In life, we live to acquire things.
Whether it’s a fancy car, a big house, a promotion at work or a 401k retirement fund, we all fight our way through life with tangible goals in mind.
In the sport of boxing, two people step into the ring to acquire a championship belt.
But for Deontay Wilder, stepping in the ring meant keeping a promise to his daughter. A promise that would save her life forever.
Wilder grew up as one of four children in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Like most boxers growing up, Wilder admired fighters like Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. But he didn’t grow up boxing like Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Oscar de la Hoya.
Picked on as a kid, Deontay dreamt of playing football or basketball for The University of Alabama Crimson Tide.
But in 2005, his dream came to a screeching halt when he and his then-girlfriend gave birth to their daughter, Naleya, who suffers from spina bifida. Doctors said she might never be able to walk.
So Wilder left school and was soon working two jobs in order to support his daughter. But when two jobs weren’t enough to cover the hospital bills, he had to take a step back.
And in that time, he saw something in himself that never really was: a boxer.
In October of 2005, he walked into a local gym called Skyy Boxing where he would shadow-box while on deliveries for his beer distributing job.
Exhausted from the burden of working, training and fatherhood, Deontay would park outside the gym and sleep in his car to save time and energy.
Every day represented another opportunity to make good on his promise. And everyday Wilder’s daughter remained the driving force.
“‘Daddy’s going to be a world champion one day.’ But she didn’t understand, she was just looking, playing with the gloves. She wasn’t even paying attention to me. But I meant it. I meant every word.”
Rising the Ranks, Build a legacy.
Boxing is a science and an art. You can’t just walk into a gym and start punching away, at least, that’s what Wilder’s trainers thought in the first few months.
But by 2007, Deontay upset the favorites to win both the National Golden Gloves and the US championships at 201 lbs (91 kg).
In 2008, he won the bronze medal at 2008 Olympics. Out of 286 fighters throughout all weight classes, he ranked 286th in experience. He may not have come away with the gold, but Deontay Wilder remains the last American male fighter to medal in boxing at the Olympics.
Wilder turned professional in November 2008. He went 32-0, winning every fight by knockout, with no opponent making it to the fourth round. Wilder’s early career was notable for his punching power and knockout streak.
On December 15, 2012, he became the WBC Continental Americas heavyweight champion by knocking out Kelvin Price in three rounds.
In April 2013, he ended the career of former European heavyweight champion Audley Harrison inside of a round.
In March 2014, Deontay knocked out heavyweight contender Malik Scott in the first month, setting up his mandatory number one position as the challenger for the WBC heavyweight title held by Bermane Stiverne.
On January 17, 2015, Wilder fought for the WBC world heavyweight championship against defending champion Bermane Stiverne. He won the fight by twelve round unanimous decision, becoming the first American heavyweight champion in nine years.
Wilder has made three successful defenses of his world heavyweight title since.
The Future of Boxing: Unify the division.
Deontay Wilder’s fans think he’s the last, best chance to save American boxing: the anti-Mayweather — the kind of charismatic, likable, underdog hero the sport needs. But if Wilder is going to succeed, people are going to have to know who he is. Wilder’s growing success and recognition could bring more Americans back to boxing.
The heavyweight division has been on a steady decline in popularity. But now with Deontay reigning as the champion, he’s slowly but surely bringing the weight class back into the limelight.
Wilder does have a lot left to do. He wants to become the first undisputed heavyweight champion of the world since Britain’s Lennox Lewis in 2000, who Wilder said he talks to often. To do that, he’ll have to win the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organization titles, all of which currently belong to the Wladimir Klitschko, the Ukrainian who has dominated the heavyweight division for years.
Wladimir has his own match — against Britain’s Tyson Fury — less than a month after Wilder’s title defense. It will be an unprecedented 28th title match for Klitschko, breaking Joe Louis’ record 27 title bouts.
Wilder’s team said a match against the victor of the Klitschko-Fury fight could happen as early as 2016.
Despite his championship title and his hopes for the future, Wilder and his team still train across the river from Tuscaloosa at Skyy Boxing in Northport. The gym is housed in a low metal building that looks like a converted garage. A sign on one of the saturated walls reads:
“Just Because We Love What We Do, Does Not Mean We Will Do It For Free!”
For Deontay Wilder, boxing is easy; life is much harder. And as every new champion learns, the stakes only get higher.
So when life gets tough and you don’t know where to turn, put on the gloves and get to work.
Name: Deontay Leshun Wilder
Height: 6’ 7’’
Weight: 215 lbs
Titles: WBC World Heavyweight Champion
Nickname: The Bronze Bomber (a tribute to fellow Alabaman Joe Louis)
Birthplace: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Team: The Bomb Squad