It has long been said in America that as the heavyweight division goes, so does boxing. And taking a quick glance at the past decade, business hasn’t been all that good.
So if you ask any expert the one solution that might most help bridge the gap between the casual fan and the sport, the emergence of a dynamic American heavyweight would undoubtedly top the list.
It wouldn’t hurt, of course, if said heavyweight had the requisite level of size, strength and cocky exterior. He would not only need to be powerful, but be able to sell himself through his look and ability to talk.
Basically, this mythical creation would look and sound a heck of a lot like unbeaten Deontay Wilder, which makes Saturday’s showdown against heavyweight titlist Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/PT) all the more interesting.
The crux of the intrigue circles around the fact despite being six years and 32 fights into his professional career, we really don’t know all that much about whether the 6-foot-7 Wilder is for real.
What we do know is that Wilder (32-0, 32 KOs), a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, has unquestionable power, specifically in his right hand. It’s a notion that’s illustrated by the fact no opponent has yet to make it out of the fourth round against the 2008 Olympic bronze medalist.
Yet Wilder’s painfully slow matchmaking has done more than delay the proper appraisal of his true class within the division. It has also created a considerable amount of doubt, and idea that the hype surrounding Wilder might be too good to be true.
Wilder, 29, has violently feasted on a potpourri of faded names and no-hopers that, in theory, are no different from the resumes of similar promising heavyweights in recent years. But the major difference is that Wilder has not only lingered for far too long under the category of prospect without having properly stepped up in class, he also has yet to find himself in anything resembling a compromising situation.
Because of that, we know next to nothing about his intangibles. Does he have a strong chin? Can he box anywhere as good as he can punch? Does he have the stamina and toughness to find a second life in the championship rounds?
There are some truths that can only be discovered inside the ring, meaning not only do critics lack sufficient evidence, so does Wilder. It’s the same scenario that fellow protected prospect Gary Russell Jr. encountered last June when he finally stepped up in class for a vacant featherweight title against Vasyl Lomachenko and discovered some hard truths about himself.
Wilder, of course, is facing an opponent in Stiverne who is solid, but not on the same level as Lomachenko. Unlike Russell, he also benefits from being a big puncher, which could prove to be a great equalizer should he fall behind.
But just the same, the untested Wilder is going all-in by simply accepting the fight with Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs), who knocked out Chris Arreola last May in their rematch to claim the title vacated by Vitali Klitschko’s retirement.
Should Stiverne succumb early to Wilder’s power in the same way that 32 fighters have before him, this conversation will become null and void as Wilder chases potential stardom and (hopefully) a unification fight with recognized champion Wladimir Klitschko.
But if the idea of Wilder as boxing’s next big thing proves to be nothing more than a fairy tale, criticism of his handling up to this point will be justified.
That, in a nutshell, is what makes this heavyweight title fight between two prime sluggers a rare case of must-see TV for the division. And it has truly been a long time since we have been able to say that.