October 15, 2013

KO Digest Spotlight on Boxing's Up and Comers - Deontay Wilder

The Bronze Bomber
When English born Lennox Lewis first captured the attention of the boxing world by defeating Riddick Bowe to win a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics, 2008 American bronze medalist Deontay Wilder was 3 years old in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. When World Heavyweight Champion Wladimir Klitschko beat Chris Byrd for the IBF title in 2006 to begin one of the most dominant title reigns in heavyweight championship history, Deontay Wilder was 21 years old, two years away from his pro debut, an amateur boxer with less than twenty bouts. He still hadn't won any medals, at least with boxing gloves on. Wilder is now 27. If he isn't already the best young heavyweight prospect in the world, he soon will be. More than a decade ago, when Lewis cemented his legacy by defeating Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko to defend the heavyweight title, younger brother Wladimir was 26 years old and shaking off two terrible setbacks, waiting for his own championship run to begin. Today, after a historic stretch of dominance, Wladimir, 37, is finally decelerating as he approaches the finish line of a race that will soon end with a parade in Canastota. The young contenders likely to sprint to the front of the post-Klitschko pack include the motley crew of Kubrat Pulev, Tyson Fury, and  Bryant Jennings.

Then there is America's undefeated Bronze Bomber, 29-0 with 29 KO's, 6'7", 230 pounds, powerful, mobile, and possessing an unbelievably long 84-inch reach. Trained under the tutelage of 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Breland and promoted under the Golden Boy Promotional banner of 1992 gold medalist Oscar De La Hoya, you'll understand how Wilder generates his impressive knockout power when you see him fight. KO's intrepid scribe Terry Strawson caught up with the unbeaten Olympian and shines his busy spotlight on one of boxing's biggest up and comers. 

"I've always been strong. I've always played sports all my life," said Wilder. "I'm a very athletic guy. I have a natural strength, it's something that can't really be taught or developed. I was just one of those skinny kids that could lift just as much as the bigger guys. They would be amazed because I was never that big compared to the other guys on the football team but I could lift as much as they could. But you know, I also have a great strength and conditioning coach by the name of Peter Khourey and we definitely go hard in the weight room to add to that already natural strength."

Breland and Wilder - Gold and Bronze
Alongside Khourey is long standing coach Jay Deas who has been there since day one. Mark Breland was brought on board when Wilder turned professional in 2008. The two are assisted by Russ Anber to ensure Wilder has all he needs in preparation for, and during, the fights that have been coming thick and fast. Outside the ropes, Wilder's career has been steered by boxing power brokers Shelly Finkel, and more recently, Al Haymon. Promotional giant Golden Boy adds further clout to a collection of extremely influential and well versed men -- the Bomb Squad.  

A week from now, Wilder will be heading to Atlantic City as he readies himself to open the televised portion of the Bernard Hopkins vs Karo Murat undercard on October 26th. The show, which was originally scheduled during the summer, will present Wilder with his second appearance on Showtime in a few months. He is coming into the fight on the back of his frightening knockout of one-time world champion Siarhei Liakhovich in August. Liakhovich should have mounted a genuine challenge to Wilder as he did recently to heavyweight hopefuls Bryant Jennings and Robert Helenius. As it happened, he ended up on the wrong side of a highlight reel knockout that will live long in the memory of fans.

"Any time you face a former world champion, it is going to be your biggest fight but I trained hard for that fight. I had no doubts in me, the thought of him being a former champion never really came into my mind at all. I looked at him as just another guy at my weight and I want to keep getting to the top, so I had to take him out and I did it in incredible fashion. On to the next one," said Wilder. "All these knockouts are just heaven, even some of the guys at the top are scared to fight, or scared to put their record on the line because I'm just knocking everybody out." 

Nothing to protest about
The knockout of Liakhovich was chilling. Less than two minutes into their fight at the Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio, CA., Wilder let off a one-two combination to the head of Liakhovich which forced him into the ropes and he followed up immediately by repeating the sequence. This time, the right hand landed flush and Liakhovich had already begun his descent when a follow-up left hook landed to the top of his head. It left the "White Wolf" convulsing uncontrollably on the canvas. "It was very scary, recalled Wilder. "I say two prayers [before a fight], an individual prayer and a team prayer. In my individual prayer I tell God that I don't want to hurt nobody. I do want to knock them out but I don't want to hurt them to the point they can't go back to their family or support them, or continue to box and do something that they love. I don't want to take that from a man. To see him like that was definitely scary for me. I don't want to go in the ring and kill nobody, that is not my mission. My goal in boxing is to be the heavyweight champion of the world."

Wilder is on his way. His journey from Alabama to Atlantic City has been nothing short of amazing, bordering on miraculous. In 2006, the twenty one year old Wilder stepped foot into a boxing gym for the very first time. In 2008 he was at the Beijing Olympics collecting a bronze medal for the United States. It's a remarkable story that Hollywood would have trouble making seem believable. There's more too. On that fateful day back in 2006, Wilder was on his way to the gym in search of fame and fortune to fulfill a childhood dream, and to enable the hopes and dreams of a child - his daughter Naieya. Born with a spinal condition that left a gap in her spine, Naieya proved to be the catalyst for her father's rapid rise toward the pinnacle of boxing. "I got into boxing for my 8 year old daughter," revealed Wilder last week to KO Digest. "She was born with Spina bifida and, at the time, I was in college at Shelton State. I gave it up to look after my daughter. To make a long story short, I walked into a gym because I felt boxing was my last opportunity to be a famous athlete, or something like that. I walked into the gym and knew then that this was for me."

