For someone so intent on making heavyweight history, Deontay Wilder doesn’t appear to have studied up much on the subject.
Introduced to a throng of media members last Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., a few hours prior to WBA “regular” middleweight champion Daniel Jacobs’ first-round stoppage of Peter “Kid Chocolate” Quillin, Wilder, the WBC heavyweight titlist, cut a dashing figure in designer sunglasses, a black dress shirt, black slacks and a tailored white sport coat with black lapels and polka dots. It was a look that would have been a bit extreme on most men, but worked for him. Then again, what wouldn’t be fashionable on a 6-foot-7, 228-pound, extremely fit athlete?
Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs) had come north from his home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., to announce his third title defense on Jan. 16 at the Barclays Center, his New York City debut, against the ever-intriguing opponent to be named. Negotiations had been underway to match Wilder against Ukraine’s Vyacheslav Glazkov (21-0-1, 13 KOs) on that date, but Glazkov, who had yet to sign a contract, abruptly withdrew his name from consideration when it became apparent that the IBF would strip its newly crowned champion, England’s Tyson Fury, for agreeing to an immediate rematch with the man from whom he had wrested that belt, Wladimir Klitschko, instead of fulfilling his mandatory against Glazkov. Had Klitschko won, Glazkov seemed certain to get the gig against Wilder, but he now appears to focusing on the IBF title that soon could become vacant.
“Mr. Glazkov decided to take an easier shot at a world title. That’s his prerogative,” said Lou DiBella, who has promoted Wilder’s last two defenses against relative mystery men Eric Molina and Johann Duhaupas and will do so against, well, whomever it is that shares the ring with Wilder in the Showtime-televised main event on Jan. 16.
Wilder said it is his job to beat whichever individual his management team puts in front of him, and he will continue doing just that while serving proudly as the first American heavyweight champion since … uh, Lennox Lewis?
“I promise you guys that I will unify the division and be the first American (to do so) since 1999. I think it was Lennox Lewis,” Wilder said.
None of the reporters in attendance bothered to remind Wilder that Brooklyn native Shannon Briggs, who held the WBO belt from November 2006 to June 2007, was, until the Alabamian came along, the most recent American to hold a share of what once was known as the most prestigious title in sports, or that Lewis, the son of Jamaican immigrants, was born in England and represented Canada in the 1988 Seoul Olympics. But why would they? Like John Belushi’s character in “Animal House,” reminding his Delta Tau Chi fraternity brothers that it wasn’t over for them, just like it wasn’t over for the U.S. “when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor,” Wilder was rolling, offering scattershot opinions on any number of heavyweight-related topics. If he ever is paired in a unification showdown with the chatty Fury, the prefight press conferences are likely to be as much or more entertaining than anything that takes place in the ring.
DiBella and Brett Yormack, the chief operating officer of the Barclays Center, made a point of noting that Wilder’s Jan. 16 heavyweight title bout would be the first to be staged in Brooklyn since Bob Fitzsimmons was dethroned on an 11th-round knockout by James J. Jeffries on June 9, 1897, on Coney Island, although someone suggested that maybe a more recent big-boy championship fight had been staged in the borough sometime in the 1930s.
“We think this will be the first heavyweight title fight here in over a hundred years,” DiBella said, leaving himself an out if need be. “We’d like to know. We’re curious. We’re having problems researching it. But obviously, it’s been a long time.”
Until Nov. 28, when Fury, as a 5-to-1 underdog rattled the heavyweight establishment with his shocking — and let’s be honest, slumber-inducing points nod over the listless Klitschko – the division’s hierarchy was firmly established and had been for a long time. Wlad and his now-retired older brother, Vitali, had between them logged four title reigns totaling 22 years, 8 months. And while the younger Klitschko might not have been Mr. Excitement, he still represented, at 39, stability and a sense of order in a sport where there are more turnovers than can be found at your neighborhood Dunkin’ Doughnuts. “Dr. Steelhammer” went into that bout in Dusseldorf, Germany, as the WBA “super,” IBF, WBO, IBO, THE RING and lineal champion, bereft only of the WBC crown once held by Vitali.
