From an early age, trouble would find him. And then trouble would have to learn how to eat from a straw.
You see, Deontay Wilder (34-0, 33 KOs) was a fighter long before he ever wanted to be one.
“I got into trouble all the time, fighting,” Wilder recalls of his childhood, his voice as animated as a Saturday morning cartoon. “I never was a troublemaker, never was the guy who picked fights. I always was on the defensive end. I would have to protect myself.
“One time when I was 12 years old, I cried, I looked up to the sky and said, ‘I’m tired of fighting,’ because I was too good at it,” he continues. “I didn’t want to hurt people. I was a quiet guy. I always considered myself a weird child. But when I look back on it as a man, all those times I got into fights, it prepared me for this. This is my calling right here.”
Well, nothing could have truly prepared for him this—“this” being life as a heavyweight champ, which Wilder became in January after reducing man-mountain Bermane Stiverne to a pile of rubble in a bludgeoning unanimous-decision win.
Wilder’s got the fighting part down, as the anecdote above illustrates as indelibly as the tattoos that decorate much of his body.
It’s the other stuff that comes with it that Wilder’s still getting used to: all the media requests, the public appearances, the chance to ham it up with Desmond Howard on College Gameday, which he did this past weekend.
Wilder has the personality for the public eye—big and playfully brash, he's like Mothra to the spotlight—and he knows it.
“I’m a people person,” he says with pride, the former quiet kid who’s since come into his own.
Still, the pace of his life has accelerated greatly over the past nine months, like some joyriding teen is behind the wheel of his daily commitments as he prepares to battle Johann Duhaupas (32-2, 20 KOs) on Saturday.
“It’s definitely changed, dramatically,” says Wilder, who is the subject of a recent TV special, “American Heavy,” which re-airs on NBCSN on Thursday (4:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. PT) and Friday (7:30 p.m. ET/4:30 p.m. PT). “I’m always on the go. There’s less sleep now, which I’ve got to control. After every fight it gets bigger and bigger for me. But that’s the road we chose.”
Said road has been a winding one: Next month will mark Wilder’s 10th year as a boxer.
He gotten this far largely because of the same scary power he first displayed during those childhood scraps: He’s given guys concussions, felt their bones snap beneath his fists, even hammered a former champ into convulsions in one of the most extreme cases.
Outside the ring, Wilder has become very mindful of presenting himself in such a manner that mirrors the excitement he generates inside of it.
He’s highly aware of the cult of personality that surrounded heavyweight greats of the past, crossover stars such as Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.
Those legends were household names regardless of whether or not the household in question contained any boxing fans.
They embodied the sport, and yet at the same time, were bigger than it. That venerated past is what Wilder looks to when pondering his future.
“Everybody dwells on how boxing used to be, but this is the new era of boxing,” he says. “We’re changing it. The heavyweight division has awakened.”
Just so long as he keeps putting other dudes to sleep.
For full coverage of Wilder vs Duhaupas, visit our fight page.