The boisterous Alabaman listened for years, and all he heard was silence. Americans weren’t making any noise in boxing’s heavyweight division.
What would he do about it? His actions spoke loudly, as he knocked out almost every fighter he faced.
Turns out all he needed was time. Now, his moment is here.
“This is my introduction to the world. The baddest man on the planet, right in front of all of America,” Deontay Wilder said recently as he promoted Saturday’s World Boxing Council title defense against England’s Tyson Fury at Staples Center.
“This is the moment people have been looking for a very long time, someone to bring the golden age into the modern day right here. People can get damn excited about it. They’ve finally got an American heavyweight, a 6-7 brawler from Alabama with the power possessed by God to baptize this Tyson Fury that they call the ‘Gypsy King.’ I can’t wait, guys.”
The bout is Wilder’s first Showtime pay-per-view, a clash of unbeaten fighters that matches Wilder’s unorthodox but devastating power against the more methodical approach of Fury (27-0, 19 knockouts) .
It was Fury who ended the dominant but uninspiring heavyweight reign of Wladimir Klitschko with a unanimous-decision victory in 2015.However, Fury fell into drug addiction, depression and weight gain and allowed countryman Anthony Joshua to establish himself as the biggest name in the heavyweight division.
Wilder, meanwhile, furthered the resolve that made him a surprise 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, improving his technique with a better jab and left hook.
Now 33, he’s 40-0 with 39 KOs, the latest a March rally from head-rocking, leg-wilting blows by Cuba’s Luis Ortiz to win by 10th-round technical knockout in what might stand as the fight of the year.
“I finally have the right dancing partner for this,” Wilder said. “In all my fights before this, I’ve had to promote the fight myself. Guys were scared to talk, afraid to say what they’re going to do … because they didn’t know what they were going to do.
“This is the moment many fighters try to reach. I’m here. I’m finally here. I’m going to make the best of it, and make sure the fight lives up to the hype.”
American heavyweights once carried the sport. From Jack Johnson to Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano to Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier, with Mike Tyson captivating the nation’s attention each time he fought during his reign.
“This does signal the return of the heavyweight division,” Showtime Sports President Stephen Espinoza said. “It’s the reinvigoration of the division that once was the bread and butter of the sport.”
Wilder has studied where Klitschko failed against Fury by being too tentative.
Unlike Klitschko, “I have a killer instinct. I’m sure [Klitschko] thinks about that fight all the time. He has to. To get defeated by Tyson Fury after being a champion so long … and then you don’t throw half the punches you throw, that’s going to [mess] with you … for the rest of your life. I don’t care who you are.
“I don’t want any excuses or regrets. I want to say I gave it my all … knock him out and give L.A. something it’s never seen before.”
Fury, 30, has taken two fights while rebuilding himself from the lows of his personal struggles and lost belts. While Fury has tried to play mind games, Wilder says he counters by shutting out the words through meditation.
The champion has full grasp of what this bout means, not just for the boxing business and his push to land a unification bout with Joshua.
“I know how big it is and how much it means to me and a lot of other people who surround me … boxing is a very emotional, passionate sport and I see all those people who want me to do well, who want me to succeed, to do the big numbers,” Wilder said. “I feed off that energy.”
As Ali showed, the heavyweight champion can be that beacon to all, and Wilder senses his moment is at hand.