At the next level of experience below Arreola and Mitchell is the last U.S. Olympian to medal in the heavyweight division Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder, nicknamed for the medal he took in the 2008 Olympics. Wilder was a dark horse to even be in the Olympics, with an amateur career that totaled 35 fights he turned pro. Yet the fast learner did his country proud and gave a ray of hope to our heavyweight future with his win.
Since turning pro, he has been under the tutelage of manager/trainer Jay Deas who along with promoter Golden Boy and trainers Mark Breland and Russ Anber have brought Wilder to a 25-0 with 25 knockouts record. Now before you get excited about the record, you have to understand he had little amateur experience. The record is misleading in that each fighter represents a specific aspect Wilder’s matchmaker wants to emphasize.
If you had to draw a prototype to beat a Klitschko brother, who stands at 6’6” and 6’8” respectively, it would be Wilder. At 6’7” with an 84” reach, solid balance and coordination, Wilder is physically everything you’d want to bring to the table. But there are questions.
“You first measure it in the gym,” Anber told Maxboxing.com. “When you start to see what you want to see in the gym, then you test it in a fight. If you see it and you see improvement, then you continue to take those steps up.”
Anber hooked up with Wilder last Thanksgiving through longtime friend Deas. Anber worked the corner for Wilder and lent a hand whenever possible ever since. Anber took time out to watch Wilder train in Tuscaloosa this year as well Los Angeles when Wilder readied Audley Harrison for his one minute knockout by David Price. Most recently, Wilder and Anber were in Austria working with Wladimir Klitschko.
The argument about Wilder is that he is not fighting anyone. At 25-0 with 25 knockouts, the thing he is missing out on is rounds. Wilder has seen the fourth round once. As one top matchmaker says “No one learns anything from first round knockouts.” But Wilder insists he isn’t worried. He will get pushed to the limit in time.
“I feel like in the gym is where I do the hard work,” Wilder explained. “When it is time for me to compete in front of the crowd, that’s just a treat. That’s just something to have fun with for me. I tell people all the time that I am not trying to go in and knock nobody out or am thinking ’I am going to try and get this guy out of there.’ If I hit you, it just happens, man. I still to this day don’t know the [depth] of my power. I’ve always been a strong kid. All my life I have always been naturally strong. Even in the Olympics, My jab was stronger than the majority of my teammates’ right hand feel. Let alone my right hand. I don’t know it’s hard to tell if I am learning because I’m not going rounds. I know what I can do. We go hard in the gym. Going rounds, I can definitely go.”
Anber politely pointed out the media’s impatience and hypocrisy in demanding so much from a fighter who has had relatively little experience.
“I have to be frank. I am a little disappointed in the media’s impatience. ‘When you going to fight somebody? You’re knocking everyone out." I went down that road with [David Lemieux] as you well know. [Writer’s note: Lemieux and his promoter wanted to fight Marco Antonio Rubio for a middleweight title shot eliminator. Anber disagreed, citing a lack of experience at that level. He was overruled and Rubio knocked Lemieux out.] “I am from the old school of development. I know what it takes to develop a fighter. It’s not just building up a record. It takes a lot more than that. The people who are impatient about him fighting someone because he is 25-0 with 25 knockouts, if he takes a step up sooner than he should and gets beat, all those people who said he should have made a step up will say "See? He never fought nobody. He never fought anybody on his way to the top. They built up a record and never fought anybody.’ I would never want that to happen to him." This is what I told people when I down in Tuscaloosa. ’Be patient. You’ll enjoy celebrating a champion with a parade down Main Street of Tuscaloosa instead of reading about a fighter who came up short.”
Wilder graduated from high school in Tuscaloosa in 2004 with either wide receiver or basketball dreams. But family issues pressed him towards boxing. He started boxing in 2005 and at age 27, Wilder started boxing in 2005 and won the National Golden Gloves two years later. With just 21 fights under his belt, he won Olympic bronze. In short, Deontay Wilder is a fast learner.
“He is gifted in the ability to learn physical things,” says Anber. “I think he would have probably excelled in any sport, taught properly. I noticed in Tuscaloosa and in L.A. that when I brought something new to him, things that he had never tried or practiced before, he got it. It clicked. That tells me right away that this guy has an ability to learn and his comfort time with it was really short. He was able to understand it, know why it worked and was able to implement it. So when I saw that, I said to Jay, we have to be very careful with this guy because he will do what we tell him to do. We have to make sure we’re telling him the right things. I got a great feeling from him, especially in L.A. When he was doing something, he would be talking to me in the ring "Oh I get it. I understand." He has an ability to learn and implement. I think that is where I think he can succeed.”
