By Corey Erdman
The impact of Deontay Wilder's first round knockout over Bermane Stiverne came to light in my Instagram DMs on Sunday morning.
A close friend of mine, who appreciates boxing but isn't a rabid fan, sent me a video capture of Wilder folding Stiverne up unconscious, with the message: “WHO IS THIS GUY?!”
To the readers of this website, the knockout win may not be all that exciting. It can easily be played down—Stiverne was coming in on short notice, he'd lost to Wilder before, he was fighting at a career heaviest weight, he'd most recently struggled against Derric Rossy. All of those things are indeed true, but for the purposes of selling a potential fight against Anthony Joshua, they're utterly irrelevant.
The fact that the victory was so violent, so emphatic, and maybe most critically, so brief that it can be jammed into an Instagram video or a few short GIFs is what's really important. Wilder's performance is easily shareable—it's quick, it's jarring, it's impressive. The folks like my friend may not schedule their lives around fights every Saturday, but they'll sure find a minute or two to watch someone get knocked out.
No matter how “overrated” die hard boxing fans may declare Wilder or Joshua to be, no matter how badly they suggest they'd get thumped by their favorite golden era heavyweight, very few of those people don't tune in when either man fights, and none of them would miss it if they fought one another. Now, the casual fans who have seen the one round demolition job Wilder turned in are likely in that same category.
If he didn't before, on the heels of this victory, Wilder now presents the ultimate and perfect rival for Joshua.
“A king don’t chase the peasants. A king takes kings. I want Joshua. If he don’t give me the fight, we have other plans. The world want Joshua, the world want Wilder. I want Joshua. Joshua, come and see me, baby. No more dodging, no more excuses. Make the date, don’t wait,” said Wilder following his victory over Stiverne on Saturday. “I’ve been waiting on that fight for a long time now. I declare war upon you. Do you accept my challenge? I’ve been waiting for a long time. I know I’m the champion. I know I’m the best. Are you up for the test?”
Joshua's popularity in the United Kingdom is hard to overstate. His last two fights have drawn north of 160,000 fans total, and those tickets were sold in a matter of minutes. When he fought Wladimir Klitschko, who numerically and monetarily may be the greatest live gate draw in the history of boxing, it was thought that perhaps ticket sales were aided by him. But whatever drawing power Klitschko brought to the table that night, it's now obvious that Joshua either matched it, or has inhereted it. For his most recent fight in Wales, 70,000 people bought tickets to see him face what they thought would be Kubrat Pulev but wound up being Carlos Takam. Needless to say, neither man impacted the gate in any way.
There are only a handful of events that could even possibly draw 90,000 people in North America. There's certain college football teams that are able to do it, but university athletics benefit from a special kind of indoctrination and loyalty. NASCAR seldom approaches those numbers anymore, though the organization never officially releases attendance figures anyway. Music festivals can potentially do it, but only with a lineup of the biggest and most popular artists in the world. Aside from that, only special one-off sporting events may have a chance to draw that kind of a crowd. That's to say that if Joshua were to keep up his prodigious drawing power, he could become the greatest live gate draw in boxing history, and one of the world's biggest live gate attractions period.
Wilder may not be as phenomenally popular as Joshua—and indeed, much of that is due to boxing's popularity in American in comparison to the UK—but he's certainly no slouch. The Bronze Bomber has been a consistent draw in his home state of Alabama, and on Saturday he drew nearly 11,000 at Barclays Center on the same night as the biggest UFC card of the year at Madison Square Garden. And while the ratings have yet to be released for his most recent fight, his first bout with Stiverne is the highest rated Showtime telecast of at least the past decade.
"I was really interested to see the weight of Deontay Wilder on the scales. I texted that to Anthony today. I shouldn't really tell you the reply, but it was 'I'll eat him.'” Joshua's promoter Eddie Hearn told Sky Sports. “Joshua has told me we want all the belts and that means taking on all the champions. The gentleman over there sitting ringside, Tyson Fury, he's in the plans for 2018 as well. Joseph Parker as well. I had a text from his promoter tonight, asking if we fancy making that fight next. Everybody wants to fight Anthony Joshua and you will see him fight everybody."
Joshua's braintrust can be forgiven if they want to go after, say, Parker, first before worrying about Wilder. He's proven that he can fill a stadium while facing a nondescript Bulgarian or an aging, little known veteran from France. But the fight with Wilder will never be bigger than it would be if it were to be made right now.
While Wilder's knockout of Stiverne is still on highlight reels and still making the social media rounds, his buzz is the most palpable it's ever been.
The question is no longer “who is this guy?” It's “who is the man” in the heavyweight division?