As the product of an African-American father and a Mexican-American mother, heavyweight contender Gerald Washington hopes to use boxing as a force for solidarity.
“I’ve always been the type of guy to try to pull people together and to stop them from fighting. I see all of this hate and racism going on in our country right now, and it’s absurd,” says Washington, who has assigned peace to his left hand and love to his right.
“It’s driving me nuts, because my experiences going to school, college and being in the military have given me different perspectives and opened my eyes. I want to use boxing as a platform to smash hate and racism.”
That size of that platform could grow tenfold Saturday if Gerald Washington (18-0-1, 12 KOs) can pull off one of the most stunning upsets in boxing history when he challenges heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama (Fox 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT).
The clash of unbeaten titans will see the 6-foot-6 Washington actually looking up to the 6-foot-7 Wilder, a Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native who will be defending his world title for a fifth time, with four of those bouts taking place in his home state.
It will be Wilder’s second consecutive defense against an opponent of Mexican heritage, as he defeated Chris Arreola by eighth-round stoppage at Legacy Arena in July.
Arreola was looking to become the first fighter of Mexican descent and the second Latino—following Puerto Rico’s John Ruiz (2001-03, 2004-05)—to become a heavyweight champion. Now that task has fallen to Washington, a 34-year-old native of San Jose, California, who lives in Burbank, California, and is nicknamed “El Gallo Negro” (The Black Rooster).
“I’m grateful for the true blessing of coming from two cultures, being able to fight for the United States and Mexico and to potentially reach out and touch so many people,” says Washington, whose parents, Gerald Sr., 66, and Rosa Rangel, 62, met in San Francisco and separated when Gerald was young.
“Winning this title will shine the light on me and give me a platform to speak out against all of this hatred and racism. … What comes to mind are great champions like Muhammad Ali who stood for something. I’m happy to be able to put myself in a position with this fight where I can be of assistance to the cause of unity.”
“ I see all of this hate and racism going on in our country right now, and it’s absurd. I want to use boxing as a platform to smash hate and racism. ” Gerald Washington, unbeaten heavyweight title contender
Washington’s backstory is as interesting as any in boxing. While he grew up in Northern California, he headed south to Mexico when he was 13, spending three months attending school and working the farm on a ranch taking care of animals. “I walked the land,” he recalls. “I received a lot of love and got a really good grip on my people and my culture.”
Washington returned to the U.S. and graduated from high school, then served in the Navy as a helicopter mechanic from 2000-04. After completing his military service, Washington enrolled at Chaffey Junior College in Southern California and joined the football team.
Despite playing just one year of football in high school, he performed well enough to earn Junior College All-America honors as a sophomore. He then transferred in 2006 to the University of Southern California, where he lined up at tight end and defensive end.
Although injuries limited his playing time at USC, Washington got a brief look in the NFL, briefly serving on the practice squads of the Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills. When his football career fizzled out, Washington turned his focus to boxing and made his pro debut in July 2012, three months after his 30th birthday.
While some might look at the violent nature that’s inherent to both football and boxing and assume the experiences are similar, Washington says that’s not the case at all.
“The cool part about football is you’re part of an army. In the tunnel you’re swaying back and forth, saying, ‘It’s war time, let’s take it outside,’” he says. “But it’s different in boxing. When that bell rings, you’re going to war by yourself.”
Well, in the ring Washington will be warring with Wilder all by his lonesome. But he says he won’t be alone spiritually.
“I’m a California guy, and there’s a lot of Mexican-American people here who are very excited when it comes to boxing,” says Washington, who has served as a youth boxing trainer and mentor in Los Angeles. “I’ll be taking two cultures into the ring with me on fight night, and I’ll proudly represent both.”
For complete coverage of Wilder vs Washington, head over to our fight page.