by Martin Rogers
Let’s make no mistake about it – Deontay Wilder is loud.
It seems that not a day goes by without WBC heavyweight champion Wilder finding a new way to bait rival big man Anthony Joshua and try to cajole him into a unification fight sooner than the Englishman, and Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn, may wish for.
Since knocking out Bermane Stiverne two weeks ago Wilder has been getting busy, embarking on a whirlwind media tour where he has had one persistent message – and one target.
On social media, in print and on the airwaves, Wilder accuses Joshua of riding the “gravy train” by picking mediocre opponents. He says he is going to end his career. He questions Joshua’s heart and the validity of his position as top heavyweight.
The barrage has been calculated, and the evidence suggests it is has had the desired effect of shifting the narrative. Joshua was the absolute overlord of the division after his victory over Wladimir Klitschko back in April, no matter what the belts or rankings said. Now, the Brit is in a spot where questions will start to be asked if he doesn’t soon get it on with Wilder.
Listening to Wilder and the way the repartee spouts from him, it would be easy to think that the 32-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala., is a lifelong trash talker. Not so. Like every other part of his game, it has been a work in progress.
That’s right, the guy who destroyed Stiverne both verbally and physically was once not only a little reserved in his fighting approach, but also used to be shy and softly-spoken.
I first encountered Wilder at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he got his career rolling with a bronze medal in the heavyweight division and first got himself on the radar of the boxing public.
Going into the tournament, hopes had been high for the United States team. Rau’shee Warren and Demetrius Andrade were amateur world champions while Sadam Ali, Gary Russell Jr. and Shawn Estrada were also hopeful of going deep.
Yet as things turned swiftly and irreparably south for the Americans from the very start of the event, all around the program was noise. Warren turned pre-event favoritism into a first round exit, ignoring the corner advice of coach Trevor Campbell before railing the national team system afterwards. Andrade also got bumped early, repeatedly looking to the stands for advice from his father as he exited in round one.
Russell was withdrawn after passing out the night before weigh-in. In what would become a predictable theme, his parents hit out at Campbell’s handling of the campaign. Campbell returned fire, saying most of his fighters had ignored advice specifically tailored to how things were different in international boxing compared to the domestic scene.
And amid it all was Wilder, the former high school basketball and football standout with just a couple of years of boxing experience, quietly working his way through the rounds and saying…not much at all.
Wilder was quiet and respectful, a welcome break from all the chatter and acrimony elsewhere. The press picked up on the heartwarming story of his bond with daughter Naieya, who was born with spina bifida.
As Wilder’s teammates fell away, he took in the Olympic experience. He was overawed by the Village, the amount of athletes in one place, the size of everything, the amount of food on offer. He adapted quickly to international judging and saw how big amateur boxing is internationally and what it means. After beating Morocco’s Mohamed Al-Arjaoui in the quarterfinals on countback, he was utterly bemused to later find his opponent in floods of tears in the media mixed zone, being comforted by members of the Moroccan press.
When asked that day if he could go on to claim a gold or silver Wilder simply shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said.
So if you get a little tired of Wilder’s incessant push for a Joshua fight, if you feel like you’d welcome a couple of days break from him popping up all over you social media, consider this. He has waited his time. At 39-0 with 38 KOS, he has walked the walk as well as just talking about it.
Next summer, right around the time he hopes to be going toe-to-toe with Joshua, will mark 10 years since Beijing. Last week, I fished out an old notebook from those Olympics and found the following quote from Wilder after his semifinal defeat to Italy’s Clemente Russo.
“This is a long journey,” he said. “I am going to grow and change. What you see now is different to what you will see as my career goes on.”
He was talking about his technique but the same can also be said about his confidence and approach in general. Take a look online at his reserved display in the Olympic semifinal and compare it to his recent hammering of Stiverne. It looks like a different man. It could not be more different, what you see now from Wilder.
And what you hear from him.