It took a snoozer to awaken the heavyweight division from its slumber.
Last November, former heavyweight kingpin Wladimir Klitschko sleepwalked his way to his first loss in 11 years, dropping his title to Tyson Fury in Düsseldorf, Germany, in a yawner of a scrap capable of making eyelids as heavy as the combined weight of the two dudes who were kind of, sort of, not really going at in the ring.
Five thousand miles away in his native Alabama, fellow champ Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs) had mixed emotions about seeing Klitschko come up short.
“I wanted to be the one to dethrone him,” he acknowledges. “I think that would have been an even bigger fight, me and him, instead of him and Fury.”
Wilder doesn’t sound too disappointed as he speaks, though, because what’s bad for Klitschko may be prove to be good for the division he’s long reigned over.
“To a lot of fans and critics, he made the sport boring,” Wilder says of Klitschko as well his older brother, Vitali, also a former heavyweight champ. “The heavyweight division was definitely exciting until the brothers came along. When they came along, it died down. That’s a fact. A lot of people didn’t know who the heavyweight champion of the world was. A lot of boredom came when those guys got the belts.”
And so with Klitschko at least temporarily vanquished from his perch—a rematch with Fury is in the works—Wilder feels like the shades have been pulled open on the once-dreary heavyweight ranks.
“There’s a new sunlight shining in,” he says. “Now that he’s officially out of here, the heavyweight division is definitely exciting again. You can just feel it. All that’s been going on, the switching of the belts, the guys who are coming up all over the world doing different things. I can feel the excitement rising, and it’s going to be even more exciting when you get that American to unify the division. That’s my goal.”
There hasn’t been an undisputed heavyweight champ since 1999, when Lennox Lewis beat Evander Holyfield in their rematch to claim the title.
Wilder’s ongoing pursuit of division supremacy continues Saturday, when he faces Polish contender Artur Szpilka (20-1, 15 KOs) in a non-PBC bout in Brooklyn, New York (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT).
After that, he’s eyeing a shot at Fury, who he likened to a hefty, hirsute porn star in a recent tweet directed at the British champ, egging him on to fight at some point in 2016.
He would also like to eventually take on Klitschko, despite his loss last fall.
“I still want to have the guy on my résumé, that’s for sure,” Wilder says. “Everybody wants that fight.”
In the meantime, Wilder argues that he’s now the man to beat in the division.
“I am the top guy around, and a lot of these fighters know that,” he says. “At the end of the day, you may as well join me or look foolish trying to explain why I’m not who I am.”
What no one would argue is that the heavyweight division could use an infusion of personality after the reign of the Klitschkos, a pair of greats to be sure but generally stoic in temperament, more cerebral than colorful, and seemingly indifferent to putting on fan-friendly fights.
Wilder’s the opposite: a cannonball of charisma with a double-wide smile, a witty, eager trash-talker and an aggressive, energized presence in the ring who catalyzes action-packed scraps.
If the heavyweight division has gotten a bit drowsy in terms of temperament, a bit sluggish in terms of style, Wilder’s a blast of caffeine administered like the adrenaline shot to Mia Wallace’s heart in Pulp Fiction.
“At the end of my career, I want my legacy to be that Deontay revived the heavyweight division, brought it back,” he says. “There’s nothing like an American champion. And here I am.”
- Deontay Wilder