Photo Credits: AFP/Getty Images
Deontay Wilder defends his title against a familiar foe in just over two weeks’ time & yet, the third ranked Heavyweight in the world & WBC Heavyweight champion is often just an afterthought.
On November 4th, 1994 everyone snickered at the thought of 45-year-old George Foreman climbing between the ropes to face Michael Moorer at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada to challenge for the World Heavyweight title.
Photo Credits: John Gurzinski
I guarantee no one was still laughing the next day when Michael Moorer was scraped off the canvas in the 10th round having failed to answer the referee’s “10 count” making Big George once again the Heavyweight Champion of the world!
Improbably the Champ, born again Christian minister, and grill salesman had captured the unified WBA, IBF and lineal heavyweight championship and in doing so set off a chain of events that threw the Heavyweight division into chaos for the remainder of the decade until Lennox Lewis emerged from the heap to stop Mike Tyson in June of 2002 ending the argument about who really was the best Heavyweight of the Nineties and the Real Champion.
History repeated itself nearly 21 years to the day later when eccentric heavyweight Tyson Fury defeated Wladimir Klitschko in Dusseldorf, Germany on November 28th, 2015 to capture the entire Heavyweight trophy case. Say what you will about the fight and Klitschko as a champion the Ukrainian had brought stability to the division as the unified champion for a decade!
As with Foreman’s improbable win two decades before, Tyson Fury’s victory and subsequent abdication due to his habits outside the ring sent the heavyweight division into chaos again and located on the Black Warrior river in west-central Alabama is the owner of one piece of that undisputed crown - the coveted WBC Heavyweight title. The one belt neither Wladimir nor Fury could capture – The Fighting Pride of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the first American WBC champion of this generation the Bronze Bomber Deontay Wilder.
From Driving Truck to Champion
Boxing is replete with fascinating stories, larger than life characters, rags to riches prize fighters and riches to rags bums.
Few can lay claim to the Cinderella Man plot line like Deontay Wilder.
A late comer to the sport, he only took up boxing in 2005 in a bid to earn more money for his daughter who was diagnosed with Spina Bifida a crippling disease that might prevent his child from ever walking or in any way having a normal life. Wilder who’d been a basketball player in college was a quick study. In 2007 in just his 16th fight he won a Gold Gloves championship. The very next year in 2008 he won the U.S. Olympic trials and qualified to represent the U.S in Beijing that summer.
Wilder won a bronze medal.
That didn’t begin to compare to the pride he felt watching his little girl start to win her own fight against her disease as that same year Naieya was walking, something doctors told Deontay she would never do. With that success, Wilder quit his job driving a beer truck and turned pro that November. Wilder bombed on Ethan Cox knocking him down 3 times in the 2nd round forcing the referee to save Mr. Cox from further damage giving Wilder his first pro win.
Mississippi, Arizona, Illinois, California, Las Vegas, Ohio, Deontay Wilder crisscrossed the nation for nearly three years fighting 14 times in that span before finally getting some respite fighting before his hometown crowd at Shelton State Community College back in Tuscaloosa, Alabama when he beat DeAndrey Abron via TKO in the 2nd round February 19th 2011.
Wilder continued to demolish opponents using his massive 6 foot 7-inch superhero physique and crushing power racking up 25 straight wins and 25 finishes against low level opponents. He captured his first title on December 15th 2012 by switching off Kelvin Price with a savage overhand right in the 3rd round taking the WBC Continental Americas Title belt.
Several defenses followed including an easy win on the road April 27th 2013 at the Sheffield Arena in Yorkshire, UK against perennial opponent Audley Harrison. Wilder needed only 70 seconds to get the job done with a TKO in round one. Next was a terrifyingly violent stoppage win over Siarhei Liakhovich just four months later August 9th. In his trademark style Wilder swung for the bleachers sending Liakhovich down little more than a minute and a half into their bout, Wilder celebrated leaving his foe to convulse on the canvas for several seconds.
Wilder had plenty of time to beachcomb in Bayamon Puerto Rico on March 15th 2014 when he faced #25 ranked Malik Scott in a WBC title eliminator fight. Wilder sent the crowd at Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez home early needing less than 90 seconds putting Malik Scott to kip in the first round.
Photo Credits: Steve Marcus
On the 73rd birthday of the late, great Muhammad Ali Deontay Wilder was taken past the 4th round for the first time by Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas January 17th 2015. The bout was for the WBC Heavyweight title and Wilder cruised to an easy unanimous points decision, winning every single round on Canadian judge Craig Metcalf’s card. That night Wilder became the first American to hold a piece of the heavyweight crown since Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs back in 2006. Wilder improved his record to 33-0 though his KO streak was broken at 32 straight.
It’s Good to Be Champ!
Since winning the WBC heavyweight title in January 2015 Wilder’s schedule has slowed considerably. He’s fought just four times in the last two years again, against a cringe worthy level of opposition. He went 11 rounds with French punching bag Johann Duhaupas in September 2015 before stopping him.
Before a capacity crowd at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn NY January 16th 2016 Wilder silenced the partisan Polish crowd with a 9th round Kayo of Artur Szpilka. Wilder had some trouble early on and lost rounds in the beginning trying to negotiate the awkward southpaw style of the Pole. After the fight, Tyson Fury entered the ring to mug and trash talk with Wilder however Fury’s most recent retirement precludes any fantasy matchup.
