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Heavyweight boxers out to restore division’s recognition in title fight

Bermane Stiverne vs. Deontay Wilder is first major heavyweight bout locally in nine years

Fighters Stiverne and Wilder at Workout Day

L.E. Baskow

Heavyweight fighter Deontay Wilder gives an energetic interview during workout day at the MGM Grand on Tuesday, January 13, 2015.

Stiverne vs. Wilder: Workout Day

Super Bantamweight fighter Jesus Ruiz jumps rope in the ring during workouts at the MGM Grand on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Launch slideshow »

Stiverne vs. Wilder: MGM Grand Arrival

WBC Heavyweight Bermane Stiverne walks to the stage during the fighter grand arrivals at the MGM Grand lobby on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. Launch slideshow »

Misdirected catcalls follow Deontay Wilder across the globe.

Mistaken crowds mobbed the 29-year-old boxer so often in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics, where he won a bronze medal, that Wilder required extra security. More recently, confusion ensued when he brought his three children to Disney World.

“LeBron,” they yell. “LeBron.”

The 6-foot-7, 215-pound fighter aspiring to be the world’s best heavyweight smiles at people thinking he’s the 6-foot-8, 250-pound world’s best basketball player after numerous experiences. But that reaction perpetuates the ubiquitous misidentification.

“The only thing I can see is the smiles,” Wilder said, perplexed by the doppelgänger status. “We’ve both got big smiles but other than that?”

Wilder might soon end the awkward scenes and start creating star struck mania on his own merits. The undefeated power-puncher meets WBC champion Bermane Stiverne in an attempt to win his first world title at 7 p.m. Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Showtime will televise the action.

It’s a bout billed to resurrect boxing’s glamor division, which hasn’t garnered mass appeal in America for more than a decade.

“It’s a fight for the people,” Stiverne’s promoter Don King declared. “We’re going to have the glory back here in the United States and demonstrate to the world that as heavyweights go, so goes boxing.”

The prolonged reign of the Ukrainian Klitschko brothers, 43-year-old Vitali and 38-year-old Wladimir, starting in the early 2000s waned heavyweight interest stateside. Klitschko dominance also made title unification impossible with the two holding every major belt but understandably refusing to fight each other.

It all changed when Vitali left the sport to focus on his political career in December 2013. The 35-year-old Stiverne claimed the vacant WBC championship with a pair of upsets over former Klitschko challenger Chris Arreola.

All the while, Wilder picked up acclaim in boxing circles. He emerged as one of the sport’s top prospects with 32 knockouts in 32 fights, finishing every opponent in four rounds or less.

“That is my mission, my goal: To bring the heavyweight division back,” Wilder said. “It will never be back like it used to be, but I can try to make it better than what it was.”

He’s already brought more attention than usual in some respects. Stiverne vs. Wilder is the first heavyweight title fight in Las Vegas since Oleg Maskaev dethroned Hasim Rahman at the Thomas & Mack Center in 2006.

It’s been just as long since an American has won a belt as a win over Stiverne would make Wilder, a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native, the first since Shannon Briggs held the WBO strap in 2007.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” Wilder said. “There’s no kind of weight on my shoulder. You’re looking at a guy who had to carry USA in the Olympics by myself so now on the world-stage, I’m ready to take it up again to do it and do it to the best of my ability.”

Wilder’s persona deviates little from several other boxing greats. The only thing flashier than his boasts upon arriving at the MGM Tuesday was his jewelry with a gold necklace, watch and earrings blinding anyone who looked in their direction.

Wilder stirred a feud with Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) that had an indefinite origin.

“He’s like the ugly duckling in high school,” Wilder’s voice boomed. “Nobody liked him. No girls looked at him. They just walked past him. Now he’s got something that may make him look cute and attractive at the time, and everyone wants to be around him. By the time he loses, he can go back to his old life. But, for me, this is just the beginning.”

Stiverne takes a humbler approach, frequently allowing the infamous King to talk for him. Although he’s called Las Vegas home for more than a decade, Stiverne was born in Haiti before becoming a Canadian citizen early in his career.

He now trains out of Mayweather Boxing Club, receiving instruction he believes far surpasses any of Wilder’s possible preparation.

“The fact is I’m a better fighter,” Stiverne said soft enough for a library. “Not even that. I’m not just a better fighter. I’m the heavyweight champion of the world.”

Wilder already looks at himself as a champion, though. He’s begun to get treated like one too.

The LeBron James mix-ups endure, but Wilder has also encountered fans in public who know him. He envisions many more of those interactions upcoming.

In the meantime, Wilder offered a tip on how he can be differentiated from James.

“I’m more handsome than him,” Wilder said.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at

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