In the twelve-odd years since he decided, at 21, that he would one day become the heavyweight champion of the world, the boxer Deontay Wilder has compiled a record of 41 wins, no losses, and one draw, with all but one of those victories coming by knockout. Watching all 40 of those knockouts end to end takes about ten minutes, a span in which dingy, low-ceilinged gyms give way to the various meccas of boxing, and Wilder’s opponents turn from winded journeymen to some of the sport’s toughest giants. One thing remains constant: the right hand Wilder calls the Eraser. Over and over, it arcs across the ring, usually from an unorthodox angle, and finds a cheekbone, or a temple, or a jaw. The Eraser erases: One heavyweight after another has his lights turned out, as Wilder starts to shuffle and dance his way to a neutral corner. He wears his belt easily.
In person, though, the Eraser shows its wear. Wilder’s broken the hand before, and large portions of his right arm are spidered with scars. Rendering men unconscious, it turns out, is hard work. Wilder doesn’t mind: Boxing is better than the jobs he worked (IHOP, Red Lobster, beer-delivery guy) to pay for care for his daughter Naieya, born with spina bifida. And it’s better than the pounding he took at his hometown Skyy Boxing Gym in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, transforming himself from a wild, undisciplined power puncher to a slightly less wild, slightly more disciplined, enormously more dangerous power puncher. Most importantly, no matter how it looks, the Eraser still works: Since 2015, Wilder has successfully defended his WBC heavyweight title nine times, most recently against the hopelessly overmatched Dominic Breazeale in May.
It is popular, in an age where mixed martial arts produces stars more reliably than old-fashioned boxing, to declare the latter sport dead. The pundits making that declaration didn’t bother to inform Wilder, who is fond of bellowing his title to anyone within earshot. Nor did those sorry souls manage to convince the half-dozen fans who stopped him for a photo as he walked through lower Manhattan on a warm morning in July. Wilder walked briskly, his enormous six-foot-seven frame canting forward as if into a stiff wind. He’s genial in person, and obviously in possession of the gift of gab that helped turn the likes of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson into icons. A quiet kid born into a family of pastors, he’s learned to love to talk. (“I've never talked so much in my life,” he says of his time defending his belt.)
And so, unsatisfied with merely scoring knockouts, Wilder has moved on to the task of reinvigorating the heavyweight division. Once the province of legends, from Ali to Tyson to Frazier to Holyfield, the weight class (for the big boys: 200 pounds and up) has been for the past few decades a barren, Klitschko-dominated wasteland. Now, though, Wilder, along with the recently dethroned Anthony Joshua, the unconventional Tyson Fury, and the lovable Andy Ruiz, is presiding over something of a boom time for big men. It’s still boxing, ever dysfunctional, which means that the fight everyone wants to see, Wilder-Joshua, will happen no sooner than 2020, and possibly not even then. In the meantime, Wilder is content to let the Eraser do what it does best—he’ll fight Luis Ortiz for a second time in November, and a rematch against Fury will happen sometime next year—and to back it up with plenty of talk.
GQ: You get to say you’re the heavyweight champion of the world, and I’ve heard you yell it a few times today. Does that ever get old?
Deontay Wilder: Never. Never gets old to hear the heavyweight champion of the world. It's a great accomplishment. To be able to even claim it, first and foremost. Look, we have, what, over seven billion people in the world, and I could say that I am the heavyweight champion of the world. Out of billions and billions of people in the world, yeah, no one can do what I can do. No one would dare to even get in that ring like that. It's only a very small few. And that's a big accomplishment for me. So I say it loud, I say it proud, with a smile on my face.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you wound up fighting?
I started boxing at 21. My trainer, who is still my trainer to this day, was looking at me, and he was like, "There's a basketball court down the street." Because I walked in. I was tall. I was a tall guy. I was probably a buck ninety-five, coming into the gym.
There were so many things that I wanted to do during that time. I started boxing because of my daughter, who was born with spina bifida. Right after high school, I had gone to a community college. I had to get my credits up, because I wanted to go to the University of Alabama to play sports there. And then in the midst of that time, I ended up having a child that was born with spina bifida, and I needed money.
And one thing I know I could do well was I could fight. I knew that I had to go to school for the other sports: football, basketball. You had to go to college. I didn't have no time. My daughter is on her way. In nine months, she'll be here. And eight months or so later, she was born premature—she came early. So I needed some outlets. I knew I could fight. I knew I could use my hands. And I went to a gym in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I didn't even know this gym was there. It's been there for over 15 years. Never heard about it, because the town is not built off of that. It's built off of football and basketball.
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Was it difficult when you first got in the gym, not really knowing what you were doing?
