By Robert Morales
Deontay Wilder had nothing but good things to say about growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. during a telephone conversation Monday. It was just like so many other places.
"It was good," Wilder said. "Got into fights, of course; what kid don't?"
Wilder apparently always could fight. When, in 2005, he found himself set to drop out of college because he was about to become a father to a daughter, who was born with spina bifida, he and a good friend were sitting around pondering their respective futures.
"I told him I should start boxing," said Wilder, who Saturday knocked out his 30th opponent in as many fights when he knocked out Nicolai Firtha in the fourth round at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. "He thought it was a great idea because of the fact that I was known for fighting, I was known for roughing guys up.
"I was that quiet guy that never looked for trouble, but trouble always found me. When the smoke cleared up, it was me the last man standing. That's the reason he thought it was a great idea."
Wilder - at 6-foot-7 - wanted to play basketball. But that wasn't going to make him any money - certainly not immediately, and maybe never.
"I was just looking that I had a child on the way, wasn't going to be able to do college anymore, ain't going to be able do this sport no more," he said of his thoughts at the time. "I didn't want to give up my dreams of being a famous athlete and boxing was the thing."
Wilder got himself hooked up, and, as he said, "The rest is history, man."
He did not don a boxing glove until he was 21. He took 21 amateur bouts into the Olympic Trials in 2008, made the team and won a bronze medal in the Beijing Games only a couple of years after his first amateur bout. Today, the five-year pro is ranked in the top 10 in three of the four major governing bodies, as high as No. 3 by the WBC.
Wilder is stoked.
"I'm happy with how it's been going," Wilder said. "We've been moving up and whenever you're moving up, it's always a great thing. If I was moving down, or just standing in one spot, then something would be wrong."
Not a thing has gone wrong for knockout king
Think about knocking out 30 opponents to start a career. That's really something, to be sure. But Wilder, 28, tries not to think too much about it.
"It's definitely amazing," Wilder said. "It's exciting, but I don't get too wrapped up in it. It excites me just to hear it or to hear it repeated. I mean, 30-0, all by way of knockout. That's just great. But I'm just letting God do his will. He blessed me with power and I'm going to try and use it each and every fight."
"But I don't want to get too wrapped up in it for the simple fact that I don't want to disappoint myself if I don't knock a guy out or if I go 12 rounds. If I don't knock him out, I don't. If I do, I do. It's all good. As long as I get the 'W,' at the end of the night, I'm good."
Classy or cocky? Perhaps both
Wilder is rather colorful at times in the ring, whether it's before, during or after a fight. But Wilder told BoxingScene.com that it's all about fans having a blast.
"Outside of boxing, I'm a silly guy," Wilder said. "Everybody knows I'm a straight silly guy, man. My personality is humble, laid back, don't have to have much. I'm a simple guy. But in the ring, it's a business and ... I'll tell you, the thing about the heavyweight division, one of the things is that excitement, the entertainment part of it.
"That's one of the things that has died. And fans all love entertainment, they all love excitement. That's what keeps them coming back each and every time. So I don't want anybody to interpret me as being somebody who is arrogant, or full of themselves, but a guy who is trying to bring excitement and entertainment back to the sport. At the end of the day, I'm still Deontay. Humble guy, people person."
Wilder wants to bring back the belts, too
Shannon Briggs was the last American to hold a piece of the heavyweight championship, and that was in 2007. But the decline in American heavyweights started long before that. One could say 1996-97 - during which time Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Michael Moorer held titles - was the last time Americans held dominance in the division.
When Americans like John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, Lamon Brewster, Chris Byrd, Briggs and even Roy Jones Jr. won titles in the 2000s, it was certainly nothing to brag about as none of them were what any objective individual would call a terrific champion. Jones was, but not at that weight.
Wilder might be just what the doctor ordered for those Americans starving for success from a countryman in what once was boxing's bread-and-butter division.
"Yeah, it's super important for me to bring that belt back because that's one thing - not just in America, the whole world - people want those belts back in America," he said. "It's nothing like having an American heavyweight. People dwell on those glamor days when we had exciting American heavyweights. Those were the days when everybody was watching boxing.
"Everybody having parties, coming over, family gatherings. Everybody was talking about it, man, so everybody wants it."
