He’s 6-foot-7, more than 220 pounds and has a chiseled physique. He also has 35 knockouts in 36 career fights. So, yeah, it’s pretty easy to view Deontay Wilder as superhuman with superhuman power.
But the reality is the heavyweight champion of the world is as susceptible to the same human emotions as anyone. And that includes the “S” word.
“I can’t wait until [Saturday] to get rid of this stress,” Wilder says. “I need something to hit.”
That stress reliever is finally within reach, and it comes in the form of Chris Arreola (36-4-1, 31 KOs), who will challenge Deontay Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs) in a heavyweight title showdown Saturday from Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, not far from the champ’s lifelong home of Tuscaloosa, Alabama (Fox, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
To understand the source of Wilder’s stress, you have to flip the calendar back a couple of months to May 21, the day he was supposed to make his fourth title defense against top-ranked challenger Alexander Povetkin in Moscow. But as Wilder was wrapping up training camp in London and about to board a flight to Russia for fight-week festivities, the bout was called off when it was revealed that Povetkin tested positive for a banned performance-enhancing drug.
So Wilder made a U-turn back to Alabama, bringing with him all kinds of pent-up energy and no way to discharge it.
Enter Arreola, who was given the opportunity to fight for a world title for a third time when Wilder was granted an optional defense in the wake of the Povetkin mess. Arreola is coming off December’s slim majority decision over Travis Kauffman that became a no contest after Arreola tested positive for marijuana.
That means Arreola is just 2-2-1 in his last five official bouts. He’s also 0-for-2 in world title fights, having lost to Vitali Klitschko in September 2009 and Bermane Stiverne in May 2014.
Given those numbers, many believe Arreola had no business getting another title shot. The 35-year-old Southern California native doesn’t disagree, but at the same time, he’s not about to return the gift.
“Let’s be honest, man. Do I deserve it? Come on. No,” Arreola says. “But that means that I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. My job is to try to shock the world on July 16. I don’t care what anybody says.”
“ When you’re in the hurt business, you have no choice but to stay focused, because if you’re not focused, you can be knocked out. ” Deontay Wilder
Arreola, who weighed in Friday at 246.2 pounds, will be greeted in the ring by an extremely hungry champion who has been out of action since January 16, when he scored a sensational ninth-round knockout of once-beaten Artur Szpilka in Brooklyn, New York. The sixth-month layoff is the longest of Wilder’s eight-year career, hence his thirst for “something to hit.”
And while still disappointed that the Povetkin fight never came to pass, he insists he’s put it behind him and is dialed in on Arreola
“I’m not letting [the Povetkin cancellation] get me off my game,” says Wilder, who tipped the scales Friday exactly 20 pounds lighter than Arreola at 226.2. “I’ve been through worse situations.
“When you’re in the hurt business, you have no choice but to stay focused, because if you’re not focused, you can be knocked out.”
Wilder will appear as the champion in his home state for the third time in four fights, returning to the same venue where he earned an 11th-round stoppage of Johann Duhaupas in September. In that bout, Wilder battered Duhaupas from the opening bell, but also took some abuse from the tough Frenchman. He was similarly tested early on against Szpilka, and expects nothing less than Arreola’s best shot come Saturday.
“This is his third [title opportunity], and if I was Chris, I would take it very seriously,” says Wilder, who will have a four-inch height and seven-inch reach advantage over his veteran foe. “We know Chris will bring a great fight—like a rabbit. A rabbit can be soft and sweet, but you push him into a corner, he’s gonna fight.”
And Wilder is pretty certain he knows how this particular rabbit will come at him.
“A lot of fighters feel the way to beat Deontay Wilder is to pressure him,” Wilder says. “Their game plan is to pressure me and to get inside. I do believe that Chris is going to be aggressive in the first couple of rounds.”
Although a massive underdog, should Arreola spring the upset, he would fulfill a career-long goal of becoming the first heavyweight champion of Mexican descent. However, he understands in order to make that history, he’ll have to fight the fight of his life.
“The main thing is that I’ve got to move my head [and] I have to keep Deontay on his heels, and that’s going to be a big task,” Arreola says. “I have to come behind a smart jab, not get caught with that dangerous right hand that he has, and turn it into a dog fight, plan and simple.
“I’m coming in here to upset Mr. Wilder. That’s my mentality.”
Says Wilder: “Chris is lucky to get a third chance at a title fight. Does he deserve [it]? No, he doesn’t. He knows it. But is Chris Arreola the perfect guy for this fight? Of course he is.”
For all pre- and post-fight coverage of Wilder vs Arreola, head over to our fight page.