I spent more time this weekend watching combat sports than football, basketball and hockey combined. And I’m not including the mixed martial arts activities that were televised on Sunday night, since I avoid that with the same determination as avoiding brussel sprouts.
The combat action that I witnessed was the Deontay Wilder vs. Bermane Stiverne heavyweight title fight Saturday night on Showtime, and the Gophers vs. Illinois wrestling dual meet in person on Sunday afternoon at the Sports Pavilion.
My TSWB (time spent watching boxing) has been reduced considerably since the death of my friend Dark Star. The Darkman was encyclopedic in his knowledge of boxing. And even in this era of alphabetic nonsense when it comes to world titles, he was a congenial host for most of the big pay-per-view fights.
Wilder-Stiverne was a freebie for Showtime subscribers. Maybe it was the pitch that Wilder had a chance to be the first Americans since 2006 to hold one of the heavyweight title belts.
Or, maybe it was the back story on Wilder: a guy who grew up in Tuscaloosa, Ala., hoping to play football or basketball for the Crimson Tide, didn’t have the academics for college, turned to boxing and now, at 29, had 32 knockouts in 32 fights.
Whatever the motive, I tuned in to take a look, and wound up getting hooked on watching the 6-foot-7 Wilder throw barrages of left jabs and overhand rights at the much-thicker Stiverne.
I hadn’t watch Wilder previously, but it’s 100 percent that some of those rights that he landed were as forceful as many of his prior knockout punches. Stiverne would take them on his mug, shudder a bit, and keep moving forward.
Stiverne is a 36-year-old native of Haiti who is now a Canadian citizen. He had held the WBC title since defeating Chris Arreola last May.
This was Stiverne’s 27th pro fight. He’s still never been knocked down, but that’s all he had on his side on Saturday. Wilder won a lopsided 12-round decision.
As for the angle of an American being the heavyweight champion, the complication is that Wladimir Klitschko, the younger of the Ukranian Klitschkos, holds the titles for the WBA, the IBF and the WBO.
The consensus seems to be that Wilder would need about another 25 pounds of muscle on his lean frame to have a chance against Klitschko. Wilder must feel that way, too, since the new WBC champion suggested his first defense could come against Tyson Fury, a 6-foot-9 Brit with a 23-0 record and 17 knockouts.
Assuming that’s another freebie for Showtime subscribers, I’ll watch. It was entertaining to take in all 12 rounds of a lively boxing match again, although I certainly did miss the quips that the Darkman would’ve provided along the way.
On Sunday, J Robinson’s No. 1-rated Gophers were taking on Illinois at the Sports Pavilion. There was a 1 p.m. start, meaning you could take in the match, and still get in front of a TV in time to see if anything interesting would occur in the second half of the Packers-Seahawks game.
Turned out, there was. Nice choke, Packers.
Anyway, one match alone – Chris Dardanes vs. Illinois’ Zane Richards – made this a fine plan on my part.
Dardenes and his twin brother Nick are seniors for the Gophers. Chris wrestles at 133 pounds and Nick at 141 pounds. Chris entered at 15-0 and rated No. 1 in the country. Nick was 14-1 and rated No. 4.
Chris had a rugged opponent in Richards, a redshirt sophomore with an 18-1 record and rated No. 5.
The Gophers were leading 14-8 with four matches left. They needed the Dardanes brothers to do their thing, what with 149 pounds being questionable for Minnesota, and with unbeaten, No. 1-rated Dylan Ness out with the flu at 157 pounds (the last match of the day).
Richards went to work on Chris Dardanes, building a 7-1 lead after two periods. The Illinois sideline was in a joyful frenzy as the two-minute third period started.
Dardanes still trailed 7-2 with a minute left, and then he exploded for four takedowns – including one in the last seconds – to get to a 10-10 tie and force overtime.
Thirty-nine seconds into overtime, Dardanes struck for another takedown to win the match and put the Gophers’ lead at 17-8. His brother made it 20-8.
Illinois finished with a pin and a technical decision, putting the final margin at 20-19 for the Gophers, now 9-0 in duals this winter and on a 16-dual winning streak going back to last season.
Hey, Deontay Wilder and Chris Dardanes … they made combat quite a kick over the weekend.