Fast learner or not, there are certain things innate to fighters who start young that are not to fighters who come to the sport late.
“It’s not fair to say why the others have failed. What I will say is that good heavyweights, most of the time, learn to box before they actually become heavyweights. That’s a general rule. It’s proven to be successful with some of the greatest fighters of all time.”
One of the things fighters who start young and end up heavyweights learn is how to relax being hit. Two years ago October against Harold Sconiers, Wilder hit the deck hard after an uppercut from out of nowhere by Sconiers, who despite his 17-20-2 record could bang a little bit. Wilder took forever to recover and it was definitely a red flag. But that was two years and thirteen fights ago. As with all prospects, the questions will appear, like Sconiers uppercut, from out of nowhere. With proper gym preparation, Wilder will have the answers the way he did that night against Sconiers. Though on shaky legs, Wilder was able to stop Sconiers in four rounds.
“I’ve been taught to hit and not be hit. I try to abide by that rule as much as possible,” said wilder. “Nobody really wants to get hit. There’s going to be a lot of question marks about me especially with what people haven’t seen. That doesn’t mean I can’t take what’s coming just because people haven’t seen it. I am comfortable in everything I do whether it taking a punch or giving it. I am super confident in what it is. Everyone’s questions will get answered on their own. Again, I am super confident. I don’t want get into getting in the way of my way of learning because I have to prove to the world. Sooner or later it will happen without me putting pressure on myself. I don’t want to get into that mind frame of defending against every negative thing I hear.”
Wilder has been busy this year as usual, fighting five times and preparing for his next bout in December against Kelvin Price (no relation to David). He likes it, he says. It keeps him sharp and moving steadily along in his education. What he is learning in the Harrison, Klitschko camps, as well as his own, is what it is to be on the next level. Every day he learns. When he first turned pro, he was all over the place, throwing the kitchen sink at opposition. I used to call him Deontay “Could He Be” Wilder. The name was fitting. But in recent fights, his sense of range has gotten better, the jab looks solid and the power, who hitting hand-picked opposition, does the trick every time. While it may not be on fight fans’ preferred timeline, we might have something here eventually.
“You definitely hit the nail on the head. Early on I was a wild guy [in the ring]. I was trying to please the crowd, entertain or whatever,’ said Wilder. “Maturing inside and outside the ring, just getting in front of different crowds, [learning] every fight, it’s helped a lot. And with Russ’ help, too, I am a much, much calmer fighter. I see more things. I pick off more shots. I am still developing into a great fighter. The world, man, they better be ready for Deontay Wilder.”
Wilder is coming into his physical prime. How far off his boxing prime is remains to be seen. Is he a fighter that you build towards a Klitschko fight or is he one that you groom to be the future?
“I am looking for next year,” said Wilder of a Klitschko fight. “I am starting to get on networks now. I definitely want an opportunity to fight them and take over the division. They are the best the division has to offer. I want to be able to say ’I have fought them before" to see how I will do against them. They have all the heavyweights coming to them. They can do it. It would be an honor just to get to fight them. So I think everything is coming around at the right amount of time. You know, I don’t see anyone else doing it. I don’t see another fighter, I look around, in my eyes . . . I don’t see nobody else doing it. I come with a different type of hardware than everyone else.”
Hardware is great. Knowing how and when to use each part of it is another. Michael Grant looked like the guy. He was a giant heavyweight, too. But this thing takes time. Lennox Lewis primed in his 30’s. Wladimir Klitschko did as well. There is no rush here; just the quiet building of America’s next heavyweight hopeful.
“A lot of people are ready to have the next American heavyweight. They want to rush it. They want to see it rushed but we have had a game plan since the start of my career. We have been sticking with it,” said Wilder. “I have had to take my hourglass many times and turn it and start it back over. We want to make sure we go into the fight and win it not just say ’I was there.’ It’s easy to say I fought for a title. But you didn’t win. You’re just a name that can say ’I fought for a title.’ Just like you can say ’I went to the Olympics. Not a lot of people can say they medaled. I medaled. I don’t want to just fight for a championship. I want to win it. We’re taking the right amount of time. I am happy with the way I came. I’m ready.”