12 Rounds With … Deontay Wilder

Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder discusses a frustrating 18 months filled with injuries and high-profile opponents’ failed drug tests, his November 4 rematch against Bermane Stiverne, and how he tries to be a role model in and out of the ring.

Deontay Wilder

Heavyweight world champion Deontay Wilder hitting the mitts in a recent training session as he prepares for his Nov. 4 rematch against Bermane Stiverne on Showtime. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) dethroned Bermane Stiverne (25-2-1, 21 KOs) by unanimous decision on Jan. 17, 2015—the late Muhammad Ali’s 73rd birthday—to become America’s first heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs in 2007. The 2008 Olympic bronze medalist from Tuscaloosa, Alabama looks for his sixth knockout in his sixth title defense on Nov. 4 when he faces Stiverne again at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The 12-round title rematch airs on Showtime at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.

While a mandatory bout with Stiverne is the first order of business, Wilder envisions a path toward becoming the glamor division’s first unified world champion since Lennox Lewis in 2000.

The 6-foot-7 Wilder, who turned 32 on October 22, was 25-0 when he spent his 27th birthday as the primary sparring partner for then-heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. England’s 6-foot-6 Anthony Joshua (19- 0, 19 KOs) defeated Klitschko in April by 11th-round stoppage and sent Klitschko into retirement and a message to Wilder and the rest of the division.

With Joshua defending his title against Carlos Takam (35-3-1, 27 KOs) on October 28, and New Zealand’s Joseph Parker (24-0, 18 KOs) having won his second defense last month by majority decision over England’s Hugie Fury (20-0, 10 KOs), a win by Wilder next weekend could set up some interesting title unification talks.

Wilder—who wrote a children’s book in 2014 called Deontay the Future World Champ, and supports a boxing program for kids in Coffeeville, Alabama—said he’s still inspired by the words of his church-going, minister grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, and his daughter—Naieya, who was born with the congenital disorder spina bifida.

Naieya, 12, is mobile and athletic after her doctors thought she might never walk. Loggins told Wilder he was “special, anointed and ordained” before her death at age 76 in 2010. Before his death at the age of 68 in October 2012, Steward, Klitschko’s former trainer, called Wilder “The best American prospect for winning the heavyweight title.”

Given you were in Klitschko’s camp three days after your 27th birthday when Steward died, what do you imagine he would say of his fulfilled prophecy?

He would look me in the eyes, just like when he told me I was gonna one day be a world champion, and he would say, “Deontay, I predicted this when I first met you and felt your energy. That’s a job well-done.”

He didn’t have any reason to tell me what he did other than he felt and truly believed those things. He’s probably smiling up there right now, knowing his prophecy has come to pass. 

Have you ever spoken to Joshua, and, if so, how’d that conversation go? How would you break down a fight between you two?

When he beat Klitschko and I was serving as a ringside commentator. He leaned over the ropes afterward, reached out and wanted to fist-bump after the fight. I fist-bumped him and that’s about it. If I could say anything to him, it would be, “You say you’re the best, I know I’m the best, so let’s fight.” 

But he doesn’t say he’s the best. That’s coming from his promoter. He knows he’s gonna lose one day, and that it’s going to be against me. I know I’m going to knock him out. He’ll show courage until he runs out of gas. Then it’s life and death for him. 

Once he’s tired, I see him giving up. Once that happens, I’m going to turn up the heat on him and it’s a wrap. They may throw in the towel. I am the blockage and the end of the line for his career and he knows it. That’s scary for him.

This may be the last time we hear from Stiverne, because I’m going to finish the job. It’s going to be the end of his career. WBC Heavyweight World Champ Deontay Wilder

You’ve had two near-death experiences in the water, talk about surviving those?

When I was about 8 years old, I was swimming with my family. I closed my eyes tight, but was still swimming with no direction. The current took me one way, and I couldn’t come back up.

I saw a blurred image of a whale that came out of nowhere. It hit me up out of the water and shot me back up toward my family.

