Heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder maintaining a contender’s hunger as he prepares to face Johann Duhaupas

It was one of those Super Glue stare downs, two large men with eyes locked as tightly as a bank vault.

Deontay Wilder and Johann Duhaupas

Deontay Wilder and Johann Duhaupas face off during the weigh-in for their heavyweight title fight on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. (Lucas Noonan/Premier Boxing Champions)

Deontay Wilder (34-0, 33 KOs) and Johann Duhaupas (32-2, 20 KOs) glared at each other hard and unflinchingly at the Friday weigh-in for their fight Saturday at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, neither wanting to avert his gaze until they had to be physically separated.

Wilder, as is his nature, then broke into a smile as wide as the nearby Cahaba River, his home state’s largest.

Duhaupas remained granite-faced, a big man with an even bigger chip on his shoulder.

Standing 6-foot-7, Wilder normally has a signficiant height advantage over his opponents. But even though he’s a bit shorter at 6-foot-5, Duhaupas measured up well with Wilder stature-wise.

Their weights were on par, too: Wilder came in at 228.6 pounds, while Duhaupas checked in at 236.

Duhaupas may be the underdog, but he’s a shifty fighter with good foot movement that enables him to elude his opponent’s power punches. He also possesses a rifling jab and a boulder-hard chin—the man’s never been knocked down, much less out.

This is the first time the Frenchman has fought in or even visited America, and he seems to be reveling in the moment.

“When I walk around the streets here, I feel like I’m in the movies or in a video game,” Duhaupas said through a translator at a news conference Thursday, where he presented Wilder with a miniature Eiffel Tower affixed with French boxing gloves.

But Duhaupas turned serious when speaking of how he got here.

“I’m someone who wasn’t born with everything given to me,” he said. “I’ve traveled a lot; I’ve trained with some of the best boxers in the world. I make you this promise: I’m here for a reason, and that’s to win the title.”

Wilder says he doesn’t watch tape of his opponents, choosing to leave that chore to his trainers, so he hasn’t seen much of Duhaupas. But he’s heard plenty.

“I’ve got friends all over, especially in Europe, and they all have texted and called me and said, ‘Don’t take him lightly. He’s a tough, tough guy,’” Wilder said. “I’m like, ‘We already know.’ I don’t take any fighter lightly." 

Wilder, who became a champion in January after hammering Bermane Stiverne like a human rail spike, said he’s already noticed a difference in how his opponents come at him now that he holds a title.

“Fighters are willing to die to get this thing,” he said of his championship belt. “So when you hit them with certain shots and they fall, they get right back up. And they keep getting back up. If it was a regular fight, they’d probably stay down, say, ‘This is enough. No mas.’

“Each and every time I defend my title, no matter what his record is, no matter who he has fought before me, all of that goes out the window. This is a different time, right here. It makes it even better for him and makes me have to work even harder.”

As such, Wilder tweaked his approach in training camp this time around, bringing in more sparring partners and getting after it right from the jump.

“We had 12 guys come to camp. Twelve guys,” said Jay Deas, Wilder's trainer. “We’ve never done that before.”

One of the reasons Wilder wanted to get in the ring with a guy like Duhaupas is that he’s looking to test himself against a fighter from abroad as he works toward his ultimate goal of unifying titles in the heavyweight division—which, as it stands today, would mean an eventual showdown with Wladimir Klitschko.

“We need a European fighter for the greater thing that we’re trying to do in my career,” he said of Duhaupas. “I’m glad that we’ve got him.”

Wilder’s also aware that a fighter as canny as Duhaupas isn’t likely to merely stand in the middle of the ring and bang with a puncher like himself, and so he’s going to have to be equally sharp mentally and physically.

“I’m definitely going to have to be smarter in the ring,” he said. “My crowd is going to be there for sure, so I’m going to have to block that out. I’m going to have to go from good to great, because he’s a super tough guy.”

What’s more, Wilder must now confront a question that every champ has to face: How do you maintain an up-and-comer’s hunger when your bank account is increasingly well fed?

“In my heart, I still feel like a contender,” he said. “I feel like I’m still starving. I put my mindset in that position because my goal is bigger than just being a champion. My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. There’s a lot to be done. I’m just beginning.”

For full coverage of Wilder vs Duhaupas, visit our fight page.

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