As talent-ridden boxing's heavyweight division is, a large shadow of performance enhancing drug usage and failed drug tests has loomed over the sport's blue-chip division and no boxer has been more of a victim of that shadow than Deontay Wilder.
His last few opponents have two things in common: getting knocked out by Wilder and being last minute-replacements after their original opponents either failed drug tests or violated the WBC's Clean Boxing Program policy. Such instances have frustrated Wilder to the point he considered leaving the sport. He even promised he would retire from the sport if he had lost his last fight against Bermane Stiverne last November.
"It just saddens me. Man, it just saddens me. It makes me reevaluate my career. It almost made me lose the love of boxing for a little bit as well too because of certain things and activities that has been known in this sport with these guys avoiding or wanting to get on bad substances when they know they're not supposed to be taking it in the first place. That's the thing about it. You take [drugs] in the first place, and you make up excuses, and then the blame is pointed at me. It's starting to sicken me," Wilder said back in late October before he knocked out Stiverne in less than three minutes in his last fight.
Four-and-a-half months later, some of those feelings still reside inside of the unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion as he is about to make his next title defense on March 3 against Luis Ortiz, a fellow knockout artist who was the most recent of Wilder's past opponents to violate the WBC's Clean Boxing Program weeks before the two were originally supposed to fight last year.
"Sometimes I still feel that way, but also I have to face reality as well too that these guys are going to do it. They're going to do it and these organization makes it worse because they allow them to do it because they bring them back in without suffering any really no type of consequences behind their actions," Wilder told Fightful during a conference call.
In the past few months, there is perhaps no bigger critic of boxers taking performance enhancing drugs than Wilder, who has said he never even considered taking drugs and cheat.
Even though Wilder has claimed to have never taking PEDs and has never failed a drug test, his career has been affected by this issue. His last three scheduled opponents, Ortiz, Andrzej Wawrzyk and Alexander Povetkin, all failed drug tests before the fight, forcing promoters to scramble for a replacement fighter to face Wilder. Although Wilder has passed every test he's had in the ring with flying colors, Wilder's lengthy championship reign does not carry the same weight as the reign of a certain fellow undefeated heavyweight champion from across the Atlantic.
With the birth of his first child recently happening, Wilder does understand why some boxers fight for the sake of their families, but he still offers no sympathy for those that cheat the integrity of the sport. Most recently, Raymundo Beltran, a boxer who has been caught taking PEDs, won the WBO lightweight title, is fighting not just for his livelihood, but for his family and their future in staying in the United States.
Still, not all boxers have as noble causes as Beltran's and Wilder questions any athlete's reasons for not taking a drug-free route to the top of the sport.
"Everybody wants to feed their family; I understand but how can you say you a man when you take PEDs? When you cheat, when you try to do things to give you that advantage to try to get on top of the game, it doesn't work that way," Wilder said.
But at this point, Wilder is more than used to the constant changes in his professional career. It's a frustrating reality that Wilder faces each day. As much as things seemingly change surrounding his opponents and whether or not they'll even make it to their scheduled fight, one thing has always stayed consistent: Wilder's intents on fighting fellow undefeated world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in what could be the biggest heavyweight fight in years.
Wilder has been issuing challenges to Joshua for several months only to fall on the deaf ears of both Joshua and his promoter Eddie Hearn. With both Wilder and Joshua fighting in the month of March, the timing seems to finally be just right for the two superstars to fight later this year, provided they both win their respective fights. Such a fight would be the first time in boxing's heavyweight division that the WBA, WBC, WBO, IBF and Ring Magazine titles would presumably be on the line in one fight.
"Hearn's a little more eager than Joshua because he doesn't have to go into the ring and get hurt. It's going to be easier for him to talk. He says things like, ' Anthony will knock him out in three rounds.' Then make the fight already, you know? We ain't waiting, we're still doing what we do, but make the fight already. With this whole Ortiz situation, I came to realize that some of these people don't want to fight. They say they want to fight, but they don't want to fight. That's the fear factor. That's the story of my life," Wilder told FIghtful last year.
Failed drug tests, fighters avoiding fights and behind-the-scenes politics will all mean nothing if Wilder fails in his upcoming test against Ortiz, arguably Wilder's toughest fight of his boxing career. In the face of constant roadblocks, Wilder has kept up his confidence and still firmly believes that he is the best heavyweight in the world.
"I say what I'm going to do and I deliver. I give you results. I'm very confident of what I say no matter what nobody may feel or what they may say. No. I don't have to deal with none of that because it's already there. I've showed you 39 times, 39 knockouts. This is about to be my 40th fight with 39 KOs. I'm a knockout artist. That's what I come to do and that's what I will do. I promise you that. Promise. Promise. I promise," Wilder exclaimed.
The WBC champion knows that many in the boxing community don't view him as polished a fighter as Joshua is and his last few opponents might have something to do with. Instead of facing legitimate world-class heavyweights such as Ortiz and Povetkin, Wilder has had to settle for either fringe contenders such as Chris Arreola and Gerald Washington or boxers past their prime such as Stiverne.
This is the new reality that Wilder faces. As good as today's heavyweight division may seem, performance enhancing drugs have sullied the division and in turn, Wilder's career. The lack of any real competition in Wilder's last few fights have lowered some people's opinions of him while Joshua is being lauded as the sport's next superstar after knocking out future Hall of Famer Wladimir Klitschko.
Even with an incredible performance against Ortiz, Wilder knows that in order to get the universal respect that he believes he deserves, he's going to have to go through Joshua. But first, he'll have to prove once more to the boxing world that he can beat anybody that steps into the ring with him, regardless of whether or not they are taking performance enhancing drugs.
Wilder vs. Ortiz will headline a Showtime Championship Boxing card at the Barclays Center on March 3, Wilder's second straight main event fight at the venue.