Deontay Wilder is almost never at a loss for words. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
A hometown presentation in his honor nearly brought the former WBC heavyweight champion to that point, as Wilder (42-2-1, 41KOs) fought back tears while addressing his adoring public Tuesday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A ceremony was held to present a life-size statue of his likeness to remain on permanent display in front of the Tuscaloosa Visitor’s Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.
“This moment of time, my goodness,” Wilder said while addressing a packed room at Tuscaloosa River Market, down the street from the statue’s location. “In the midst of this journey, I’m being blessed. It’s not like I’m retired and it’s been ten, twenty years. This is now that I’m getting my flowers.”
Speculation had swirled regarding Wilder’s next move, whether another championship run was in store or if he would head off into the sunset with the hundreds of millions earned in the ring and enjoy it with his family. A hint of what’s to come was provided for the first time since his eleventh-round knockout loss to Tyson Fury in their epic trilogy clash last October, perhaps saving the big reveal for when he was in the presence of those nearest and dearest to his heart.
“I can’t stop right now. I must continue with my journey,” Wilder humbly stated, prompting raucous cheers from the crowd on hand. “I love you guys so much. I can’t end it like this. This journey’s not over with. I must continue my journey.”
Wilder has remained out of the public eye since the third fight with England’s Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs), where both fighters hit the deck in their memorable lineal/WBC heavyweight championship that drew universal praise as the 2021 Fight of the Year.
The bout took place in Las Vegas, which has housed Wilder’s last three fights as well as his January 2015 WBC heavyweight title win over Bermane Stiverne. The moment saw Wilder become the first American heavyweight in more than seven years to hold a piece of the divisional crown, fitting for the 6’7” boxer who for eight years served as the only U.S. male boxer to claim an Olympic medal, taking home a Bronze medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Wilder’s accomplishment in Beijing came less than three years after he first took up the sport.
“The level of adversity that Deontay overcame—he came into the gym at 20, in a sport where kids are starting at 7 or 8,” pointed out Jay Deas, the founder of Skyy Boxing and who trained Wilder from day one and served as his career-long co-manager. “People think he just fell out of the sky. He put in the work in that a lot of people aren’t willing to do. He put the work in and never gets the credit. Show me another sport where someone starts at 20 and achieves what he was able to.
“I remember reviewing the bios for every fighter in the 2008 Olympics. When I got to the page of Deontay Wilder, it was listed that he had 24 fights, less fights than anyone else in the 2008 Olympics. In the end, just one guy from the United States won a medal—Deontay Wilder.”
Wilder initially took up the sport in 2005, one year after graduating from Tuscaloosa Central High School. He abandoned other dreams to instead travel a path that would allow him to better provide for his oldest daughter, Naieya who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect where the spine and spinal do not form properly. Less than three years later, Wilder qualified for Team USA as a heavyweight in 2008 Beijing where he advanced to the semifinal rounds, sparing the U.S. Olympic boxing team of being shut out at the medal table, also earning the permanent ring moniker of ‘The Bronze Bomber.’
His pro career turned out to be just as inspirational for those who were along for the ride from the beginning. Following his January 2015 win over Stiverne, Wilder went on to make ten consecutive title defenses, fourth all-time for all heavyweight titlists during a single title reign. All but one title defense ended in knockout—his December 2018 split decision draw with Fury, whom Wilder floored twice including a dramatic 12th round knockdown. His knockout rate of 91.1 percent and 97.6 percent knockout-to-win mark are the best in heavyweight history.
The 16-plus year journey that began with his first visit to Deas’ Skyy Boxing gym was enough for his beloved city to forever honor his achievements, with the event hosting that “for years to come, people will see that statue and see a beacon of hope.”
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
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