Deontay Wilder for a while was the only guy keeping the flame flickering in the heavyweight division. When he defeated Bermane Stiverne to win the WBC title in 2015, the division was in a down mode.
Anthony Joshua hadn’t yet emerged, and was still more than a year away from winning a piece of the title. Tyson Fury would beat the legendary Wladimir Klitschko 11 months later, but as quickly as Fury emerged, he flamed out, sidelined by mental health issues after ballooning to 400 pounds.
Oleksandr Usyk was a cruiserweight who was training for his seventh pro fight on the night that Wilder defeated Stiverne.
Wilder was continuously exciting in the ring and he was not only accessible to the media, but he was an engaging and entertaining personality.
Now, of course, the heavyweight division is bubbling over with quality fights and interesting storylines and has become one of the most interesting in boxing.
Former heavyweight champion Andy Ruiz Jr. will face veteran Luis Ortiz on Sunday at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles in what could turn into a wild slugfest.
Usyk is the unified champion and angling for a fight with Fury, suddenly the most compelling personality in the division and arguably the best. But they’re not alone. Joe Joyce, Joe Parker, Daniel Dubois, Filip Hrgovic and Zhang Zhilei are all talents of varying levels, and 22-year-old Jared Anderson has the look of a future champion.
But still right near the top, still as compelling and as entertaining as ever, is Wilder. On Oct. 15, he’ll headline a pay-per-view card at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, against Robert Helenius in what could be another wild night.
Wilder took a lot of heat early in his career for the cautious way he was moved. But once he proved himself a legitimate contender, no one sought out the best opposition more than Wilder.
He came out on the wrong side of one of the great heavyweight bouts in recent times, when he was stopped in the 11th by Fury. There was no loser in that bout, though. It was a breath-taking, edge-of-your-seat affair from start to finish.
Both of them dished — and more significantly for this point — absorbed a tremendous amount of punishment. No one could have blamed either of them had they chosen to walk away after that bout. They’d made their money, they’d enhanced their reputations and they sacrificed their bodies. It was time to go live the good life, if that’s what they chose.
Wilder, though, is a fighter through and through. So he traveled to Las Vegas to work out at the UFC Performance Institute while working with the highly regarded trainer, Don House. He said he’s already done 400 rounds in preparation for Helenius.
Wilder doesn’t need this, as Helenius is a dangerous opponent who would love nothing better than to have Wilder’s name on his résumé, but just as writers write, fighters fight. Wilder is looking not just for a few more paydays, but to once again do something memorable.
“I’ve had a great career and now I’m back again for my second reign,” he said. “It’s amazing to reminisce about all the years and about how I got to where I am now. It’s been an honor. We had a game plan and we executed that game plan.”
Fury went 2-0-1 in the series with Wilder, but there is no doubt that Wilder brought the best out of Fury. They fought to a draw in their first fight, on Dec. 1, 2018, in Los Angeles and Wilder nearly won by knockout. He dropped Fury hard in the 12th round, only for Fury to inexplicably rise and fight back to the finish.
Fury won the last two fights between them, with the last being among the greatest heavyweight fights in the last quarter-century or even half-century.
And now, Wilder’s plotting his return to the top. Helenius is the man in front of him now, but with a win, he could wind up facing Ruiz if Ruiz defeats Ortiz. And that long-discussed fight with Joshua could still become a reality.
“I’m trying to do something different with adding Don House to the team working in Las Vegas,” Wilder said. “We wanted to change up some things, go more rounds and see what happened. This training sounds like it could be a lot on your body, but when you’re in shape physically and mentally, nothing is impossible.”
Another reign as champion is far from impossible. He knocked Fury down four times in their three bouts and in the unlikely event they’re ever in the ring again, that power would still give him a chance to win. If he fights Usyk, he’d have to deal with a slick boxer like he’s never seen, but imagine him hitting Usyk with some of those shots he hit Fury with.
Wilder always has a chance.
And while other heavyweights have emerged to make the division the strongest it’s been since the 1990s when Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, George Foreman and Ray Mercer, among others, were filling out the rankings, Wilder is still there shoulder-to-shoulder with them.
He’s a can’t-miss guy, and even though he’s on the back nine of his career, he remains one of the most compelling fighters and personalties, not only in the division but in all of the sport.