Wilder, his WBC championship (won on a unanimous decision over Canadian-based Haitian Bermane Stiverne on Jan. 17 in Las Vegas), near-perfect knockout ratio (97 percent) and American citizenship notwithstanding, was destined to remain an outrider until he, or someone, bumped one Wlad from the throne that most of the boxing world recognized as belonging to the legitimate ruler. Taking a 60-mile ride from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham, where he stopped the semi-anonymous likes of Molina and Duhaupas, did little to suggest that the 30-year-old who had once dreamed of starring in football for the Alabama Crimson Tide was much more than another pretender, albeit one with bejeweled belt. It was reminiscent of the seven-year reign of Larry Holmes, who never held more than one version (the WBC, then IBF) of the heavyweight title but was always accorded a higher place in the division pecking order than such itinerant alphabet champs as John Tate, Mike Weaver, Gerrie Coetzee, Tim Witherspoon, Pinklon Thomas, Greg Page and Tony Tubbs.
Fury’s takedown of King Wlad I has basically taken a wrecking ball to the status quo, and although the native of Manchester, England, has to be regarded as the division’s top guy, by virtue of his multiple titles and distinction of being the first fighter to defeat Klitschko in 11 years, the presumed gap between he and Wilder is much narrower than the one that many believed existed between he and Wilder.
From Wilder’s perspective, though, he is the true shining light among the current crop of heavyweights, with a ceiling higher than anyone else and the resolve and ability to be just as dominant as Wladimir had been. He figures his Jan.16 defense – DiBella said an opponent likely will be announced sometime this week — is just another step in a process that eventually will lead to his name being entered into the conversation of best big men in boxing history. Consider his thoughts on those heavyweights who presently occupy many of the top spots in the rankings:
* “Tyson Fury’s not a puncher. My one-year-old son hits harder than him. But he entertains the crowd and sings and all that. But when it comes to lacing up those gloves and battling it out, I don’t think he got enough. We have seen smaller fighters, even cruiserweights, drop him.”
* “I think Klitschko was fighting two people. Not only was he fighting Fury, he was fighting an old man called Father Time as well. There were times in that fight when his mind wanted to throw punches, but his body wasn’t reacting. As you get older, your body don’t react like it does when you’re younger. I think Father Time is at his door. He said he’s exercising his rematch clause. I feel he’ll lose that one, too. But maybe he just had an off-night.”
* “We wanted (No. 1 rated WBC contender Alexander) Povetkin for this one. He fought Mike Perez for one round. Why is he not ready? Why did he take another fight against Mariusz Wach to prepare for me? (He’s a) slower guy, don’t hit hard. Now, he is durable. Got a good chin.”
* “Don’t be surprised if Anthony Joshua (who won the super heavyweight gold medal representing England at the 2012 London Olympics) loses to Dillian Whyte (they fight Dec. 12 in London). Dillian Whyte will give him a run for his money, if not beat him. Dillian Whyte is a very hungry fighter.”
* “I think (Cuban expatriate) Luis Ortiz (who takes on Bryant Jennings Dec. 19 in Verona, N.Y.) is a cheater. (He tested positive for the anabolic steroid Nandrolone last year.) I don’t respect him. When you got to use chemicals to enhance your performance … anybody who does that should be banned from boxing.”
* “Jennings is a good fighter. I think he’s a good fighter. We’re going to see what he does in that fight, and go from there.”
* “David Haye must win (his Jan. 16 bout with Mark de Mori in London) in great fashion. All the things he’s done, the backing out (of fights) ad stuff like that, we’re ready to write him off. But if he can win in great fashion, maybe then we’ll have something on our hands.”