When heavyweight Deontay Wilder 35-0 (34) makes the third defense of his WBC title this Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against Artur Szpilka 20-1 (15), more than his title will be on the line. Surely, the first order of business is for Wilder to win, but almost as important for Deontay is that he wins impressively. For Wilder, who is in the conversation as to who is the baddest heavyweight in professional boxing…style points matter for him regarding his perception as being an elite fighter.
Despite his undefeated record and .971% knockout ratio, Wilder cannot escape his more than fair share of detractors when it comes to ranking him among today's upper-tier heavyweights. On top of that, there are more than a handful of observers who believe he'll find a way of getting out of facing his mandatory challenger, Alexander Povetkin 30-1 (22), the Russian, if he beats Szpilka, and that if he is forced to fight Povetkin, he'll lose.
Since we last saw Wilder stop Johan Duhaupas in the 11th round last September, we've seen the emergence of Cuban heavyweight Luis Ortiz 24-0 (21). Last month Ortiz met Philadelphia's Bryant Jennings who entered the bout 19-1 (10), with his only setback coming against universally recognized heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Jennings fought well against Klitschko but lost by decision. However, Ortiz took Jennings apart in his next bout and totally outclassed him, winning via seventh round stoppage.
You may ask what that has to do with Wilder. And the answer to that is Szpilka's only defeat came at the hands of Bryant Jennings. Artur entered the Jennings bout 16-0 but was stopped in the 10th and final round of a competitive bout. So if we do the math, we know that Jennings, based off of the Ortiz bout, isn't near the top of the heavyweight food chain, and he stopped Szpilka. Other than for a round or two, Jennings couldn't compete with Ortiz.
Now Wilder is fighting Szpilka and for his career perception, wouldn't it be a shot in the arm if Deontay really separated himself from Szpilka and beat him more conclusively than Jennings did? Granted, styles make fights but in boxing often times perception is reality. And the thing that works against Wilder from a perception vantage point is he holds every conceivable advantage over Szpilka that one fighter could hold over another. He's taller and longer, hits harder, has quicker hands and feet, puts his punches together better and is more athletic. In fact the only category that is a wash between them is their ability to defend and get out of the way of punches thrown by fighters who aren't the most imaginative offensively.
Spzilka may be a decent fighter but he's certainly not a world beater. When fighters like Wilder are built up to be destroyers and life-takers the way he has been, they're supposed to do what George Foreman and Mike Tyson did during their vintage days, and that is dispose of middle of the road opposition quickly and in a dynamic fashion that leaves fans gasping for their breath when the fight is over. Since winning the WBC title Wilder hasn't done that. Actually, he's been shook once or twice in his two title defenses and after his last one against Johann Duhaupas he left the ring with a swollen left eye. If you hadn't known that he won, you would've thought he lost.
And that is why Wilder has his detractors. He's 6'7″ and more than 230 pounds and his right hand has been described as almost missile-like, yet he's been struggling with fighters who I consider tweeners. And by tweeners I mean fighters who don't possess one distinct weapon or trait. In other words they cannot do anything great and are just adequate doing the things that a fighter must do to become special.
Everyone complains how the heavyweight division was dull during the Klitschko era and their style of winning was considered mundane and devoid of drama. And with that as a backdrop, boxing fans, especially those who follow the heavyweight division, are starving for a new big guy to explode onto the scene and steal their heart. Well, as of right now, heading into this weekend's bout with Artur Szpilka, Wilder hasn't done that. Instead he is routinely taken to task for avoiding quality challengers, something that was the prevailing thought before he won the title and hasn't subsided since. Couple that with the belief most observers have that he's avoiding Povetkin, a former title-holder, and you can see why he better take Szpilka apart in a spectacular fashion or he'll be worked over more by the media and fans.
My ultimate goal in boxing is to be the undisputed champion,” Wilder said. “The last undisputed champion was Lennox Lewis. That was in 1999. I am on a mission and nobody’s going to stop me.”
Well, if that is in fact the case, Wilder better get rid of Szpilka quickly and not have life and death with him for 10 rounds before stopping him in the 11th. Deontay needs to win and look formidable the way Ortiz did against Bryant Jennings last month. Prior to stopping Jennings, Ortiz was off the radar. Now look at him. The perception of him has completely changed after overcoming a rough patch to stop a very solid and tough opponent who came to win.
If Wilder is anything close to the heavyweight force he says he is…..he'll get rid of Szpilka quickly and impressively. Then he'll stop turning a deaf ear to Povetkin and agree to meet him this summer. And if he beats Povetkin, then he can talk about meeting the winner of the Fury-Klitschko rematch!
Wilder says “I'm sending a message and making a statement.” On that, we’ll soon know.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com