After nine months of adjusting to a revolving door of opponents and rehabbing a surgically repaired right hand and biceps, Deontay Wilder isn’t just anxious to once again rev up his career engine. The heavyweight champ is determined to kick that engine into overdrive.
The 6-foot-7 Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) will end a seven-month layoff Saturday when he makes his fifth title defense against 6-foot-6 Gerald Washington (18-0-1, 12 KOs) at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama (FOX, 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
While Wilder, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is solely focused on putting on another explosive show in front of his hometown fans, he’s also gazing down the road at what potentially lies ahead.
In addition to Wilder-Washington, two other heavyweight title bouts are currently on the docket: New Zealand’s Joseph Parker (22-0, 18 KOs) will defend his crown against England’s Hughie Fury (20-0, 10 KOs) on April 1 in Auckland, New Zealand, followed by a unification match between Ukraine’s Wladimir Klitschko (64-4, 53 KOs) and England’s Anthony Joshua (18-0, 18 KOs) on April 29 in London.
When Wilder checks his career GPS, he sees a trip that concludes with all four heavyweight titles strapped around his waist, perhaps as early as this year.
“We're taking the right approach to get into position to get all the belts,” says Wilder, who weighed in Friday at 222, while Washington checked in at 239. “If all goes as planned, I beat Washington, [then] the Parker-Fury winner, and unify against whoever wins Klitschko-Joshua. When I do that, I’ll be crowned undefeated, undisputed, unified heavyweight champion of the world.”
To reach his intended destination, though, Wilder understands he must first take care of business against Washington, who last month was named to replace Andrzej Wawrzyk after the Polish fighter tested positive for a banned substance.
It marked the second time in as many fights that Wilder’s intended foe got popped for performance-enhancing drugs. In May, the 2012 Olympic bronze medalist was supposed to travel to Russia to face Alexander Povetkin, but that fight was scrapped when the Russian failed a drug test.
“ I'm coming off major surgeries, but no excuses. It’s important to look great against Gerald. ” Deontay Wilder, heavyweight champion
Wilder was then granted an optional title defense, which he took in July, defeating former heavyweight title challenger Chris Arreola by eighth-round TKO. But in the process of pummeling Arreola, Wilder broke his right hand and ruptured his right biceps tendon.
After two surgeries and a long rehab process, the 31-year-old “Bronze Bomber” says he’s ready to let the right hand go without hesitation against Washington. He adds that the injury may have been a blessing in disguise, as it forced him to strengthen his left hand.
“I'm coming off major surgeries, but no excuses. It’s important to look great against Gerald,” says Wilder, who will be making his fourth title defense in Birmingham. “My left hand has progressed as a power punch, so there's more power in both hands. … I’m taking Gerald very seriously, but I’m looking for the knockout.”
Washington also hasn’t fought since July, when he scored a fourth-round knockout of veteran Ray Austin on the Wilder-Arreola card. That followed an eight-round unanimous decision over former title challenger Eddie Chambers in April.
Prior to that, “El Gallo Negro” (The Black Rooster) battled to a split draw with then 42-year-old southpaw Amir Mansour in October 2015. Despite not being able to dominate an opponent who was 10 years older, five inches shorter and had an eight-inch reach disadvantage, Washington says the bout with Mansour “was the turning point of my career. I learned some good lessons.”
Now Washington is gearing up for what is easily the biggest test of his career, but the former college football player and U.S. Navy helicopter mechanic insists he doesn’t fear a man who has knocked out all but one of his opponents. In fact, he’s got a message for the champ.
“I'm not worried about Deontay’s knockouts,” whose 82-inch reach compares favorably to Wilder’s 83-inch. “If Deontay showboats in the ring, I’ll hit him in his mouth. “Deontay better take me seriously, because I’m real. We have more than a puncher’s chance.”
The response from Wilder’s coach to Washington’s warning: We hear you.
“Deontay’s grand plan is unifying the titles, and we think that happens in 2017,” says trainer Jay Deas. “Step No. 1 to unification is Gerald Washington and no one else. You can’t look past people. Because if you do, you’re gonna be looking up at the lights.”
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