Emotional Deontay Wilder wants to revive boxing while making a difference in society

Kevin Iole
·Combat columnist

Deontay Wilder is on a roll, and there is no stopping him now. There are questions galore, but he’s talking in that stream of consciousness way that only he can and it would be fruitless to interrupt him.

At times, he’s funny and at other times, poignant. For a few moments, he’s angry and then he seems melancholy. He alternates between outrageous and sensible, provocative and conciliatory, moving quickly and without apparent difficulty from one extreme to the other.

He’s desperate to make his own mark in his sport, the way that Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis once did and then Muhammad Ali and George Foreman and all the great heavyweight champions whose names roll off the tongue so easily.

Wilder, the WBC heavyweight champion with a near-perfect record of 40-0-1 with 39 knockouts, also wants to lift the sport itself. There was a time in the U.S. when the three major sports were baseball, boxing and horse racing.

Those days are long gone, and boxing has so many issues, there are many in the mainstream media who simply ignore it as if it doesn’t exist.

File - In this Monday, Feb. 23, 2015 file photo, WBC heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder poses for a portrait at Skyy Boxing Gym in Northport, Ala. Wilder is scheduled to fight boxer Tyson Fury on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, File)
Deontay Wilder opened up to Yahoo Sports about using boxing as a means to make a difference in the world while overcoming racism in the U.S. (AP Photo)

Wilder explains what went wrong in Fury fight

Wilder believed to his core that he could change that perception on Dec. 1. That night, he fought Tyson Fury, the lineal heavyweight champion, in Los Angeles in a bout between two undefeated men with legitimate claims to the throne. It would be, he felt at long last, the match that reignited worldwide interest in the sport and in the heavyweight division.

It didn’t turn out nearly the way he wanted.

Fans loved the fight, but despite knockdowns in the ninth and 12th rounds, Wilder didn’t win. The fight was scored a split draw and there was this unsatisfying sense of unfulfillment that lingered.

“My main thing from that fight was, we had a great game plan in the back room,” said Wilder, who will defend his belt on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against bitter rival Dominic Breazeale in a fight broadcast live on Showtime.

“Everything was crisp. Everything was right. When I came out and I felt the energy of the people, I was like, ‘Damn! I’m finally here. I’m finally getting the attention I so deserve.’ You have to realize, it’s hard in America. It’s not like there is an entire country behind you and you’re all one, united.

“Here in America, we’re so diverse, and as boxers, we have to compete against so many other sports. But at that moment in time, when I was making my ring walk, it was all on me. I felt like I had the power to do what I wanted to do for this sport. And honestly, I just got super excited. I felt I was obligated to end the show in a dramatic fashion by knocking him out, something I do all the time. But the excitement got to me.”

Tyson Fury, right, of England, connects with Deontay Wilder during a WBC heavyweight championship boxing match, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Tyson Fury connects with Deontay Wilder during their WBC heavyweight championship boxing match, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo)

And so he didn’t perform the way he wanted to perform. The most dramatic moment in the fight came in the 12th, when Wilder dumped Fury and the fight seemed over. Fury, somehow, some way, pulled himself off the canvas and finished the fight.

“I wanted to knock that guy out so badly, and give it that killer ending where everyone would go crazy and love it, that I tried too damn hard instead of letting it just happen like it always happened,” Wilder explained.

‘When you get in that ring, it’s do or die’

Wilder says he’s learned his lesson and despite the animosity that exists between he and Breazeale over an incident that occurred in the lobby of a Birmingham, Alabama, hotel, he’ll win by knockout because he knows how to control himself now.

He talks boastfully about pummeling Breazeale so badly that Breazeale’s mother won’t recognize him. That’s standard fare trash talk for a boxer selling a fight. But when he crosses the line and says he wants to hurt Breazeale and doesn’t care if he kills him, a reporter interjects.

You don’t really mean that, the reporter says. This is a sport. Saying you want to kill a guy is crossing the line, the reporter tells Wilder. Wilder then tsk tsks his interrogator.

“C’mon, man! How many times you ever heard me talk like that before?” he said. “Listen to me: I mean every word that I say. When I’m in the ring, I’m the ‘Bronze Bomber,’ and in this sport, we can do this and get paid for doing it. This is a gladiator sport. This is a heartless sport. There ain’t nothing nice about this sport. I don’t understand what people can’t comprehend. There ain’t nothing nice about this sport. If you ain’t in there, you won’t understand it.

“When you get in that ring, it’s do or die because guess what: That’s what we’re trying to do anyway. Any doctor in this world that you talk to, they’ll tell you the human head ain’t meant to be hit in the first place. Guys in this sport, they get knocked out all the time and they’re losing something in their head each and every time. Let’s be realistic. Without words, these are the actions that are being applied. Actions speak louder than words, so don’t be mad because I say it. It’s a brutal sport. You guys love it because you know. If I say I’m going to kill a man, everybody’s going to tune in to see what happens.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 19: Deontay Wilder faces off with Dominic Breazeale during a press conference at Barclays Center on March 19, 2019 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. (Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images)
Deontay Wilder faces off with Dominic Breazeale during a press conference at Barclays Center on March 19, 2019 in New York City. (Getty Images)

There’s little arguing that fans love knockouts. Power is one of the reasons that Mike Tyson became one of the most popular boxers ever and one of the most recognizable faces on Earth. But there is more to than Wilder than just crazy trash talk to promote a fight. He’s a wise and multi-faceted conversationalist who should be far more popular than he is, particularly coming off a dramatic bout with Fury.

Why isn’t Wilder, a KO artist, more popular?

His lack of widespread appeal is, he believes, at least in part due to racism. Most black people will tell you racism is something they experience every day, and it doesn’t bypass a rich guy like Wilder.

Some, like Michael Jordan and LeBron James and others have broken through despite it, but it’s a wall that is so difficult for many black athletes to climb.

“Race is always an issue in this country,” Wilder said. “Hopefully, it’ll change. I want to be alive when it does. I’m a person who doesn’t understand this. I didn’t grow up with my parents teaching me to hate. My parents never told me to not like this person because of their skin or their color. My family’s been through a lot because of our color, but that wasn’t taught in my family. It wasn’t even mentioned, but the sad thing is, in this great country — the United States of America — it’s an issue in the 21st century. And I always ask, what have black people done that is so wrong in this world to be treated like this?

“If you’re not black, it’s impossible to understand what it’s like to be a black person. And let’s be honest: No one wants to be a black person because of what that brings and they don’t want to be treated the way we get treated. It’s fact. It’s face, because if I were any other color, it’s guaranteed I’d be the best [expletive] thing talking and walking. You hate to put race into it, but race is something that is very real.”

There are barriers to be broken through, some easier than others. But no matter how high they seem, Wilder isn’t about to give in.

Because as crazy as it sounds, he still thinks he can save this sport and somehow make a difference in this society.

“This sport, just like this world, can be a beautiful thing,” Wilder said. “You hear about how many fighters say boxing saved their lives, and that’s a fact. And most of them ain’t rich and famous, but they boxed and they learned things about life and they’re better for it. I’m fortunate. I was given a gift that I’m out there taking advantage of, and I’m making a difference for my family.

“But boxing can also be a dirty and dangerous and dark place, just like this world can be. You have to understand that and you have to try to point out the problems so we can make them better and fix them. I’ve got a big opportunity ahead of me and I’ll be damned if I’m going to allow it to slip through my fingers without doing something about it. That ain’t happening. I guarantee you, that ain’t happening, because I’m going to do something about it while I still can.”

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