‘I tell people, worry about this fight. After this, all that disappears. There won’t be another fight. No one is going to want to see it.’
Deontay Wilder cuts a compelling, chiselled figure entering his training base in Tuscaloosa as the 34-year-old counts down the days to his second prize-fight with Tyson Fury for the No 1 position in the heavyweight championship of the world.
This is the fighting Wilder, ready for destruction. But there is a patience about him, a relaxed yet menacing calm. It bodes ominously for Fury.
As does the 6ft 7in champion’s warning that he will put into practice lessons he learnt from their first, drawn fight 14 months ago. “I’m starting where I left off. We know each other now. Two warriors, with the mindset that you’re going to have to damn near kill us. The key to the second fight is making the appropriate adjustments that I didn’t make in the first fight. I did things I don’t normally do. I was more wild. I was reckless. I’ll be different this time.”
Wilder is speaking in the Alabama Skyy Boxing Gym of his career-long trainer, Jay Deas; a two-unit, one-storey building at the end of a row of industrial outlets along the end of a scrub road scattered with wooden homes bordering woodland. It is 8pm and having been through training moves and his kinesthetics earlier in the day, Wilder has been at home with his partner and their children, twenty minutes drive away, past the Black Warrior River, running through Wilder’s hometown of Tuscaloosa.
Now he is back in the gym, where three buckets near the boxing ring catch rainwater coming through holes in the ceiling. The air hangs heavy with perspiration of a dozen boxers, all of whom have been working hard for the last three hours. “I feel like I’ve come out in my pyjamas,” offers Wilder, towering above anyone in the gym, but relaxing the mood.
Greetings over, it is down to business. Trainer Deas stands a little way off, listening, arms folded. “This is the biggest heavyweight title fight in the world. I’m happy to be a part of it. The first fight was so amazing. It was thrilling and it left us with a controversial decision. This is what makes the second fight so exciting. It’s bottom line time,” says Wilder, taking his t-shirt off for photographs. His body is a story book of tattoos, epithets, words and pictures adorning his huge, taut frame. He radiates health and his eyes are bright.
“Not only do I look good, I feel great as well. My life is structured around peace. I don’t have no drama in my life. It took a long time to get to this point. That means a lot when you have to prepare for war. I always say, we’re risking our lives for others’ entertainment. Few know what it feels like. You’re not sure if you’re getting out the same way as you get in. So you have to have a mentality of a warrior, of a king. Come February 22nd, at the MGM Grand, Las Vegas, it’s going to be amazing. I’m thankful to be in these times of the heavyweight division. It was dead. But now it’s breathing like a dragon.”
As a young man growing up in Tuscaloosa, Wilder was a talented basketball player and American Football wide receiver. He took up boxing late, aged 19, at a time when he had left education with poor grades and was also trying to look after a young daughter with spina bifida. Wilder progressed quickly, claiming regional amateur titles before winning a bronze medal for USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I’m at that point in my life when it comes to fights, I’ve been through so many of them,” he explains. “I’ve had to meditate and visualise: how I walk to the ring, embrace the fans and the energy; when I walk up the steps, how I want to come over the ropes. I play all those things in my head. The safety part is always a consideration. You always think about that.”
Deontay Wilder has some of the most devastating knockouts in boxing history to his name 🤯
"Wilder hit Breazeale so hard they're feeling it in Brazil!" 😂
— Boxing on BT Sport 🥊 (@BTSportBoxing) February 13, 2020
We discuss the need for a fighter to compartmentalise these things and, I suggest, to make a pact with oblivion. “I definitely embrace it all. When it comes to this sport – that I love – I have no fear. I understand what I’ve been getting myself into. And I sign my name on the dotted line, on the contract, knowing, willing and able. Let the oblivion come. I’m preparing for it. I’ve overcome adversity many times. Bring it on. That’s how my mindset is built. Even in life, fear will hold you back and stop you accomplishing your dreams.”
Fourteen months ago, the battle of Los Angeles between Wilder and Fury was an intense thriller over twelve rounds, its denouement making it a classic as Fury was brutally felled before somehow regaining his feet and fighting back. Drama followed when the fight was declared a draw. Many felt Fury – who boxed brilliantly – won on points, and the Briton has declared he wants a knockout this time, a decisive victory.
“To be honest, I don’t even think about what Tyson says,” replied Wilder calmly. “I’m a man of action. Everything I say comes to pass. You speak it, believe it and receive it. The power of speaking things is your belief. We’re going to see if Tyson Fury really believes what he says. Belief is a small word but it’s a magical thing when you unlock its power. I am coming there in the best shape of my life. I believe my offence can beat his defence. You’re going to have a chess game. That’s how we’ll be in the ring, as well as physically punching each other in the face.”
He added: “I’m starting where I left off. We know each other now. Two warriors, with the mindset that you’re going to have to damn near kill us. The key to the second fight is making the appropriate adjustments that I didn’t make in the first fight. I did things I don’t normally do. I was more wild. I was reckless. I’ll be different this time.”
Victory, though, will have a wider meaning for Wilder. In the crowded sports and entertainment landscape, the reigning champion has clearly been under-appreciated by the US media, boxing and otherwise. He remains a compelling character with a fascinating narrative and a clear message, as a father, citizen and African-American.
“It comes with the territory. Being in America, we’re diverse. We’re not one nation. We’re a nation divided into many. But after this fight I’ll get the recognition I so deserve. It may not come when you want it, but when it does come, it’s always on time.”
Indeed, the return fight with Fury is also a battle for legacy for both men. Wilder will be asked for his prediction time and time again in the next seven days.
“When I visualise the fight and I look at it, I never really see the round. But since Mr Fury likes WWE so much, I can see myself hitting him and knocking him out of the ring. Just don’t blink at all, but be careful about the third round,” the 34-year-old tells me, a wide smile, showing his perfect teeth. I play a short video of Fury mocking Wilder’s breath, his jewellery, how he copies the travelling ‘Gypsy King’. Wilder watches it, and for the first time in the interview, his nostrils flare. His eyes narrow. There will be no trilogy fight, he insists.
“This is it. I tell people, worry about this fight. After this, all that disappears. There won’t be another fight. No one is going to want to see it. The knockout is going to be devastating. De-vas-tat-ing. He’s already vulnerable now, I gave him a concussion. It don’t go nowhere, it’s like a host. It just sits there. It waits to be known again. Unfortunately the man who gave him that, he’s going to have to face again. I can’t wait.”