Another time, I was swimming at the age of about 14 or 15, and I went down in a hole in the water and couldn’t get back up. My brother told me I was down there a long time, but I popped back up.

Angels come in all shapes and sizes, and I’m telling you there are angels watching over me. I’m chosen. I defeated death twice.

Is it important to you that your stories inspire people?

Everybody looks up to me back home, especially the kids. That’s a happy feeling. Sometimes, I feel as if the world is against me.

I’ve continued to overcome each and every obstacle that has been thrown at me, which I see as an inspiration to kids, other men, everybody. 

This was God’s plan, and when the appropriate time manifested itself, I not only showed up, but I showed the world. I’m trying to motivate kids, so there are a lot of things I want to do in the future. 

I want to build my own charter school in the city so when they grow older, they can tell their children about the great American heavyweight champion. 

From the standpoint of principles pertaining to boxing, why was it so important to fight and win the PEDs court case regarding Povetkin?

Yes, for the simple fact that if we let people get away with things they shouldn’t do in their sport, such as taking banned substances, what kind of example do we show? What kind of outlook will people see in boxing if we let this get away from us?

It’s important because so many people look up to myself and other athletes whose participation is on the up-and-up and who are trying to do something positive in their lives. This is a fight that’s taking place outside of the ring after I tried to do the right thing inside of the ring.

But they didn’t want to do that. It’s been very distracting, I’m not going to even lie. But my mind never left the gym. But this still may not have any effect on any other guys who have tested positive for any other banned substance.

The ultimate goal and what would be a great reward is if the advocates for clean boxing programs take it up to another notch.  They’ve been catching these guys, but now, it’s time for step No. 2, and that’s to truly punish them.

It’s time to put stronger action to it, whether it’s suspending them for a long while or banning them from boxing forever. I definitely embrace that opportunity. With that being said, that allows me to just be me be—a great champion, a leader and a role model.

Deontay Wilder

WBC world champion Deontay Wilder celebrates his victory over Gerald Washington on February 25, 2017 in Birmingham, Alabama. (Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions)

Are you disappointed you’re not fighting (Luis) Ortiz, and how will this rematch go with Stiverne?

I wanted to fight Ortiz, but this is what it is. That’s the story of my life. Stiverne’s my mandatory, so why not right now? Whether it’s early or late, I’m going to punish and stop Stiverne.

This may be the last time we hear from Stiverne, because I’m going to finish the job. It’s going to be the end of his career. He’s going to be eliminated. 

How are your injuries?

I’m 100 percent. I’m dangerous. But, regardless, I’m a fighter. I’ll fight you with a broken hand, torn biceps, third degree burns…I have that killer instinct. No other champion is more confident than I am.

If you could have dinner with any four people in the history of the world, living or dead, who would they be?

It would have to be more than just four. I would have all my children, Muhammad Ali, my grandmother, Emanuel Steward, my manager, Jay Deas, and God with me. 

Those are the most influential people in my life. My grandmother tops everybody. Muhammad Ali is my idol, Emanuel Steward, and of course, my daughter and my children, they all inspire me. 

Naieya is the reason I got into boxing. God’s always with me, but I’d love to see him in the present. All of them, together, keep me reaching toward higher goals I’ve never achieved.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would that thing be?

Racism. The truth is black people helped to build America. The first open heart surgery [Daniel Hale Williams, 1893,] the first automobile [C.R. Patterson, 1902,] the first patented telephone [Granville T. Woods, 1887,] the [carbon filament] light bulb [Lewis Howard Latimer, 1881.]

There’s so much history. Black people just want equality. We just want justice, not retaliation. The key to [ending] racism starts with the kids. A child will play with anybody in the world until their parent allows them not to.

We have to start with the new generation and teach them differently. I would start with [teaching] children to love and respect one another, and to learn that we’re all humans and equals. People have different lifestyles, but at the end of the day, we’re all equal. There is no need for hatred.

For a complete look at Wilder vs Stiverne, visit our fight page.

Deontay Wilder talks about his Nov. 4 fight with Showtime's Brendan Schaub. (Showtime Sports)

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