Thirty years ago in Reno, Nevada, an era ended. Tonight in Birmingham, Alabama, a new one begins. And the same man will preside over both.
On May 20, 1985, Marv Albert called the last heavyweight fight broadcast in prime time on network TV when Larry Holmes successfully defended his title against an unexpectedly tough Carl “The Truth” Williams.
“I’ll never forget the night,” Albert says. “It turned out to be a very, very good fight. Carl “The Truth” Williams handled himself extremely well. A lot of people didn’t think he’d be able to go up against Larry Holmes, who was chasing Rocky Marciano’s record of 49-0.
“Williams was fairly inexperienced,” he continues, “and he did bother Holmes. I remember after the fight talking to Larry Holmes, and he said that until they ran down the scorecards, until he heard, ‘And the winner, and still heavyweight champion…’ he was nervous. He really did not know which way it was going to go.”
Albert is speaking from a hotel conference room in uptown Birmingham. Moments before, he finished meeting with heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder (34-0, 33 KOs), who will try to defend his title on NBC this evening.
Wilder, 29, was born the year heavyweight boxing was last on prime time.
“I’m looking forward to bringing it back,” Wilder says with serious gusto, which is pretty much how he says everything.
Albert echoes this sentiment, albeit with a tad less volume.
“From an announcing point of view, it brings it to another level,” he says of calling heavyweight bouts. “It’s very, very exciting when you know that this is a talent who may be on his way to becoming undisputed heavyweight champion. We feel anxiety about it the moment before it starts, particularly in that Wilder is just so popular in Alabama. There’s such a love for him here. That makes it even more special.”
Albert sees big things for Wilder, who, practically speaking, already is a big thing at 6 feet 7 inches and nearly 230 pounds.
“What he’s accomplished is sensational,” Albert says. “He’s a very marketable, attractive-type fighter, because he has the fast hands, he has the reach—he looks more like a basketball player. The personality is there, which I think is important.”
Personality goes a long way—just ask Jules Winnfield. Wilder, though, has the athleticism to back it up.
This doesn’t just bode well for Wilder’s future, but for the state of boxing in general. Heavyweights move the needle in the sport the way no other weight class does.
And with many of the top heavyweights hailing from Europe in recent years, a void has been created on these shores that has only partially been filled by fighters from other divisions.
“The ways things have developed since we’ve been doing the [Premier Boxing Champions] series, we’re all amazed how many excellent middleweights and welterweights there are, which is great, because you want to see that too, and you go back to the days of [Marvin] Hagler and [Thomas] Hearns and Sugar Ray [Leonard],” Albert says. “But when it’s heavyweights, it makes a big difference. People relate to that, particularly if it’s a popular United States champion.”
Wilder is acutely aware of as much. Tonight, he at once faces both Johann Duhaupaus (32-2, 20 KOs) and the great expectations that he’s placed upon himself.
“This fight has got to set the standards for heavyweight title fights,” he says. “I want to be a great act to follow.”
For full coverage of Wilder vs Duhaupas, visit our fight page.