Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder aims to give himself an early birthday present by regaining his WBC heavyweight crown from England’s Tyson “The Gypsy King” Fury.
Wilder is inspired for his third fight with Fury in part by Muhammad Ali, who became a two-time heavyweight champion on Oct. 30, 1974, with an upset, eighth-round knockout of previously unbeaten George Foreman.
Wilder (42-1-1, 41 KOs) gets a shot at redemption on Oct. 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on ESPN+/Fox joint pay- per-view against the 33-year-old Fury (30-0-1, 21 KOs), whom he battled to a draw in a December 2018 defense of his title before being dethroned in their February 2020 rematch via two-knockdown, seventh-round stoppage.
“Not only will I celebrate my 36th birthday on Oct. 22, but it’s also the same month Ali became a heavyweight champion for the second time,” said Wilder, who won the crown on Ali’s 73rd birthday on Jan. 17, 2015 with a unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne.
“Muhammad Ali became a two-time heavyweight champion by not only defeating George Foreman, but by knocking him out, which is something almost nobody gave him a realistic shot at doing. People are saying the same thing about me after my last fight with Fury. But just like Ali, I’m going to reintroduce myself to the world as the two-time heavyweight champion.”
Fury landed in Las Vegas from England over the weekend. His trainer, Javan Sugar Hill-Steward, said the champion is holding off from meeting the media.
“Tyson is not doing any interviews. He is just waiting to fight on Oct. 9,” said Hill-Steward, nephew of the late Hall of Fame trainer, Emanuel Steward. “We are both confident and ready. Closer to the fight during fight week, I’m sure we will be talking.”
Four-time heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield watched from ringside as Wilder overcame Stiverne despite injuring his right hand in the third round. Wilder-Stiverne I was the first heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas since November 1996 and June 1997, when Holyfield recorded consecutive victories over Mike Tyson by 11th-round knockout and third-round disqualification in the infamous “bite fight.”
“To be there, and to see us [Americans] get one, that was kind of stunning,” said Holyfield, who turns 59 on Oct. 19. “As an ambassador of the sport, you wanted to see that.”
Wilder became America’s first heavyweight titleholder since Shannon Briggs in 2007, fulfilling a vow made to his daughter, Naieya, who was born on March 20, 2005 with the congenital disorder spina bifida and was told she might never walk.
Wilder entered the first fight with Fury following a three-knockdown first-round stoppage of Stiverne in November 2017 and a two-knockdown, 10th-round stoppage of previously unbeaten southpaw Luis Ortiz in March 2018.
Leading up to his rematch with Fury, Wilder scored a first-round knockout of Dominic Breazeale in May 2019, and a come-from-behind, one-knockdown seventh-round stoppage of Ortiz that November.
The 6-foot-9 Fury earned the lineal title in 2015 from Wladimir Klitschko with a unanimous decision victory, escaped with a draw against Wilder despite being floored once each in the ninth and 12th, and dropped the 6-foot-7 “Bronze Bomber” in the third and fifth rounds of his victory.
“This fight will be a reversal,” said Wilder. “In the end, my hands will be raised in triumph.”
A native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Wilder is the second-most popular sports figure in his hometown. Wilder wants to mimic the winning tradition of the University of Alabama football team, which claims 18 national titles.
Wilder has fought nine times in his home state, with four of those battles being sold-out title defenses.
Over a 20-month span, Birmingham, Alabama was home to Wilder’s championship stoppages in 2015 of Eric Molina (June) and Johann Duhaupas (September) in the ninth and 11th rounds, another in July 2016 of Chris Arreola in the eighth and in February 2017 over Gerald Washington in the fifth. Wilder fought Molina at Bartow Arena and the other three at Legacy Arena.
Wilder’s preparation under new trainer Malik Scott alternates between camps at New Era Boxing and Fitness in Northport, Alabama, and “my facility on Bomb Squad Island on my home estate,” Wilder said.