Man, it was, definitely. It was very difficult. For one, I still had a full-time job. I was working at Budweiser, driving the trucks. We had a time to clock in. That was before 6:00 a.m., and if you were on a specific route, you would have to clock in at 4:30. You got a time to clock in, but you don't have a time to clock out. And that's some of the scariest jobs right there, because it would consist of how many accounts that we completed that day. And sometimes you would be the only man on the job, and you'd have 1,000 cases at your first stop. You have to touch. You have to label. You have to roll in. And you have to put up in the frozen cooler. Man, it was an amazing job, but it was a hard job to do.
And to be motivated to do that job and to go to the gym afterwards? I’d put in ten hours, and I still went to the gym. When I went to the gym, it re-awoken me or something. Like, I was a new me. There's a difference between something that you do for a job, you do because you have to support your family, but there's also a thing that you have a job, but you do it and you love it. And they say if you love something, it’s not really working. So when I went to the boxing gym, it wasn't really working. It was fun, was something that I was looking forward to and not have to worry about the hassles of other things.
"I prefer a knockout, because I don't get paid for overtime, okay?"
So I imagine that you pick up the technical stuff, the details, the specifics when you work out in the gym. But I've got to imagine the power was always there. Did you always hit real heavy?
Yes. Yes. Yes. Since I've known me, I've known me to be a hard hitter. I'm known to be able to knock guys out. It's amazing. Sometimes I think about it now, when I sit on my bed sometimes, or I look around to see the things that I've achieved with my hands. My hands alone. Wow. And after praying, and thanking God for certain things, and talking to the universe, I'm like, Wow, this is crazy.
Just to think about it, like, I've always had power. Always. Not even lifting the weights. No nothing. It was just God-given.
Were you a boxing fan growing up?
Yes. I remember watching [Evander] Holyfield. I remember watching Roy Jones Jr. I wasn't heavily invested in it, because of where I was from. We just liked football. But I definitely was a fan of boxing. Just never thought I would be doing it. I had the skills. I had the talent to do so. It's amazing just to be in this sport, to take it, to apply it to my life, and here I am, heavyweight champion of the world.
And it's a cool time, too, right? The division is strong.
Oh, my goodness.
The heavyweight champion of the world in America used to be such a big deal. You think about [George] Foreman, [Muhammad] Ali, Sonny Liston, whoever. Like, they got parades. They were the most popular athletes on the planet. Obviously, boxing's in a different place now, but I feel like you treat it with that sort of reverence.
Most definitely. The heavyweight used to be huge in America. We didn't have a lot of things going on. Even back in the day, Ali and them times, they didn't have all these sports that we have here. Used to be, what, boxing, baseball, and probably horse racing. So they didn't really have too much to go off on. Now, we have all types of sports going on.
But we know, and the world knows, who's the true sport, what's the real sport in the world. There’s nothing like boxing. To be able to stand up on your feet, if need be, 36 minutes, and use your mind to create some type of opening, some type of way to decoding this guy to either beat him on points or to knock him out.
I prefer a knockout, because I don't get paid for overtime, okay? I don't get paid for overtime, and people love to see a knockout when it comes to heavyweight division. So I give them that. But we still value that respect. We still value the principles and morals and goals of being a fighter, of being a champion. It may not be the most popular sport here in America now, but we still carry that on our shoulders. We still carry the weight, because let's face it: There's no other thing, nothing like boxing. I mean, you can be poor one minute, and the next minute you can be the richest man in the world.
So can we run through the division real quick, your scouting report?
Yeah, let's go.
Let's get the new kid on the block. Tell me about Andy Ruiz.
Andy Ruiz. Andy Ruiz. First off, I congratulated him before, on my Instagram. I was very happy. I tuned into his post–press conference, and one thing that stuck to me was when he said, "Mama, we don't have to suffer no more." That's big for me, because I come from a world of struggle. I come from a world of hardship, being the statistics of society. People telling you you're not going to be nothing. But you've got to overcome something. And I overcame it all. It's just amazing just to be where I am, to have to go through so much negativity. And you would think I would be a negative person right now, but I'm totally the opposite. Because I won. I won. In life, I won with my family. I'm winning. So, that's the ultimate thing. I’m happy. I'm happy the heavyweight division's blooming. I'm a part of it. What more can I ask?
Ruiz. Oh, yeah. I'm going on about myself, man.
Well, we took photos of you, not him.
I'm happy for him. I'm glad that he was able to accomplish the things that he did, and to be able to change his family’s life. And I pray for his continuing success...until you meet the king. I am the ultimate king of the heavyweight division. There will be one champion, one face, one name. And he goes by the name of Deontay Wilder.
So how about the other guy in the ring with Ruiz?
[Anthony] Joshua. What can I say about him? I like Joshua. He's a good fighter. But the way he lost? For me, he quit. When you’re spitting out your mouthpiece, that's just a mechanism to get more oxygen, to get more time to rest. This man went straight to his corner. You're not supposed to do this. This is not a time-out. And the ref told him, "This ain't no time-out." But he's used to that, because he's used to getting away with certain things in his country. At one point, he took the tape off his own gloves, and they gave him time to sit up there and do that. Like, where do you do that? This is boxing. So he spit his mouthpiece out. He walks to the neutral corner. And the ref said, "Son, come. This is not a break. This is not a break." And he’s still with his hands up, like, "Oh, come on, come on."
