On that January 2015 night he won the WBC heavyweight title in Las Vegas, Deontay Wilder mused optimistically about not only his future, but the future of the heavyweight division.
On Jan. 17, 2015, it was fair to say the heavyweights were the Cleveland Browns of boxing: Losers with precious little fan interest and widely considered a joke.
“Big fights,” Wilder said that night, rubbing his hands together at the prospect. “Action. Excitement. Knockouts. That’s what everyone wants to see and that’s what I’m going to give them.”
Wilder was 29 then and naïve to the ways of big-time boxing. He has learned a lot about sports and patience, and life, in the nearly four years since. Those epic matches he mused about? All of them were scuttled. Oh, there were plenty of knockouts, but Wilder spent as much of his time talking about negotiations and fights that weren’t happening as he did discussing those he was taking part in.
That will change on Dec. 1 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, when Wilder faces linear champion Tyson Fury in a Showtime pay-per-view match. Wilder called out Fury on the night he won the title by defeating Bermane Stiverne, and it’s finally become a reality.
Fury battled depression and a drug problem after scoring the biggest upset in recent heavyweight history on Nov. 28, 2015, when he bested the legendary Wladimir Klitschko. He was eventually stripped of his titles and was out of boxing for 30 months.
Wilder spent much of his time chasing Anthony Joshua, who holds the IBF-WBA-WBO belts, and, earlier this year, offered him a guarantee of $50 million that wasn’t good enough to get Joshua to sign.
Then, one day, Wilder received a phone call.
“Fury contacted me first, and he said, ‘I’m sorry for what is happening to you and that coward didn’t want to fight, but I promised you a fight a long time ago, so let’s make the biggest fight in the world happen,’” Wilder said.
“I was like, ‘Man, for real?’ I’d heard so many times, this fight was going to happen and that fight was going to happen, and it never did. And now this man is calling me and say he wants to fight? Oh yeah. Let’s do this, baby!”
A Wilder-Joshua fight would still be huge, but with Fury in the fold, Wilder can make his own way. If he scores an impressive victory over the unbeaten Fury, he’ll create his own leverage.
Fury is massively popular in the U.K., and the British public for years was clamoring to see a Fury-Joshua fight. Wilder has already developed a bond with a portion of the British fanbase who have reached out to him to offer their support for his inability to land a bout with Joshua.
“Boxing is huge there and those people understand,” Wilder said. “They can see what is in front of their face.”
If Wilder wins, he’ll be the linear champion – the man who beat the man – and he’ll have that much more leverage to bring to the table. Joshua plans to fight on April 13 in London and while indications are that his team sees Wilder as the front-runner, it is certainly not a given.
Wilder, though, is so overjoyed by getting one of the fights he’s chased for so long that nothing seems to anger him.
There are more talented heavyweights already at the top and on the rise than there have been in perhaps 20 years. It’s been since the 1990s, when Hall of Famers Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe were all at their peaks that the heavyweights have had this kind of talent and depth.
There are questions still to be answered about all of the heavyweights, including Wilder, Fury and Joshua. But Wilder feels he’s about to deliver on that promise he made as a newly minted champion back in 2015.
“People want a show and I am going to deliver the kind of show they want to see, you mark my words,” Wilder said. “It’s not just this fight, this one time. It’s what I do and what I will do for as long as I step between those ropes. Most definitely, we’re going to give the people reason to love the heavyweights again.”
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