(Deontay Wilder fells Nicolai Firtha; credit: Tom Casino, Showtime)
Undefeated heavyweight Deontay Wilder (30-0, 30 KOs) is America’s best hope for heavyweight superstardom. The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist is on the verge of contention in what’s becoming an increasingly interesting heavyweight division. With Wladimir (37) and Vitali (41) Klitschko aging out sooner rather than later, Wilder and the new crop of heavyweights, men such as the Andy Ruiz, Bryant Jennings, Tyson Fury, David Price and Kubrat Paluv, will present interesting and exciting new matchups.
But like any up-and-comer, there’s some good, bad and ugly in Wilder’s game right now. Borrowing from the classic motif of the 1966 spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, here’s how it all shakes out.
Wilder has all the physical tools. He’s 6’7” tall, has an athletic build and is always in tiptop shape. Moreover, Wilder possesses incredible power. That’s something you can’t teach. You either have it, or you don’t. And Wilder has it. He’s knocked out all 30 of his opponents to date within four rounds.
Wilder has a good team around him. Manager Jay Deas seems to have the late-bloomer’s best interests at heart. He’s consistently moved Wilder through the ranks at a slow enough pace to help build his professional skills, and he’s consistently put the affable heavyweight into training camps as sparring partners with top-shelf heavyweights (most notably heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko). Trainer Mark Breland has made real strides with Wilder, too. His rough edges have consistently been smoothed out with each appearance in the ring. Perhaps most importantly, Breland has helped the lanky big man develop a stiff and solid jab, one that he employs regularly.
To his own credit, Wilder has been successful at every level of boxing he’s ever dared to compete at. His Olympic success came after less than three years as an amateur. While he’s moved at a snail’s pace as a professional, he’s done as well as he possibly could do against the competition he’s faced. It’s one thing to beat up 30 cab drivers. It’s another thing to knock every single one of them out. Moreover, Wilder seems to like fighting, and he is a genuinely likeable fellow outside of the ring (both are musts for hopeful stars).
The 28-year-old has faced lackluster competition. So while it may appear his future is bright, it certainly is no given at this point. Sure, he’s knocked out a myriad of heavy bags with arms, but his best wins remain over the type of fighters one needs to look good against in order to become a sure thing.
How bad is it? Wilder’s two best wins are probably his most recent efforts against the tough-but-overmatched Nicolai Firtha and his 2012 domination of the athletically gifted but unproved Kelvin Price. Seriously.
Against Firtha, Wilder showed patience after getting smacked back in the opening round by a stiff jab. He also showed an ability to fight well while moving away from his opponent. Firtha was all grit and determination, and he gave Wilder a couple of different looks. First, he bull-rushed in with forceful aggression. When that failed, Firtha tried boxing Wilder from the outside. In each instance, Wilder solved the riddle presented him without taking too much return fire.
Against Price, Wilder showed he has the ability to stand in against the most gifted of athletes. While Price is largely unheralded and might not amount to much as a pugilist, he was undefeated before facing Wilder for one reason: he’s a gigantic athletic wonder. Price stands 6’7” tall and is a former basketball and track star. Wilder easily dispatched him in just three rounds and looked to be at least on par with him as an athlete. Since taking the loss, Price has rebounded with a win over former contender Danny Williams.
The giant power puncher has a tremendous flaw in his game, and it’s something that’s sure to be exploited by quality opposition. Almost every time Wilder throws a straight right hand, he loads up on it as if he thought you just yelled something vulgar about his mother. That’s not altogether a bad thing, but what happens after is unforgivable. First, he brings back the punch in a roundabout way that leaves his chin out in the open for a counter. It’s so awkward that it looks as if it was something he used to do in order to show off but has now become a destructive habit. Second, Wilder commits the egregious sin of stepping straight back while he’s doing it. One of these flaws would be bad news for him. Both, if not corrected, will surely lead to a knockout loss to someone he should otherwise beat.
Something else to keep an eye on his Wilder’s life outside of the ring. He was arrested in May for reported battery of a female at a Las Vegas hotel. Wilder was set to face Dereck Chisora that July, but his inability to travel outside the United States after the incident led to the bout’s cancellation. Wilder later apologized to the victim and explained he believed he was being robbed at the time. Maybe that’s all it was. But while the event appears something out of character for Wilder and no other similar incidents have been reported since, it’s the kind of behavior that could easily end a career in a hurry. Wilder must stay away from this kind of behavior if his future is to remain intact.
The Final Cut
Wilder’s career is still on the upswing. Who knows how it will all turn out? Leone’s film, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, was originally received negatively by many critics. Since then, its popularity has grown to the point of being considered one of the better films ever made. In fact, famed director Quentin Tarantino hailed it as the best directed film ever made back in 2004.
The book is still out on Wilder. Will he enjoy such a future? Will he someday be considered one of the better heavyweights who ever lived? Or even be a champion? Or with he just become a necessary part of the scenery, a tumbleweed blown past us by the wind, while we wait on America’s next great heavyweight champion?