The other indication that he was done: He looks over to his corner as the ref is talking. That's another indication, right? I'm trying to find a way out. The ref gave him multiples of chances. And then he just waved it off. And the first thing you do as a fighter, of course, because we're the biggest actors there is, when a referee waves it off and you're looking at your corner, the first thing you're going to do is act like you still want it.
At least pretend.
You've got to. You've got to. And for me, he quit. He gave up. He was looking for a way out, because he didn't have no answer for Ruiz. They overlooked him, and he had a lot of pressure coming here to America. This is the Mecca of boxing here, in America. All the money is here in America. And they overlooked it, because they was on their high horse, with what they was doing in England. But it ain't over for him. Just because he lost one time, that doesn't mean it's over. A lot of people think it's be-all, end-all when you lose. But that's not the case. That's how you become—
That's easy for you to say when you haven't lost yet.
Yeah, but I don't dwell on the undefeated record. You know what I mean? Because the biggest task is when you fall, how you get up. Sometimes standing on top could be easy. You can maneuver your way around, stand on the top. Guys do it. Sometimes guys fight just once a year. For me, it's not so much about my undefeated record. I love it, but I don't praise it. I give people the facts: 41-0, 40 knockouts. And I’ve defended it nine times. I'm in with the greats now. You know what I mean? I'm up there with the greats. But for me, it's all about my accomplishment in the sport. That's the beauty of being undefeated, the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, and I won't stop until I do that. The last one that did it was Holyfield. No—Lennox Lewis, I think. And I won't stop until I get that. I want to accomplish that. I want to remake history, and that's my ultimate goal in boxing. We've been marinating. It took me almost 11 years. It will be 11 years in November.
Is there a concern about being too patient? Because if you sit back and then Joshua loses to Ruiz, it sort of throws everything out of whack.
Well, I don't have no control, though. I don't have no control over what guys do in their fights, no matter what. I can't force anyone to fight me. If that was the case, I would have been the undisputed champion a long time ago. But unfortunately, I have no control over who they fight or what they do with their careers. So, boxing teaches you patience. You have no choice but to be patient in boxing.
You’ve got [Luis] Ortiz next. And Tyson Fury after that. During the last Ortiz fight, you looked great. Do you feel like you have something to prove when it comes to fighting Tyson Fury again?
Not necessarily. Just, I feel like it was taken away—my knockout. The referee said that he didn't go off of the rules of boxing. He went off of the spirit of boxing. And I would love to know what that means.
I'm an optimistic person. I'm rarely pessimistic about a situation. So, with this situation, it's going to be good. It's going to be great for the next time, and I can't wait to really do what I've got to do and knock him out again. But this time he's going to be counted out.
So that fight did go the distance. How does it feel to then turn around for your next fight against [Dominic] Breazeale and just end it?
It was an amazing feeling. I'm not going to lie. It was beautiful. It was a beautiful feeling, because so many things had occurred during that time. Not only was I happy to finally be able to get my hands on an individual that had been talking for two years, dragging my name in the dirt, telling everybody that had an ear to listen false things about me—and you get sick and tired of it. I knew that I couldn't do...well, I wouldn't say I couldn't, but I was too smart to handle it in my way, street-wise. So why not make a hell of a lot of millions off it and whoop his ass in the ring?
I couldn't wait to get my hands on this guy. So, with that being said, I devoted myself back to boxing. Everything that I did to get me to become a champion—I lost touch, because it became easy for me. I was getting away with a lot of things. I was the champion. I’m super confident in my skills, in my ability, and my will to do things. And these guys know that I display something that they wish they had. I got the Eraser. So I can take a lot of risks. No matter if it’s the first round or the twelfth round. My power still lasts.
So maybe this is just something that you have to reckon with, because you have that kind of power, especially in your right hand. You said before the Breazeale fight, I'm allowed to kill a guy in this sport. Why wouldn’t I try? How serious were you when you said that?
I was very serious.
I don't take back no words that I've said. You won't ever hear me getting on no radio, no type of media platform, and say that I didn't mean what I said.
Right. But people reacted pretty strongly.
It's only when I say things that things go crazy, go viral. Because I've seen other guys say that to me. [Former opponent Bermane] Stiverne said it to me. Nothing happened. I've seen smaller guys in the division say it. Nothing happened. But for me, because I can, and I have the power to do so, people take me more seriously.
Photography/Directed by Matt Martin
Styled by Jon Tietz
Grooming by Barry White
Cinematography by Smokey Nelson
Video Editing by Michael Ruiz Unger
Originally Appeared on GQ