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Deontay Wilder is the right man in the right place at the right time.
The WBC heavyweight champion is everything that is right about boxing. If every fighter fought with the same ferocity, promoted with the same intensity and was filled with a similar passion, it would be impossible to get a ticket and television ratings would be through the roof.
Wilder successfully, and emphatically, defended his title on Saturday with a thunderous one-punch knockout of an overmatched Dominic Breazeale at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
He’s a joy to watch, even if he’s far from the most refined fighter who ever stepped between the ropes. If you’re looking for a fighter to be on his toes, to parry shots, to slip punches, to display ring generalship, Wilder isn’t your man.
Wilder isn’t much into “the manly art of self defense,” which is how boxing has been referred to so frequently over the years.
But I suspect that, given a chance, a majority of people would take Wilder’s style of fighting over any other: He comes to fight, to finish, to throw concussive blows from start until the inevitable frightening finish.
Wilder has often been reckless in the past, winging punches from all angles and leaving himself vulnerable to counters. Against Breazeale, Wilder was far tighter and fought within himself.
And yet, because of the thunder he carries in his hands, he ended it in just two minutes and 17 seconds and left the crowd awed by the swift and violent conclusion.
Wilder leading renaissance in heavyweight division
Wilder is a brilliant self-promoter, though he carried things way too far in the build-up to the fight with Breazeale. He repeatedly kept saying he wanted a body bag on his record, and wouldn’t back down even when told he was wrong to say that.
It was a misguided but honest attempt to drum up interest in his fight.
But he doesn’t need to go to the low-rent district to sell: Everything about him screams superstar.
He’s engaging and accessible and it’s simply because of the decline in boxing in general and the heavyweight division in particular that the public doesn’t have a better handle on him.
He’s a fun guy to chat with, and he cares ever so much about doing the right thing. He wants the big fights — he always has — and he’s been frustrated, as we all have been, by the frequently internecine negotiations to put together a rematch with Tyson Fury or, more importantly a bout with IBF-WBA-WBO champion Anthony Joshua.
Boxing has been plagued forever by the lack of leadership and structure at the top. There is no commissioner’s office and so there is no legal mechanism in place to make the fights that the public wants to see and which would most benefit the sport’s overall health.
It hasn’t changed from the early days, and it has no barrier to entry. Besides the fighters, there have always been far too many people with their hands out and these people are often the ones who prevent fights from being made.
Once in a while, though, there are special talents who rise above it, and that’s where Wilder comes in.
He’s at the head of a renaissance in the heavyweight division. For the first time since the early-to-mid 1990s, there is legitimate talent in the division.
But it starts at the top, where Wilder is now 41-0-1 with 40 knockouts after his destruction of Breazeale. Joshua is the sport’s biggest draw because of a massive fan base in England, and he’s 22-0 with 21 knockouts. You suspect the best is yet to come with Joshua, who doesn’t turn 30 until Oct. 15.
There is depth in the division for the first time in eons, and there is a charismatic, engaging knockout artist sitting at the top of it.
That is a recipe for success.
How boxing can capitalize on Wilder’s star power
Two decades ago, Nike came up with a clever marketing campaign, “Chicks dig the longball,” taking advantage of the presence of sluggers like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
It could be altered for boxing to be, “Everyone loves knockouts.”
There is something magical about seeing a fight end in an instant, with a short and powerful cross on the chin. The legendary heavyweight champion Joe Louis was renowned for throwing six-inch crosses that could knock an opponent out. While Wilder’s punch went longer than six inches, it was succinct and compact and devastatingly effective.
Someone needs to build a marketing campaign for and around Wilder. He needs to be exposed to more than just the boxing public, because he’s got that kind of personality that attracts people to him once they get to know him.
He needs to drop the nonsense about killing people, and alluded to that in the ring on Saturday after turning the lights out on Breazeale.
“Everything just came out of me tonight,” Wilder said. “I know it’s been a big build-up to this fight. There was a lot of animosity, a lot of chaos. There was a lot of hatred between us and there were a lot of words that were said. It just came out tonight, and this is what makes boxing so great.
“I had so much inside I had to endure and that I had to overcome, even with the training. There were many times my body was hurting. I just told Breazeale I love him and of course I wanted to see him go home to his family. I know we say some things we mean sometimes, but then when you get into a fight and you settle your differences as men and you hold these gloves, this is what the sport is all about.”
He’s a guy who is good for the sport, and for sports in general.
A Wilder-Joshua fight will generate worldwide interest and would be boxing’s biggest event since Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao met in 2015.
If it doesn’t happen, every single last one of the people involved, from promoters to managers to advisers, should be permanently banned from this sport.
The fight would be huge.
And Deontay Wilder is too good and too fun to waste.
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