Deontay Wilder: Just Another Champ or Heavyweight’s Centrepiece?

In combat sports, time often flies. Focus is constantly being shifted to the next big fight, as fighter’s primes vanish in a sport in which one result can genuinely change everything. However, whilst much of the sport of Boxing continues in whirlwind fashion, it’s fair to say that Deontay Wilder’s now two year title reign hasn’t exactly led to the meteoric rise many expected. In fact, it’s very much believable that ‘The Bronze Bomber’ won his WBC crown over two years ago, as his career almost seems to have stalled. Why? A plethora of reasons, some of which were completely out of Wilder’s heavy hands. To understand the fighter’s spot in the now wide open Heavyweight division though, first we need to revisit Wilder’s initial night of glory.

It was January 2015, and over six years since Deontay Wilder’s professional debut. After 32 straight knockout wins it was now time to see if Wilder could make the leap from protected contender to official champion. That WBC crown no longer represented the world’s best at that time but the champion Bermane Stiverne was certainly a cut above his challenger’s prior opponents, and there was some question marks surrounding Wilder’s preparation for this major moment. Heading into his first world title bout, Wilder lacked any real quantity of recognisable names on his record, with two of his best wins coming against badly declined veterans Audley Harrison and Siarhei Liakhovich. Nonetheless just like in all of his other fights, Wilder did what was asked of him on those two nights, scoring first round knockouts on both occasions.

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That story was the same when Wilder earned his title shot too, as he wiped out Malik Scott in the very first round. Though undeniably flawed, Scott is an awkward customer with legitimate skills and he was finished in under 100 seconds, even if in slightly bizarre fashion. Regardless, whilst he had delivered with knockouts every time, Wilder now had to prove himself and the world had waited long enough. Though not exactly a feared destroyer, Stiverne was a respected fighter and had won his belt by stopping the historically tough Chris Arreola. The boxing public was split, many hoped for the young and exciting American to take back some of the Heavyweight landscape, but others expected and rooted for the undefeated challenger to be exposed after years of protection.

Aside from all the discussion though, on fight night Wilder showed range and versatility as he used genuine skills to keep Stiverne at distance with hard and snappy shots. Stiverne was admirably tough and brave in continually walking forward but was ultimately outmatched. Wilder was mature enough not to chase the knockout that had come in his 32 other professional bouts too, instead sticking to his plan and eventually winning a wide decision. For the first time in eight years, the U.S. had a share of the Heavyweight title and the man flying the flag was an engaging and exuberant puncher that had now shown that maybe, just maybe he was here to stay. In that 36 minutes against Stiverne, Wilder had displayed a skillset that at one time seemed absent from his game. With the world now at his feet, Wilder seemed set to emerge as Boxing’s new superstar.

One thing was for sure, a key to that ascension would be regular fights for the new champion and five months following his coronation, Wilder was back in the ring for his first defence. The announcement of Eric Molina as an opponent drew a predictable but somewhat understandable collective groan from many boxing fans. Back in his home state of Alabama, Wilder was expected to receive a hero’s welcome before quickly finishing Molina to score his first title defence. However, on fight night things wouldn’t go quite as seamlessly as a nervous-looking Wilder seemed overanxious, chasing the knockout. In fairness, barring a couple of sparing moments Wilder had been in complete control and in the end did close the show, but it wasn’t quite the spectacular showing many had expected and hoped for.

Either way, Wilder was still the Heavyweight champion and would once again return quickly, fighting three months later in September 2015. Back at home again, Wilder’s opponent would be the unheralded Johann Duhaupas which lead to more controversy surrounding the matchmaking of America’s Heavyweight champion. In fairness, though he didn’t make for much excitement on paper, Duhaupas would make for some thrills inside the ring as his toughness and bravery pushed Wilder’s offensive variety as well as tested his defence. Wilder was left with a badly swollen left eye but left the champion nonetheless, eventually drawing a stoppage in the 11th round. In truth, Duhaupas had likely been slightly disrespected before the bout and showed fight in creating an engaging Heavyweight affair. With two defences at home now under his belt, Wilder seemed positioned to finally make an attempt at taking over the Heavyweight division.

That very Heavyweight division would be completely changed just two months later too, when Tyson Fury shocked the world and outpointed long-time kingpin Wladimir Klitschko. That win earned Fury the majority of the title belts but more than that, Klitschko’s spot as the man considered the true Heavyweight champion of the world. Wilder understandably disputed that perception but for all the traditions that have vanished, respect in Boxing is still very much built on the idea of being the lineal champion and Fury was undeniably that. ‘The Bronze Bomber’ would once again be back in the ring soon regardless, fighting Artur Szpilka in January 2016. The choice of opponent garnered more criticism for Wilder but he had at least been active, defending the belt three times in the year after winning it. Aside from all of the negativity, the quite tricky Szpilka would give Wilder some issues in a back and forth affair before the fight came to a dramatic climax in the 9th round.

A perfectly timed Wilder right hand would floor his challenger brutally, leaving him completely unconscious. The knockout was a scary one and had somewhat erased some of the flaws that seemed prominent earlier on. The real story would come after the fight though, when the recently crowned champion Tyson Fury entered the ring and engaged in some trash talk with Wilder. After slaying the king, Fury was now here to make an impact in America and the man sitting at the top of his hit-list was Wilder. Though excitement was high, that potential clash would have to wait as Fury first had to rematch Klitschko. Nonetheless, with two youthful and energetic Heavyweight champions suddenly here, 2016 looked sure to be interesting at the very least. As Fury got set for his title rematch though, Wilder wouldn’t be able to simply stay active with a mediocre opponent, instead having to fight his revered and feared mandatory challenger: Alexander Povetkin.

Not only would Wilder be fighting a man many considered to be his toughest test by far though, he would also be doing it in Povetkin’s home country of Russia. However, the highly anticipated title clash wouldn’t come to fruition when just one week before fight night, Povetkin tested positive for banned substance Meldonium and suddenly, the fight was off. Whether you think Wilder had missed out on a chance to solidify himself or not, he couldn’t be blamed for this disappointment and simply moved on. Refusing to be halted, Wilder returned to the ring two months later to fight in Alabama once again, fighting Chris Arreola. Unsurprisingly Wilder would dominate, overcoming a broken hand and torn biceps to batter Arreola on the way to forcing a corner stoppage. It had been an impressive showing from the champion but his injuries meant that this would be his last fight of 2016.

What seemed set to be a pivotal year ended up being quite underwhelming for Wilder, even if the reasoning was far from all his fault. This Saturday night, Wilder returns after seven months off as he defends his belt against short notice opponent Gerald Washington. Lots has changed at Heavyweight since that last win, we have new champions and Wilder’s seemingly perfect dance partner Tyson Fury is now beltless and inactive. Wilder’s upcoming opponent Washington is an undefeated American Heavyweight fighter but the hype surrounding him is admittedly muted. Upsets happen in boxing but Wilder is definitely the clear favourite here and after this, will need big fights sooner rather than later. Wilder has proved that he is certainly talented but now it’s time to find out if he is just another champion or in fact, the centrepiece of the new Heavyweight era.

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