WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) was originally scheduled to defend his belt against Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk this Saturday, February 25th, but two positive PED tests in late January forced Wawrzyk to the sidelines and Wilder’s team to scramble to find a replacement with less than a month before the opening bell. Enter heavyweight prospect Gerald Washington (18-0-1, 12 KOs) to save the day and give Wilder his first action since last July.
The fight will be shown live on FOX and FOX Deportes at 8 PM ET, with a junior middleweight bout between Tony Harrison and Jarrett Hurd vying for the vacant IBF 154-pound title opening the broadcast at 7 PM ET.
Washington is about as raw as prospects come, but that can be expected given his background. Washington is a veteran of the U.S. Navy and a former member of USC’s Football squad. He spent some time on the practice squads of the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills before setting his sights on a professional boxing career.
Washington’s natural athletic ability has been a big part of his game so far in his career. His footwork needs a lot of work and his movement is at times significantly less than smooth, but he possesses good power. He has struggled with stamina and learning how to conserve his energy in the past, but he’s shown some improvement in his last few fights. Wins over faded gatekeepers Ray Austin and Eddie Chambers were good showcase fights for an improving Washington, and they helped re-establish some momentum after stuttering to a split draw against Amir Mansour in 2015.
Wilder, the champion going into Saturday night, will be making the fifth defense of the title he won with a solid unanimous decision win over Bermane Stiverne in January 2015. Like Washington, Wilder came to boxing late in life. After dropping out of college in 2005, Wilder took up regular work as he trained, and went so far as to win a Bronze medal at the 2008 Olympic games after only a handful of amateur bouts.
Fast forward to 2017 with Wilder now going into his 38th professional fight, and he’s still actively learning on the job. His resume leaves much to be desired, but his choice of opponents has improved slightly over the last two years, save for the occasional squash match thrown in for good measure. Prior to the failed drug test of Andrzej Wawrzyk, Wilder was scheduled to face former heavyweight world title holder Alexander Povetkin, who also failed two drug tests, so he isn’t exactly cruising on easy street entirely.
Wilder is still very raw and prone to wild, looping punches, but his movement has improved greatly for such a tall fighter. His knockout power is very real and has translated well as he’s taken steps up in competition.
Despite Washington’s experience and technical deficits going into Saturday night’s fight, he brings with him a puncher’s chance. He is a bruising, forward-marching puncher and he will have to rely on his aggression and strength to make things uncomfortable for Wilder. Washington’s reach and height are only one inch less than Wilder’s, so he won’t be at a complete disadvantage, languishing at a distance and eating shots.
For Wilder his best bet would be to let Washington come forward and use his aggressive advances against him. While Wilder isn’t the most technically sound heavyweight out there, his footwork is much better than Washington’s and he should be able to create angles from which to tee off. Wilder has never shown a proclivity for infighting, while Washington’s abilities carry much better in closer range.
I’ve seen betting lines listing Wilder by as much as a -1400 favorite, and I don’t expect the lines to be too far off. I’m expecting Washington to have some bright moments early in the fight, and as he starts to fade I see Wilder pouring on the punishment until the fight is stopped in the ninth.