Could Deontay Wilder Be Successful as Cruiserweight?

In a recent Instagram post, WBC heavyweight title-holder Deontay Wilder said his long-range plan is to win a title in a second weight class, namely cruiserweight. “I’ve been thinking about, once I unify the heavyweight division, moving down to cruiserweight and taking over that division,” he wrote. “There’s never been a heavyweight ever go down in weight. I mean just for the fun of it, take over the cruiserweight division while maintaining the heavyweight division. Yeah, what do you guys think?”

We here at TSS think that Wilder was making idle chatter. Yes, in his own mind he probably thinks he could pull it off, but that’s a pipe dream. And as for the notion that he would be accomplishing something that no heavyweight champion has ever done before, well that’s just plain wrong.

As an amateur Wilder competed at 201 pounds. In his last two years of amateur competition, he was 23-5. He lost on points to Italy’s Clemente Russo in the semifinals of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Earlier that year, he was stopped in the third round by Russia’s Evgeniy Romanov.

The Wilder-Romanov fight has been saved for posterity on youtube. Although Wilder wasn’t counted out, he was clearly beaten and it was a legitimate stoppage. He was stung by a straight right hand in the waning seconds of round two, his legs buckled, and he was given a standing 8-count. A clubbing right hand led to another standing-8 in round three and then he was shook by another right hand, doing a little dance before his legs failed him and he fell backward, landing on his posterior. It was at that point that the ref decided that he had seen enough.

What jumps out in that video is how skinny Wilder looks. His legs are like pipe stems. His Russian opponent, seven inches shorter, was too strong for him.

Wilder, who stands six-foot-seven, is still rather skinny. Considering that he weighed 214 ¾ pounds for his last fight, the lightest he’s weighed since 2009 when his pro career was just getting started, he undoubtedly could get down to the cruiserweight limit (200 pounds) if he set his mind to it. But with his tall frame, he would sacrifice a lot in strength. Could he fend off a murderous puncher like Murat Gassiev?

If Wilder succeeded in dropping down in class to win another title, he wouldn’t be the first. Roy Jones Jr. won belts at 160, 168, and 175 before wresting the WBA heavyweight crown from John Ruiz. In his very next fight, he dropped back to 175 and unified the light heavyweight title with a majority decision over Antonio Tarver. (His subsequent forays in the cruiserweight division were less successful. Both Denis Lebedev and Enzo Maccarinelli knocked him unconscious.)

Chris Byrd, who carried 169 pounds for his pro debut 1993, went on to win a share of the world heavyweight title twice. In 2000, he copped the WBO belt when he stopped Vitali Klitschko who was comfortably ahead on the scorecards when he was forced to retire with a shoulder injury. Twenty months later, Byrd outpointed Evander Holyfield to win the IBF version of the title.

Near the end of his career, after suffering a bad defeat at the hands of Alexander Povetkin, Byrd made the drastic mistake of seeking to start a new chapter of his career as a light heavyweight. Losing all that weight left him a hollow shell of his former self. He was stopped in the ninth round by journeyman Shaun George who dominated a listless Byrd from the opening bell.

The cruiserweight division has only been around since 1980. Many of the great heavyweights of yesteryear weighed less than 200 pounds and would be considered cruiserweights today. Indeed, every heavyweight champion from James J. Corbett through Ingemar Johannson – with the exceptions of James J. Jeffries, Primo Carnera, and Max Baer – weighed less than 200 pounds when they captured the heavyweight title. But virtually all of those fighters gradually put on weight as they advanced toward the title, and once they had grown into their body there was no talk of fighting in a lighter weight class.

It would be ill-advised for Deontay Wilder to morph into a cruiserweight sometime down the road, not that we ever expect to see it happen.

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