“As always, my training camp is in Alabama, and there’s no place like home,” said Wilder, whose corner will comprise Scott, career-long manager Jay Deas, Damarius Hill and Don House. “There are no distractions at all. No matter where I go, when I’m training, people respect that. I get motivation, energy and encouragement from all types of people.”
Wilder financially supports the Skyy South recreation and boxing facility, which is free for kids in Coffeeville, Alabama, said Deas.
The former champion’s presence encourages local fighters such as Junior Olympic National Champion Obed Bartee of Huntsville, Alabama, who is black, and female three-time National Golden Gloves champion Jadalie Medeiros of Dothan, Alabama, who is Latina, said Deas.
“Deontay’s inspired people across the board, whether you’re black, white, Hispanic or Asian,” said Deas. “Joe Louis, Evander Holyfield, Earnie Shavers, Frankie Randall and Tracy Harris Patterson were all Alabama-born fighters, but Deontay’s local influence is so powerful because he’s really the first fighter born locally and to accomplish everything while staying home.”
Wilder was at the White House in May 2018 when then-President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Jack Johnson, America’s first black heavyweight champion. The pardon came nearly 100 years after Johnson was convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”
“We know the color of our skin and that racism exists from looking at what’s going on in the world,” said Scott, 40. ”Deontay understands that this fight is much bigger than him. Deontay has not just Alabama, but African [Americans] on his back.”
Johnson endured racial epithets and death threats while dominating white opponents and living an opulent lifestyle outside the ring. Johnson served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 on the federal charge, and was 68 when he died in a car crash in North Carolina in 1946.
“Jack Johnson certainly had it a lot worse than I, but as a black athlete like Johnson, I want to inspire as a positive role model and motivator,” said Wilder. “It’s my mission to be a hero to my people. That was the mission of people like Muhammad Ali and some of our greatest black innovators and inventors.”
A 19-year-old Wilder dropped out of Shelton State Community College to support Naieya, taking one job driving a truck and another at a restaurant. He turned to boxing at a friend’s urging, winning an Olympic bronze medal in 2008.
Now 16, Naieya is the eldest of Wilder’s five girls and three boys. Wilder recently gave her a Volkswagen hardtop with a sunroof as a gift.
Wilder’s church-going minister grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, repeatedly told him as a child he was “special, anointed and ordained” before her death in 2010 at the age of 76.
“Naieya ignited my journey,” said Wilder. “But my legacy was prophesied by my grandmother.”
In October 2012, Wilder spent his 27th birthday serving as the primary sparring partner for Klitschko in advance of the then-unified heavyweight champion’s unanimous decision victory over Mariusz Wach that November.
Wilder had been invited to Klitschko’s camp by the Ukrainian’s trainer Emanuel Steward, who named Wilder as Klitschko’s successor, calling him “The No. 1 best American prospect for winning the heavyweight title.”
“What are the chances Emanuel Steward would predict I would become the next American heavyweight champion, and that I’d do it on Ali’s birthday?” Wilder said of Steward, who was 68 when he died of cancer on Oct. 25, 2012, three days after Wilder’s birthday.
“It also happened in proximity to Martin Luther King’s birthday, which is Jan. 15. I became the world champion just like Emanuel Steward said. I am anointed like my grandmother said. These things don’t just continue to happen by coincidence as much as they’re happening in my life. I firmly believe all things happen in their appointed time.”
Even the loss to Fury?
Scott thinks so.
“It’s like God is asking Deontay, ‘Are you ready to go through an entire training camp and do it all over again?’” said Scott, a 6-foot-5 former contender Wilder stopped in 96 seconds in 2014. “Deontay’s grandmother never told him any of this was going to be easy. All of this is happening to him to see how badly he really wants it. We know we have a job to do and a mission to accomplish.”
Edited by Stan Chrapowicki and Matthew B. Hall
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