Seeing Wilder speak at press conferences where he is either singing or simply giving great quote, one can’t help but be reminded of Michael Grant, that last great heavyweight hopeful who was sacrificed to Lennox Lewis long before he was ready. Like Wilder, Grant came to the sport late and has spent a journeyman career learning everything he didn’t as a basketball player growing up.
Wilder’s co-trainer and manager, Jay Deas understands what he has. There is a lot of talent to be mined and honed in the 26-0, 20 knockouts Wilder. Hence bringing in one of the greatest technical fighters boxing has ever seen, 1984 Golden Medal winner and former world champion Mark Breland. A 6’2” welterweight, Breland knows a little something about how to be the tallest man in the division.
“My theory is to use the height different to keep a guy on the outside,” Breland told Maxboxing.com “You won’t have any problems if you’re a tall guy like Deontay. Nothing fancy. What do you want to be fancy for? Look at the Klitschkos. It’s basic. The first thing they teach you, that’s their style. Throw a jab, right hand. Just keep the guys on the outside. He’s 6’7". He should never bob and weave.”
Wilder turned pro in 2008 and Breland in one capacity or another, has been there with him at the behest of Deas. The two met because Deas had a vast collection of fights and offered tape to Breland who has trained Vernon Forrest as well.
“When we were at the Olympic trials, Mark had Danny Jacobs and I had Deontay,” Deas told Maxboxing.com And so we got to talking. I said ’Mark, you don’t know me or anything but I was a guy growing up that had 4,000-5,000 fights on tape.’ I was that kid. I said "If there is anything you don’t have, let me know.’ He starts telling me all these fights and in my mind I’m like ’I have that one. I have that one. I have that one.’ Probably everyone tells him this. But I sent the fights to him and he got back to me. We started talking. So then I asked (co-manager) Shelly Finkel what he thought about Mark coming in and working with us. He’s been there. Shelly liked the idea. So that is what we have done. Mark has been a part of almost every fight.”
Another member of the team is veteran trainer and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment, Russ Anber. “Over time . . . I stop cuts. I’m not the best in the world at it but I wanted somebody that was really proficient. Russ Anber’s name came up. I met Russ. He’s also a great hand wrapper. So I met Russ. We clicked and that is the team.”
With the right men on deck, Wilder has the team around him to guide him through wars that are surely brewing in a young but developing nicely heavyweight division.
“Mark will take the lead in the corner. I’ll be the second. Russ will be the cut man. It’s all chemistry,” said Deas. “As much ego as the fighter needs to have, in the corner you need to have a lack of ego. Everyone is like "I was there from day one! want to be the one!" In that minute, Mark gets across a point, in a very, very precise succinct way.”
Speaking to Deas and Breland and watching them interact, it’s clear they love their work together. Wilder’s face lit up
When discussing Anber’s contributions in the gym and his hand wrap skills. Anber also gives a fine report of Wilder, concurring with Breland that the key for Wilder is not first round knockouts like his recent one punch KO of Kelvin Price.
“He’s progressed a lot to where well, he was real clumsy at one time,” explained Breland. “And he threw punches (wide). Now we are getting his legs and hands to follow each other. The jab is coming much better. The right hand? He can throw that right hand. We’re just trying to get him a little more coordinated and to just calm down. Don’t tense up. Just relax. The more relaxed you are the much better your punches come out. Other than that I just keep telling him to keep jabbing. Keep jabbing.”
Breland, a tall welterweight, is a big proponent of the jab. A fighter in the fabulous heyday of the 80’s, Breland recalled learning from a dearly departed master.
“I remember watching Emanuel Steward when Tommy and I used to spar,” said Breland. “I’d watch them do certain things. With a tall fighter, you teach them to keep [fighters at bay with the jab]. A guy is leaning in and you are just jabbing and jabbing. He’s got to come in and [throws the right hand hidden safely on the shoulder. Mark Breland still has it] and boom. Right there. I am trying to instill the same thing in Deontay. [The opponent’s] gotta come to you.”
“You know the saying,” smiled Deas. “If you have a gun and he’s got a knife, don’t run up and shoot him.”
Breland, like all gifted athletes attempting to translate their particular genius into not only words but employable lessons, learns by watching.
“When I first started training guys, I would think about what I would do. I would do this or that. So now, I just translate to another fighter ’I think you should do this,” explained Breland. “I look at mechanics much longer. It’s a thing where I look at like ’OK. Certain things he can do. And certain things he can’t.’ I fought the same way [as Wilder]. I can’t fight short. I’m a tall guy. It’s much easier to train him [because of that].”
Breland said that Wilder’s late arrival to boxing shouldn’t hold him back. It’s hard for me to forget seeing Harold Sconiers rock Wilder two years ago. But to his credit, Wilder got off the canvas to win by knockout. That grit goes back to his Olympic run where he through the trials he came from behind to win in all of his fights. Some things, like will to win, you cannot teach. Unfortunately you can’t teach a good chin, either. Going forward, it should be interesting to see how that plays out for Wilder.
“The difference between Deontay and Seth Mitchell is [Mitchell] came from football,” said Breland. “It’s different for a guy who learns how to be hit in boxing versus a guy who learn to get with a helmet on. [The Sconiers fight] made him more conscious of where he needs to be so that he doesn’t get hit [unnecessarily].”
There have been cries for Wilder to step up to the next level. It’s a bit premature, in my opinion. Step up, yes. Step all the way up? No way. Feints, a consistent jab, head movement, what happens when he gets hit consistently, among many other questions remain to be asked and answered. Ten, eleven fights, maybe. For now, Breland and company are working on building a fighter. Not a record.
“Calming him down when he gets hit or hurts someone,” explained Breland, who agreed the aim is not necessarily the Klitschkos in 2013. “No, no. He’s got time. He is only 27 years old. My thing is, get more fights under his belt. I’m looking to fight a Michael Grant. He’s a tall guy. He’s not wild. Fighting a guy like that, he will show you [where you are weak]. [Deontay] has to learn how to remain calm. When hit you a guy and hurt him, you have time. He isn’t going to cover up that quick. Take your time. Don’t do all fancy stuff on him. Just get in and take him out.”
To put emphasis on all the finer points of the game, Deas and Breland have sent Wilder all over the world to different fight camps in order to make up in sparring what he missed in the amateurs.
“The camps have been the best thing that we have got,” said Deas. “What I did was that anybody that was fighting a Klitschko, we’d go. They’re going to need tall sparring and [Wilder] needs to get what he didn’t get in the amateurs. So we went to camp with David Haye, Tomasz Adamek, Tony Thompson, Kevin Johnson, Mike Perez. And then when Wlad Klitschko was going to fight Wach, just out of habit we called Wach. Then it hit me. ‘Wait a minute. There are two tall guys fighting in this fight.’ So we called Waldimir. We wanted to see what they were doing. What is it about what they are doing. That has helped a lot. The sparring.”
Jabbing, learning how to finish intelligently, and relaxation, are just a few aspects of the fistic arts Breland has to teach Wilder. Can it be done? Certainly. With care and planning, anything can be accomplished.
In 2013, it will be fun watching how far a wiser, tamer Wilder can go.