Deontay Wilder often talks about killing an opponent, both as something that he fears could happen, or something he wants to happen. He talks constantly of being ducked by WBA/IBF heavyweight king Anthony Joshua, and needing to fight him for his “legacy”. He calls up radio shows unannounced and delivers rabbling, semi-coherent monologs. To many, the once affable and mild-mannered Deontay Wilder now sounds like a fighter who has lost the plot, is on the verge of a breakdown, but is this new demented persona all part of a cunning plan perpetrated by Wilder’s so-called “advisor” Al Haymon?

What’s Up With Wilder?

Deontay Wilder would seemingly have it all. He’s young, very tall, muscular, handsome and charismatic, has a beautiful family, possesses an impressive unbeaten record and is the current holder of the WBC heavyweight title, with millions of dollars in the bank and a bright future. And yet no other active champion seems more at odds with the world. To use a quote from rock star Noel Gallagher when describing his estranged brother Liam, Wilder is “like a man with a fork in a world full of soup.”

In Wilder’s world, everyone fears him, nobody wants to fight him, and those who do take so many performance-enhancing drugs to prepare themselves for the task at hand that they fail a drug test and get out of the fight anyway. In fairness to Wilder there is some credibility to his paranoia; his two most high profile opponents, former WBA heavyweight champion Alexander Povetkin and undefeated Cuban boxer-puncher Luis Ortiz both failed drug tests literally days before schedule bouts against him. The result is that after almost 40 fights, Wilder has still – according to many boxing fans – fought nobody, although not for the want of trying.

Wilder vs Joshua – Respective Career Assessments

32-year old Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs), a bronze medalist at the 2008 Olympics who is resultantly nicknamed the “Bronze Bomber”, was once one of the most highly rated prospects in boxing, an American heavyweight seeming capable of bringing back US glory days to a division they dominated for decades, but have not registered any kind of champion since Shannon Briggs’ brief WBO reign a decade earlier.

Unfortunately, because of the overt cautiousness of his handlers, Wilder would become the most built up ex-Olympian since Duane Bobick, as he was fed a diet of has-beens, never-weres and no-hopers while taking his record to 32-0, all by KO. Despite this lack of top level experience, Wilder surprised his critics and revealed genuine world-class skills when in 2015 he thrashed reigning WBC champion Bermane Stiverne on points, displaying a great jab, hand speed, excellent footwork and solid boxing technique.

However, in the two years since winning the WBC title, Wilder’s standing in the heavyweight division had slipped substantially off the back of a series of less than impressive performances against a string of fighters that barely qualified as contenders, with names like Molina, Duhaupas and Szpilka.

Meanwhile, his arch-nemesis, England’s 28-year old Anthony Joshua continued to grow as a media and fight-fan darling. Joshua won gold at the 2012 London Olympics, and after turning pro the following year, enjoyed a rapid rise through the heavyweight ranks culminating with icing IBF champion Charles Martin for his title in two rounds in 2016. Unlike Wilder, Joshua has improved with subsequent fights, stopping previously unbeaten Dominic Breazeale in seven rounds, clubbing the aforementioned Molina in three, then climbed off the canvas to overcome modern great Wladimir Klitschko in an eleven round epic that will be talked of for years in front of 90,000 at Wembley Stadium. Most recently, Joshua survived a broken nose to stop Carlos Takam in ten, taking his 100% record to 20-0, all KOs.

Blessed with size, skill and power to burn, not to mention personality and charisma, Joshua has parlayed his title into a platform he can use to earn $20 million per fight, while Wilder’s appeal has diminished to the extent that he is earing around a million dollars per defense.

Bermaine Stiverne Grants Wilder Respectability… Again!

Earlier this month (November 2017) fight fans got a chance to see how far Wilder has progressed (or regressed) in the almost three years since winning his championship belt, when he faced the man he beat to win it; Bermane Stiverne. Although the bulky Stiverne (6’2”, 254 lbs) lost clearly on points the first time, he was later hospitalized with severe dehydration and diagnosed to be suffering from a bout of rhabdomyolysis, a particularly nasty, strength-sapping virus in which the body’s fibers literally disintegrate.

Some believed that a fully fit, healthy and motivated Stiverne, with his proven power and solid chin, would be more than capable of giving Wilder a stiff test, especially as the willowy America seemed if anything to have actually regressed as a boxer. Wilder’s technique – hardly Larry Holmes-esque – had become increasingly sloppy, and his frenzied finishing flurries which resemble a drowning man thrashing his arms in a pool had led to dozens of memes on social media.