Wilder said he as well as fans must exercise some patience in this regard. He says fans get on him about things like, when is he going to fight a certain guy, and even chastising him "for fighting bums." He said he doesn't let it get to him because he realizes that "people are so impatient for those heavyweight days; they are so hungry for it."
Wilder fights under the Golden Boy Promotions banner. Its CEO, Richard Schaefer, was traveling Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. But since Wilder is ranked No. 3 by the WBC, it figures going after that belt might be the quickest road. Its champion, Vitali Klitschko, has not fought since September 2012 and recently announced he is going to run for president in his native Ukraine.
If Klitschko, 42, hangs up his gloves, No. 1 Bermane Stiverne and No. 2 Chris Arreola would likely fight for the vacant title. Wilder could face the winner sometime in mid or late 2014.
Wilder wants badly to be a champion. And not just any champion.
"I am the man for that because I want to be a great champion," he said. "Not only a great fighter in the ring, but a champion outside the ring and I think I have everything to be a champion inside and outside the ring."
Goossen not sold yet on Wilder
The aforementioned Arreola is promoted by Dan Goossen. Since there is at least the possibility that Wilder and Arreola could tangle down the line, we thought it would be interesting to see what Goossen thinks about Wilder. Color Goossen both dazzled, and somewhat skeptical.
"It's hard to tell," Goossen said. "You've gotta be impressed with his record. But one of the things that make a real contender as compared to a pretender is having him do what he's doing right now against the top five guys in the world. Then we would be able ot make a clearer judgment as to the type of shot he's going to have down the line."
Meanwhile, Goossen awaits more word on Klitschko
When Arreola lost a decision to Stiverne in April in Ontario, Calif., it meant Stiverne was the mandatory challenger to Klitschko's belt. Arreola got back on track in a big way with a first-round knockout of Seth Mitchell on Sept. 7 in Indio, Calif. Arreola mentioned after that fight that he figures Klitschko will not fight again, and that he and Stiverne should and would fight for the title vacated by Klitschko. Goossen remains hopeful that will pan out.
"If you remember Vitali had the mandatory with Stiverne after the fight with Chris and he asked the WBC to kind of put everything on hold for a while, which they have," Goossen said. "So basically we were sitting back to see what all that meant.
"The next piece of that answer came about last week when he said he was going to run for the presidency. The third piece is for him to decide what he's going to do as it pertains to boxing."
With Arreola's showing against Mitchell - Arreola was in shape and looked as good as he's ever looked - Goossen is understandably anxious to see Arreola get another title shot. A flabby Arreola was stopped after 10 rounds by Klitschko in September 2009 in Los Angeles.
"He's got his future in his hands right now," Goossen said. "Either it's the next fight or the one after that, where he has the ability to finally live that dream and do it through hard work and perseverance. All he ever needed was being in tip-top shape to utilize those skills. I think we're right around the corner from him getting that opportunity and this time I don't believe anything will stop him."
Sanchez returns Rozier's trash-talk
A conference call last week promoting Saturday's middleweight title fight between champion Gennady Golovkin of Kazakhstan and Curtis Stevens of Brooklyn (on HBO) came in two parts. First Stevens and his team took questions, then Golovkin and his team.
Andre Rozier, who trains Stevens, took offense when a reporter asked him what he thought about Abel Sanchez - Golovkin's trainer - suggesting during the promotion that Stevens is not at Golovkin's level.
Rozier had a strong reply that has been highly publicized. Among other things, he said Abel reminds him of when he was doing work as a community activist, working with those with substance-abuse problems.
"He sometimes talks like he's on drugs and he just finds a way to go where no one else could go," Rozier said.
Sanchez later responded to Rozier's remarks with a few shots of his own on the conference call, then added a few more when he called this reporter minutes after the call concluded.
"I don't get upset about what he says because I have to consider the source," Sanchez said. "It's coming from somebody that has never done anything at this level, that doesn't know what this level is all about, so he has no clue what he's talking about.
"On Nov. 2, he'll find out that this championship level is a whole lot different than the amateurs, whatever he's done in the past. And I'm talking about Andre, I'm not talking about Curtis. He (Rozier) makes great ring outfits, flamboyant and loud. But he has clue what it's all about in the training part of it."
Robert Morales covers boxing for the Los Angeles Daily News and BoxingScene.com.