see a big difference. And that’s why Wilder is in big trouble. He hasn’t seen anything like what I’m going to bring on Jan. 17.”

That’s as much braggart as you’ll get from Stiverne. And with Don King as his promoter, Stiverne doesn’t need to brag. He lets the Hall of Famer do it for him.

The night Stiverne won the title, King filibustered his way through the postfight news conference while Stiverne sat patiently and waited to thank his team for its hard work. Eventually, Stiverne got to have his say.

“Don’s pretty funny,” Stiverne said. “He does what a promoter’s supposed to do, sell his fighter and his fights. So I’m good with Don.”

And as he cooled off from his workout and other fighters began filing into Mayweather’s gym, Stiverne looked around and took it all in.

“I’m happy with this,” he said. “I’m proud to be in this position. That’s why I want to keep the belt.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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