After beating Stiverne, Wilder defended his WBC belt against US journeyman Eric Molina (KO9), French plodder Johann Duhaupas (KO11) and blown up Polish cruiserweight Artur Szpilka (KO9), three of the most inept challengers in recent memory.

In 2016 Wilder stopped the shell of Chris Arreola in eight rounds in one of the worst ever title fights, yet still managed to tear his bicep and break his hand. After a lengthy layoff he returned to score arguably his best win, at least on paper – a fifth-round KO of previously unbeaten Gerald Washington – but looked dreadful in the process, losing the early rounds.

And so, there was a level of anticipation going into the Stiverne rematch that had been lacking in most of Wilder’s recent fights. After all of his trash-talking and posturing, he had to look impressive, and that’s exactly what he was as he blew the Haitian-Canadian away inside a round, flooring him three times with power-punches, the last leaving Stiverne slumped on his own feet, his legs folded grotesquely underneath him.  Stiverne barely threw a punch in the brief bout, and was heavily criticized for his lack of effort, but at least got to his feet after the first two knockdowns and actually marched straight back into the fray, face first. No matter Stiverne’s shortcomings, Wilder could only beat what was in front of him, and he completed that task spectacularly, against a fighter with a proven chin and renowned durability.

So, ironically, the man who gave Wilder his initial credibility by losing to him the first time around did so again by exiting so early in the rematch. And after two years of ridicule, suddenly fans who had previously been his critics were talking up Wilder as a genuine threat to the previously unbeatable Joshua.

Post-fight, Wilder delivered his now standard tirade against Anthony Joshua:

“I know I am the best. Are you up for the test?” he asked. “The world wants Joshua, the world wants Wilder, I want Joshua. Joshua, come and see me baby. No more dodging, no more excuses. Make the date, don’t wait. Let’s see who is the best. Packing out stadiums looks good but the money and Mecca of boxing is in America.”

“I’ve been waiting on that fight for a long time now” he continued. “I declare war upon you. Do you accept my challenge? You should see if he’s the best. My heart says I’m the best, if I’m not I want someone to show me. But if you want to stay at home like a little girl, this king has no problem traveling to knock out the champion.”

When Wilder was asked about the possibility of fighting WBC no.1 contender Dillian Whyte in 2018 in the UK first to introduce him to British fans and build up a possible meeting with Joshua later in the year, Wilder said:

“They are trying to give me a peasant in Whyte. A king doesn’t chase the peasants. A king takes kings. I want Joshua. If he doesn’t give me the fight we have other plans.”

The World According To Wilder?

Earlier this year Wilder came out with this truly bizarre statement:

“Too many times I really feel like I’m going to seriously injure someone, to the point where they’re going to have to put a red tag on someone’s toe. I really feel that way. This is no joke. The more experience I get, the more dangerous I become.”

Such a statement made at a time when there have been several ring fatalities in both amateur and professional boxing, plus incidents of fighters suffering brain damage and becoming permanently incapacitated after a fight, shows a level of callousness and ignorance that is surprising of someone of Wilder’s personality, intelligence and stature in the sport.

If he’s being honest and he genuinely feels that way, should he be fighting at all? If he’s making such statements in an attempt to create some kind of aura, it’s tacky, tasteless, and nobody is buying it. Contenders aren’t scared of fighting Wilder, and most of the top-ten including Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, Luis Ortiz, Dillian Whyte, Tyson and Hughie Fury, Amir Mansour and even Shannon Briggs have been calling him out for a long time. Anthony Joshua isn’t included in that list, not out of any fear of Wilder, but because  AJ’s astute manager Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sports realizes the potential of a Joshua vs Wilder matchup as a major moneyspinner, but knows the fight needs to build for a year or two to maximise its potential. Hearn has even gone so far as to offer Wilder an olive branch of a fight with Dillian Whyte in the UK, for which he would be paid some $5 million, but which the American snubbed.

Is Wilder Simply Scared Of Losing?

Many fans believe that despite his apparent supreme confidence, the reality is Wilder has major doubts in his own abilities, or lack thereof. They feel that Wilder worries that should he take on a Dillian Whyte and lose, his dream payday against Joshua would be scuppered forever. Some boxing conspiracy theorists even wonder if the WBC and WADA had some form of influence over the positive drug testing results of Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz, – by far the two toughest opponents Wilder has ever signed to face – allowing him to avoid fighting both men.

