Deontay Wilder didn’t come out with his usual ferocity early on against Gerald Washington, but it didn’t take the champ long to end things once he got rolling.
Fighting for the first time since surgery on his right hand and bicep last summer, Wilder gained a fifth-round TKO of Washington on Saturday night to retain his heavyweight world title at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
In the final round, Deontay Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) caught Gerald Washington (18-1-1, 12 KOs) with a punishing lead right hand before knocking the former University of Southern California football player down with a left hook.
After Washington got to his feet, Wilder went back on the attack and blasted his opponent with a pair of left hooks amid a violent flurry that led referee Mike Griffin to stop the bout at the 1:45 mark of Round 5.
After breaking his hand and tearing his bicep during his TKO of Chris Arreola last July, and subsequently having surgery for both injuries, Wilder said he suffered no setbacks in beating Washington.
“My hand felt wonderful,” Wilder said. “It lived up to what the doctors told me. And as you can see, I still have power in it.
“No matter what round I go, I’ve been blessed with Alabama country power. So whether you go in the first round or the 12th round, nobody is safe to be in the ring with me.”
Although he got the finish he desired, the 31-year-old Tuscaloosa, Alabama, native started slowly as he neglected his usually potent jab against Washington, who was surprisingly effective as the aggressor in the early rounds.
It wasn’t until the third round that Wilder began to pump his own jab with any consistency as the crowd chanted “De-on-tay, De-on-tay” in support of the champ.
Wilder said the original strategy against Washington was to throw jabs and move since he was returning from injury, but that his team abandoned that plan in the dressing room right before the fight.
Instead, he patiently laid in wait for Washington to provide an opening, which the champ eventually exploited.
“We knew that Washington would have a lot of adrenaline due to the fact that this is his first time fighting for a world title,” Wilder said. “He was very excited. You could even tell at the press conference [before the fight] when he showed emotion. And sometimes us men don’t show emotion, especially fighters, so I knew this opportunity meant a lot to him.
“I didn’t want to do too much to burn my energy. I think this fight I was just looking for the knockout punch. I wanted to set him up and wait for the opportunity, and then when I saw the opportunity, to get him out of there. And that’s what I did.”
“ I’ve been blessed with Alabama country power. So whether you go in the first round or the 12th round, nobody is safe to be in the ring with me. ” Deontay Wilder
Washington was leading the fight heading into Round 3. Then in the fourth, he caught Wilder with a solid left that seemed to wake up the champ, who delivered a thundering left-right combination to the body of the former Navy helicopter mechanic late in the round.
By the end of the fourth, the fighters were deadlocked on two of the judges’ scorecards, while Wilder held a slim lead on the other. Afterward, the champ said he wasn’t concerned about his slow start against the 34-year-old Vallejo, California, resident.
“I wanted to stay calm,” Wilder said. “As you could see, I didn’t throw too many jabs, and the jabs that I did throw were more of a measurement.
“We knew that he couldn’t go to his right, so when I did test the right and he moved to his left, it was all timing. I even looked to my girl [after Round 4] and told her, ‘I’m going to kill him.’”
After having some early success in his first title fight, Washington said he was disappointed that he couldn’t maintain it.
“I just got a little impatient,” he said. “I was trying to go for it. It was an even boxing match. I could have kept it like that and kept it boring. I don’t know why I fell asleep there. I guess I lost a little focus.”
After defending his world title for the fifth time, Wilder saluted the crowd of 12,346 as “Sweet Home Alabama” blared from the arena’s speakers with many fans adding “Roll Tide Roll!” to the chorus.
Wilder was originally supposed to defend his championship against Andrzej Wawrzyk, but the Polish contender tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in mid-January, which gave Washington his shot at the title.
“I caught him with one shot when he was coming in,” Washington said. “But instead of me keeping that play going and keep pushing him back, and keep him in the center of the ring, I tried to get on him. I was trying to play a little counterpunch role and catch him coming in. He just caught me.”
Fellow heavyweight champion Joseph Parker was seated ringside for the fight, and Wilder expressed his desire to face the New Zealand native next in his quest to unify the division’s four major titles. First, however, Parker must defend his title against England’s Hughie Fury in Auckland, New Zealand, on April 1.
“I think it’s critical to have one fighter and one champion, and that’s Deontay Wilder,” the lifelong Alabama resident said. "Let’s hope Joseph Parker is ready for me, because I’m definitely ready for him.”
For a complete look at Wilder vs Washington, visit our fight page.