In the spirit of Black History Month, members of the PBC family pay homage to those who came before them, inspired them and paved the way.
Deontay Wilder has several historical influences that make Black History Month special to him. Naturally, his primary inspiration is Muhammad Ali. Wilder won the WBC world heavyweight title on January 17, 2015, the day of Ali’s 73rd birthday.
But Wilder also praises general surgeon Daniel Hale Williams who, in 1893, performed the first documented pericardium surgery, and C.R. Patterson, whose C.R. Patterson & Sons Company established the first African American-owned automobile manufacturer in 1902.
Granville T. Woods, “The Black Edison,” was the first known African American mechanical and electrical engineer, later patenting the steam boiler furnace (1884), a combination telephone and telegraph (telegraphony, 1885) and the railway telegraph (1887).
Inventor Lewis Howard Latimer co-patented an improved toilet system for railroad cars in 1874, and, in 1881, invented a light bulb with a carbon filament that improved on Thomas Edison’s paper filament.
“The truth is black people helped to build America," said Wilder, 34. "The first open heart surgery [Williams] the first automobile [Patterson,] the first patented telephone [Woods], the light bulb [Latimer.] There’s so much history. Black people just want equality. We just want justice, not retaliation."
Wilder also mentioned Jack Johnson, the first African-American heavyweight champion. Johnson set the stage for Ali by enduring racial epithets and death threats while dominating opponents in the ring and flaunting his opulent lifestyle outside of it.
Johnson dethroned Jack Jeffries in “The Battle of The Century” in July 1910. He later served nearly a year in prison from 1920-21 after being convicted of violating the Mann Act in 1913 for transporting a white woman across state lines “for immoral purposes.”
Wilder was on hand with heavyweight legend Lennox Lewis at the White House in May 2018 when President Donald Trump posthumously pardoned Johnson. Another big admirer of Johnson is welterweight contender, Jamal James.
“Jack Johnson was ‘The Big Smoke,’ and he really opened the door and showed no fear of White men when it was extremely dangerous to do so,” said James, 31.
“In the movie ‘The Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson,' you saw the extreme white hatred for the man. Yet he would walk out there smiling before the fight, living his life to the fullest, which speaks a lot to his character.”
James noted Johnson's inventing and patenting an adjustable wrench in 1922, “which allowed him to work on cars.”
But those aren’t James’ only heroes. "I also really liked Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., due to their beliefs, morals, nobility and fearlessness at a time when they were ready to die for their beliefs."
Undefeated bantamweight contender Gary Antonio Russell is another big admirer of Jack Johnson.
“Johnson wasn't scared and stood for what he believed in at a time when Black people were being lynched or killed for no reason, let alone, beating up a White man in the ring," said the 27-year-old Russell.
Nicknamed "Another" Russell, Antonio is among three fighting siblings from Capitol Heights, Maryland, the others being WBC World Featherweight Champion Gary Russell Jr. and super lightweight contender Gary Antuanne Russell.
"Joe Louis was more humble but equally an icon as were Johnson and Ali, but he was more humble and maneuvered more discreetly," said Antuanne, 23, nicknamed, "The Last."
"Muhammad Ali was an exaggerated character who brought racism more to the forefront. The three of them opened the doors for so many people."
“ For Thurgood Marshall to have the confidence and belief he had shows that, if you follow your heart and your faith, you can accomplish anything. ” Two-time World Welterweight Champion - Shawn Porter
Gary Jr.'s hero is Hannibal Barca, a Carthaginian general known for leading a diverse army that included a team of elephants across southern Europe and the Alps Mountains into an ambush of Rome, slaughtering 70,000 troops in one day during the battle of Cannae in August 216 BC. Historians have since called it, "tactical perfection."
"I'm a true connoisseur of the sport of boxing, and Hannibal's warfare strategy is something I mentally emulate to this day," said Gary Jr., 31."My little brother, Antuanne, told me I remind him of Hannibal Barca, whose father, Hamilcar Barca, was his teacher like my father instructs me."
Unbeaten 122-pound contender Stephen Fulton wasn't born when Malcolm X was assassinated in February 1965, having renounced the Nation of Islam for the more peaceful civil rights movement during a racially turbulent era.
"I've liked Malcolm X since I was a young kid for what he stood for and how he tried to help his people," said Fulton, 25. "Along with Muhammad Ali, who paved the way for me and impacted my career and that of thousands of other boxers, those two alone have had a major impact in my career."
Two-time world welterweight champion Shawn Porter named Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson and Henry “Hank” Aaron as men he looked up to.
In 1967, Marshall became the first African American named to the Supreme Court. Drafted by the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, Robinson became the first Black player in Major League Baseball, and Aaron followed with the Milwaukee Braves in 1954, eventually becoming the all-time leader in homeruns. Both are baseball Hall of Famers.
“Knowing the stories of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron really does make me proud to be a Black person,” said Porter, 32. “Seeing what they endured day in and day out just trying to do something that they loved, and, here we are, now, some of us doing things because of money and fame rather than out of the love and understanding of what we’re going to have to go through.
“The pressures that I’m up against just because people don’t feel as if I’m gonna beat somebody compared to the pressures they were up against being a Black man on the baseball field, you really do get an understanding of what that meant at that time. Seeing what those two had to go through on the baseball field, you can gain a lot of courage from the stories of those two amazing men and athletes.”
Porter was enamored by Marshall’s role as an attorney defending Joseph Spell, whose lead representation was Samuel Friedman in a 1940 rape case accusation involving a White woman.
“The white Jewish attorney was exiled from his Jewish people as well as the White community, and they got a Black man off from a rape charge against a White woman back in the 1940s,” said Porter.
“For Thurgood Marshall to have the confidence and belief he had shows that, if you follow your heart and your faith, you can accomplish anything. If he hadn’t stepped up, who knows where we’d be right now?”