When interviewed recently by “Tha Boxing Voice”, a hugely popular YouTube radio show and podcast, Wilder spoke at length about his “legacy” and why he wanted to fight only champions like Anthony Joshua and WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker. Legacy is something most fighters talk about toward the end of their careers, not when they are enjoying what should be their prime years, so it is somewhat strange that Wilder, aged just 32 which these days is considered young for heavyweight, and who has not yet faced anybody of note, already be talking about his legacy. Does he fear losing against another fighter before he has the chance of his legacy-defining bout with AJ?

Back in the early-1980s, South Africa’s Gerrie Coetzee won the WBA version of the heavyweight title with a stunning 10th round KO of a previously unbeaten Michael Dokes. The WBC champion at that point was Larry Holmes, and a Coetzee-Holmes fight was much-lauded but ultimately never happened, mainly due to the US’s sanctions against South Africa which was then very much an apartheid state.

Coetzee displayed remarkable honesty when he said that he would rather “go down against Holmes than (Spanish-Uruguayan contender) Alfredo Evangelista”. Coetzee didn’t speak about his legacy, instead he spoke honestly about the very real possibility that he could lose his next fight, and therefore wanted that fight to be against the man who was the best in the division, and would make him the most money. (Coetzee went on to fight Greg Page and was knocked out in eight rounds.)

Maybe secretly Wilder thinks – just like Coetzee did – that if he’s going to go down against anyone, he’d rather go down against Anthony Joshua than Dillian Whyte.

The Al Haymon Effect

One thing about Wilder is undisputable – in recent few months, the once permanently affable Alabaman has adopted a semi-psychotic persona when it comes to press conferences and interviews, proclaiming himself the most feared and dangerous fighter on the planet at every turn, and one which every fighter and their respective promoter is keen to avoid – facts which, as we have clearly assessed, are false.

Why has Wilder added this edgier secondary persona? Could it be that his “advisor” Al Haymon has had a similar kind of conversation with him as he did Floyd Mayweather back in 2004?  It was, after all, Al Haymon who, upon seeing Mayweather floundering in his attempts at becoming the new Sugar Ray Leonard, famously came up with Floyd’s villainous, obnoxious “Money” persona, and turned him into the ultimate boxing “heel,” to use a wrestling term. In wrestling, the “Babyface” is the good guy, while the Heel is the villain of the piece. The heel might be the man everyone hates, but he is also invariably the one everyone comes to see, even if it is in the hope that he loses. As a result, a heel can become a huge draw, and earn a ton of money, often much more than a typical Babyface.

That certainly proved to be the case with Floyd Mayweather Jr, a superb defensive fighter who, prior to Haymon’s intervention, could barely draw his breath at the box office, then armed with his newly minted persona, went on to become the sport’s biggest PPV star of all time. Without Haymon’s influence, Mayweather would likely have been as popular as current Cuban stylists Guillermo Rigondeaux and Erislandy Lara, i.e., not popular in the least.

Does Haymon envision Wilder becoming the “Heel of the Heavyweight Division”, the Bad Guy, the Bogey Man? It would certainly make sound financial sense. However, Wilder is naturally mild-mannered, respectful and friendly. Even when he goes into his tirades, he slips in the occasional chuckle, and is easily distracted from playing his “character”. Clearly, unlike Mayweather, who took to his task of becoming an asshole like a duck to water, as it played on his own inner persona (he’s retired, yet still an asshole), Wilder thus far is unconvincing. Also, unlike Mayweather, Wilder’s style, ragged as it is, is far more exciting than Floyd’s ever was. In fact, when he’s at his best, Wilder’s explosive power brings to mind another hard-hitting heavyweight sensation of the past, Mike Tyson.

The Real Deontay Wilder

Wilder would be bettered served by sticking to – and further developing – his own charismatic personality and amazing backstory. Here’s a man who had very few amateur fights, and who fought professionally initially to afford healthcare for his baby daughter Naieya (now 12) who had been diagnosed as suffering from spina bifida at birth. Wilder himself says “I probably wouldn’t be boxing if it weren’t for her.”

In an era when too many young fathers callously abandon their families, the 19-year old Wilder showed amazing character in not only staying put, but risking himself in such a violent profession as boxing in order to pay for his daughter’s expensive healthcare.

Deontay Wilder is an extremely likeable guy with an exciting fighting style and genuine “lights-out” power in either hand. He may yet prove himself to be the very best heavyweight in the world, maybe eventually one of the best ever. What he certainly shouldn’t do is create a villainous persona and distance himself from the very fans who followed him from the get-go because they bought into his inspirational story – simply to generate a new audience who pay to see him lose. He’s much better than that, and with a little patience, is going to become extremely rich anyway.

 

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