If only Deontay Wilder were Eastern European.
Life would be much easier for the WBC heavyweight champion if his people could somehow manage to wedge him into that open space in the hearts of many fight fans reserved for hard-punching white pugs sold as absolute bad-asses.
But, much to Wilder’s detriment, he’s black and he’s loud– often cartoonishly loud. He’s not the stoic killer-type like Sergey Kovalev and he’s most definitely not the grinning foreigner-type like Gennady Golovkin, treated as a good-natured pet by the media.
Wilder will never be romanticized as a seek-and-destroy knockout artist, regardless of his KO record, and, unlike many of his contemporaries with high knockout rates, his weak resume will not be overlooked.
It also doesn’t help him that he’s an “Al Haymon fighter.”
The guiding force behind his early title push and disproportionately large paydays also makes Wilder a target for many in the media and it earns him villain status for a large chunk of boxing fandom. Haymon fighters, by associating themselves with the advisor who aims to rip apart the boxing business status quo (for better or worse), get almost no benefit of the doubt in the sport.
To be fair, though, much of the criticism in Wilder’s case is warranted, at least from a pure sports perspective. And that’s why he finds himself in such an unwinnable situation. The Alabama native is directly targeted as a symbol of all that is wrong in the business because of who he is (or is not), but the realities of Wilder’s existence on the main stage of boxing make it so that he can’t do much to really shake that negative perception.
Wilder’s rise to number one contender status was a cynical journey from squashes over club fighters to romps against war-torn fringe fighters like Audley Harrison and Siarhei Liakhovich, culminating with a dubious first round KO of Malik Scott. His resume since beating Bermane Stiverne for the WBC title is not all that much more impressive with four defenses since January of 2015– none against anyone even remotely resembling a high end heavyweight world title contender.
Last year, a fight with Alexander Povetkin in Russia, which could’ve quieted some critics, was cancelled after Povetkin failed a drug test prior to the contest. A court battle and media flame war rage on over whether the failed drug test was much of a fail at all and about whether the fight will be rescheduled, but the fact is that Wilder missed out on his chance to defend his professional legitimacy. And seeing as how Povetkin was reportedly popped again for a dirty test, it’s now unlikely this bout will ever be revisited.
Most recently, Wilder’s scheduled February 25 defense against unknown, relatively unproven Polish heavyweight champ Andrzej Wawrzyk was scrapped when Wawrzyk also failed a drug test. Replacement opponent Gerald Washington is only a slight improvement over Wawrzyk and that means that even a dominant win for Wilder won’t be much of a public relations boost.
In an honest, just world, Wilder would not be a world champion. From a purely competitive standpoint, both in terms of skill and level of opposition, he doesn’t deserve the title. But the same could be said for future superstar and IBF titlist Anthony Joshua as well as WBO belt holder Joseph Parker. Nobody with a belt at heavyweight right now is “legitimate” in the old school boxing sense of the word. In a weird twist of logic that could only happen in the Bizarro World of boxing, as of this writing, none of the heavyweight “champs” have beaten any of the actual best, most accomplished heavyweights.
Wilder may take all the flaming arrows from the media and fans, but there’s nothing uniquely diabolical going on in the Wilder road to belts and money. The fact that he is not being given a free ride by the media is a case of the right thing being done for the wrong reason; it’s just a happy coincidence.
However, given the harsh reality that Wilder could very well lose if matched against the division’s very best, there’s really not much room for Team Wilder to maneuver.
So, the question is– What do you do with Deontay Wilder?
Yes, he’s a late bloomer in the ring with very limited amateur experience, despite his Olympic bronze medal, but he’s also holding a world title at the moment. Because of who he is and what he’s done (or not done), he will get cut zero slack. And, even if his team was dead set on quieting the critics by beefing up his level of opposition, they’d find nobody on the world stage at the moment capable of giving him that piggyback ride to credibility. Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko are set to face each other, Tyson Fury is off dealing with personal issues, Povetkin can’t stop failing tests, and Luis Ortiz will be conveniently forgotten by all for a good long time.
With nobody “real” to face and, perhaps, no burning desire to risk losing future world titlist paydays, anyway, it appears that Wilder is on a collision course with nothing but mediocrity. Fighting the winner of Joshua-Klitschko would be ideal for fans, but that won’t happen unless some major, sport-rattling business maneuverings go down in the immediate future.
Most likely, everything will stay the same in the Deontay Wilder business and, this time next year, we’ll still be wondering whether we’ll ever see anything special from the “Bronze Bomber.”