Six months later back in Birmingham, Alabama on July 16th 2016 a past prime Chris Arreola was forced to retire before round nine, his face a swollen mask of pain. For his part, Wilder being an undisciplined puncher complained of pain and thought he may have broken his hand and was not able to use the right much, perhaps if he had it would have been an even quicker end for Areola.
Wilder vs. Povetkin
So far Wilder’s biggest win has not come in a ring but in a courtroom.
An Alabama court awarded damages totaling 5 million dollars to Deontay Wilder for breach of contract when just days before the scheduled bout with Russian slugger Alexander Povetkin was to take place in May 2016 the WBC was forced to cancel the bout due to a banned substance violation by Povetkin. Samples taken on April 27th showed he had been taking Meldonium, a controversial drug that aides in vasodilation increasing the stamina of the user (Povetkin had his bout cancelled against Bermane Stiverne last December for the same drug.)
Many were disappointed the fight was scuttled as serious boxing fans believed Povetkin might ‘expose’ Wilder as the reckless and unskilled puncher he is alleged to be. For the same reason, Lil Wayne was considered the best rapper in mainstream hip hop for several years Wilder’s critics regard him as nothing but a belt holder, his title a reflection more of where the The Game is at in general than Wilder’s personal skill.
Povetkin has a much deeper resume only losing to Wladimir Klitschko in a fight that saw him knocked down four times losing his WBA title to the Ukrainian. Povetkin’s status is unclear at present, can he clean up his act? Since the incident that scuttled his fight with Wilder Povetkin has had two meaningless fights - in Russia - and somehow has retained his place in the upper echelon of the world heavyweight rankings. However, Povetkin just turned 38 and has now burned the WBC twice in one year so one may want to keep their hands in their pockets if they are the sporting sort.
So What’s Next?
Little more than a month before Wilder was scheduled to face Andrzej Wawrzyk the WBC and their Clean Boxing Program (CBP) nabbed the Polish fighter for testing positive for the steroid Stanozolol. Into the breach stepped undefeated Heavyweight Gerald Washington. Standing 6’6” tall with an 82” reach the Californian will be an equal match at least on the tale of the tape for Wilder.
Washington was 18-0-1 with 12 knockouts at the time with no wins of note and only began fighting professionally about four years ago, at the age of 30 when it appeared a career in pro football would not pan out. He was a standout in Junior College earning All American honors as a sophomore. Washington transferred to the University of Southern California in 2006 where he saw playing time as a tight end and defensive end. Injuries forced an early exit from the NFL though he got on practice squads for the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks. Once that puddle dried up for good however in 2012 Washington swerved and entered boxing.
Nevertheless, after a slight struggle that saw the bout up for grabs by round five Wilder measured and landed a clubbing punch that sent Washington down for the TKO win.
Rumblings all through the spring and summer ensued as fights with Anthony Joshua were mentioned, Joe Parker even Tony Bellew with nothing solid being decided upon. Eddie Hearn attempted to entice Wilder to fight Dillian Whyte for 4 million dollars - a record high sum for Wilder, but he balked - believing beneath his station.
Photo Credits: Boxing News
Then in the fall boxing fans rejoiced as Luis King Kong Ortiz was announced as Wilder’s sixth defense and second fight of 2017. Ortiz has long been viewed as the most underrated, most avoided heavyweight in the entire division - rumors circulated that Eddie Hearn wanted to keep AJ as far away from the Cuban as possible.
Yet it was Deontay Wilder who gleefully announced he’d take on King Kong!
Then, improbably on 29 September it was announced that Ortiz had failed a test for the banned substance Losartan-HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide), Ortiz claimed it was for treating his high blood pressure however it is a diuretic and can be used as a masking agent for other performance enhancing drugs and Ortiz was caught using steroids back in 2014.
Now in the span of two years Wilder has had three fights cancelled due to drug cheats which seem rife frankly in the heavyweight division at the moment. None of this is any fault of Wilder’s yet many rolled their eyes when Ortiz was pinched and the only (clean) available fighter was former foe Bermane Stiverne, the very man that Wilder had won the WBC belt off of nearly three years ago.
So here we are again, Wilder defends his title against a lesser opponent. When Stiverne steps through the ropes in Ortiz’ stead on the 4th of November at the Barclays center in Brooklyn it will be Stiverne’s first fight in two years, a unanimous decision win over Derric Rossy. Prior to that Stiverne’s only other fight was against Deontay Wilder.
So the frustration continues - for fans who doubt (with some reason) Wilder’s resume and legitimacy as a champion. And for Wilder himself who pugnaciously desires to prove his critics wrong and has had his opportunities stolen from him due to his opponent's malfeasance.
Wilder has a great story, marketable looks, a 97% Kayo rating but after 38 bouts is still little more than a regional draw. He’s in his prime now and with the heavyweight division in flux this is the perfect time for Deontay Wilder to live up to the nickname The Bronze Bomber a nod to the legendary Brown Bomber Joe Louis who was born 160 miles due east from Wilder. Presently an 8 foot solid bronze statue stands sentry outside the Chambers County Courthouse in the town of Louis’ birth dedicated to the icon.
The tipping point will likely be a heavyweight unification bout between Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. Both are pretty raw despite having some 60 bouts between them and near 100% KO ratings. Should Wilder come through it he would be the first undisputed American Heavyweight champion in nearly two decades. Add to that a potentially undefeated record and bronze medal and suddenly the words Hall of Fame and Deontay Wilder could be uttered in the same sentence - but I digress.
Wilder’s first priority after his defense against Stiverne which he should make easily is to give fans the fights they deserve and fulfill the potential that Wilder has in the sport of boxing, the sport of Legends.