Wilder beats 2000 Gold Medalist Harrison in one
It would appear Wilder's initial thoughts were correct. However, opinion remains divided amongst fans and experts alike. His detractors will tell you he is over-hyped and that he has not fought anybody. His supporters will have you believe he is the hardest puncher in history and the answer, and heir apparent, to the Klitschko brothers who have dominated for over a decade. The facts tell us that he has beaten a former Olympic gold medalist (Audley Harrison) and a former WBO heavyweight champion in his last two outings, and it took him under three minutes to get rid of the pair. He is a former Olympic medalist, the current WBC Continental Americas belt-holder and his undefeated record of 29 wins with 29 knockouts is unprecedented. Quite frankly, Deontay Wilder is a phenom and may not get the credit he deserves.

"I'm ready to put on a show for the fans," said Wilder. "A lot of fans want to see me fight a lot of guys and I want to give that to them and show them how easy it would be to beat some of their favorite fighters. There is definitely no heavyweight in America that is going to beat me, or in Europe or anywhere else. I am the best, and I want to prove that. On the other hand though, we have a plan and we have been sticking to it. It's been going great but they see me blow guys out and make it look easy. Roy Jones Jr did it throughout his career, he made the fight look easy, but what people don't see is that I'm in camp and I work my ass off in training. That's where the hard work is, so when I go to the fight, I'm excited, I'm having fun, and I just blow guys out, make it look like they're nothing. When somebody else fights the guys I fight, they're like 'Oh, this is a great fight, he beat a former world champion', just like when Bryant Jennings fought Liakhovich, it was a great fight, but when I knock him out in a minute and change, it's a different story."

Wilder calls out Thompson and Jennings
His next assignment against Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1) is unlikely to quell the skepticism from some quarters but will present Wilder with an opportunity to turn in his 30th knockout in as many fights. It offers more experience to the 27 year old who has been continually learning on the job and it's yet another quick turnaround. Wilder, known as the Bronze Bomber, has fought about six or seven times a year since his pro debut and this represents his fourth bout of 2013 - he may fight again in December too. Wilder cannot afford to overlook Firtha though. The crafty journeyman has shared the ring with Tyson Fury and Alexander Povetkin amongst others, and he had the 6'9" Fury in a world of trouble during their 2011 scrap.

"I was in LA, for another fight, and I spoke to Richard Schaefer and De La Hoya and we definitely talked about getting a bigger fight, even Al Haymon called me and asked me who I wanted and I told him two names (Tony Thompson and Bryant Jennings), but with it being just three weeks notice, and some fighters were wanting main event money for the opening TV bout. We knew that nobody close to the top ten would want to fight me on that notice, the only person that would want to fight me on that notice, is myself," said Wilder. "You can give me a days notice, I'm ready. I'll fight anybody. I stay trained up, I stay in shape. That's why I have been one of the busiest heavyweights in the world. I'm not sure how far along talks got [with Thompson or Jennings] but the guy that stepped up to the plate, and said he wanted to fight, was Nicolai Firtha. He's a tough guy, he was in the Klitschko camp with me. He comes to fight. He says I've never been hit and he's coming to hit me and show the world what's up. So, you know, when you get a guy like that, already talking with confidence, you know he's not coming to lay down. He's coming to fight."

Is Wladimir Klitschko in Wilder's future?
"We never look past a fighter, you know, it all depends on what happens in this fight. This is going to reveal my future and after it we'll know more. If I take him out in a good fashion like I am supposed to, then December [on the undercard of Adrien Broner and Marcos Maidana] is a possibility. Hopefully, they are in negotiations with 'somebody' at the top right now. We don't want to look past nobody but hopefully they have the ball rolling. People are always telling me to step-up but somebody needs to step-up and fight me because I don't really hear nobody calling my name out. I'd love to fight Chisora." Reports during the summer suggested a fight between the pair fell through. "You got that Chisora thing, we offered them to come over here, I'd love to show my British fans how easy, or my non-believers, how easy that fight would be."

It may surprise many a casual fight fan but there actually are plenty of options available to Wilder, and his handlers, in the heavyweight division. Chris Arreola just defeated Seth Mitchell in impressive fashion and seems to have refocused again. The pair are ranked #2 and #3 by the WBC and a bout between them would make sense. Bermane Stiverne, who is ranked #1 by the WBC, is another talented and credible option. Bryant Jennings, Tony Thompson and Tyson Fury all fit the bill. There are others and the next year will provide us with more definitive answers. "In twelve months time, I should be definitely fighting for a title, if not, already having one. 2014 is going to be beautiful. A lot of answers are going to be revealed and a lot of people are going to be upset, and it ain't gonna be none of my people," laughed Wilder. "And when I say my people, I mean my fans and the people that have been following me, and supporting me."

Wilder, his esteemed colleagues, and all of his people have reason to be excited. The heavyweight division has been in a steady, if not rapid, transitional period and Wilder is certainly the brightest of a new hopeful generation. His sheer size and strength, coupled with his raw and natural power, make him a formidable opponent for any of the foremost heavyweights. His alliance with Shelly Finkel, and Al Haymon in particular, enables him to pack as big a punch outside of the ring as he does inside, while 29 knockouts in 29 fights hasn't hurt. I wouldn't miss his next fight.

Written by Terry Strawson ~ for KO Digest

Look for a new KO Digest "Spotlight on Up & Comers" on the 15th of every new month