By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Deontay Wilder has a fight this weekend.
Nevertheless, he’s got bigger things on his agenda than 6-foot-6 Gerald Washington.
The WBC champion will defend his share of the heavyweight division against the organization’s No. 8 contender – a former football player at the University of Southern California – but he managed not to mention the anonymous 34-year-old even once during a recent chat in which he was far more concerned about plotting his course for the remainder of 2017.
“I’m a fighter. I love to fight,” Wilder said. “This is what God has blessed me to do. I’m in love with it. I don’t run from nobody. I’m not scared of no man. If anything, they fear me. This year is going to be the proof in the pudding right here. I don’t like to do too much talking. I like my hands to do the talking for me. My team is well put together and we’re all on the same accord when it comes to 2017.
“It’s all about Deontay Wilder this year and I’m looking to unify the division this year for sure.”
A defeat of Washington would be the fifth defense of the belt Wilder won from Bermane Stiverne in January 2015. But in spite of the hoopla initially created by an American winning a heavyweight crown, he’s largely stood still in terms of acclaim after wins over the less-than-fearsome likes of Eric Molina (KO 9), Johann Duhaupas (TKO 11), Artur Szpilka (KO 9) and Chris Arreola (TKO 8).
A match with a higher-profile foe, Alexander Povetkin, collapsed after the Russian failed a drug test last spring, and Wilder earned a $5 million civil judgement earlier this month after suing the would-be challenger’s team. Then, the initial opponent for Saturday’s fight, Andrzej Wawrzyk, dropped out after failing a drug test of his own.
In between, Wilder spent some time on the shelf recovering from surgery after he suffered both a broken right hand and torn right biceps in the July 16 defeat of Arreola.
Now that he’s recovered, the stops and starts have created an immediate sense of urgency.
“It got so bad for me where I had to talk to God about it,” he said. “One time I was sitting on my bed and I talked to God and I asked him, ‘Why am I always missing out on the big fight? Why?’ Certain things are not in my hands, but the thing I got out of it is him letting me know my time’s coming. ‘Stay patient, Deontay. I haven’t let you down all your life and I’m not going to do it now.’
“I know that everything comes in the right time. It doesn’t come when I want it, but when it comes it’s the right time. I’ve had to understand that and by me understanding that it leads me to be a patient champion, to wait my turn. 2017 is definitely my time.”
Wilder took a brief respite from training to sit down and discuss his health, his next target after a would-be Washington win and what is required to label 2017 a successful year.
BoxingScene.com: Everybody’s curious about your health. So let’s tackle that right away. How’s the hand and how’s the arm and how have they been so far through training camp?
Deontay Wilder: Everything is good. My hand and my biceps have recovered. 100 percent. I’m doing great in sparring. Looking really good. Seems like I never missed a beat. I can’t wait for this fight. It’s my welcome back party. Of course we’ve got everybody going to be wondering how the hand holds up and I can’t wait to display my hand and put on a great performance.
BoxingScene.com: I talked to Keith Thurman last year about recovering from a serious injury and being a little tentative, and he said he put everything in the hands of the doctors – and when they said it was 100 percent ready to go, he never looked back. Was it similar for you or did you ease your way in?
Deontay Wilder: Mine was definitely kind of similar to his. You’ve got to listen to the doctors. I had to learn that the hard way because this is an injury that could have been resolved, but because I have a high tolerance to pain, it allowed me to still fight with a broken hand. All this time my hand was still kind of broken. I wasn’t aware of it because of the high tolerance to pain. But now that its 100 percent healed, I’m looking forward to it. I’m definitely not going to be hesitant to throw it when it’s time to get in the ring. I want people to see a great fight when I come back, and see that ‘Man, it’s like he never left.’ I want them to feel like I never broke it.
BoxingScene.com: What was it like the first time you sparred or the first time you went hard in a workout? Was there any hesitancy or tentativeness to work through, or did it never exist at all?
Deontay Wilder: Just a little bit. You’re always going to be hesitant when you break something because you don’t want to do it again. You know what you’ve been through, you know how far you’ve come and you don’t want to go back down that road no more – especially with the rehab process. So of course you feel a little tentative at first, but over time it goes away. As long as you program it out your mind. You’ve got to program it out your mind or you’ll still fear that same voyage and not want to throw that hand because you’re afraid that you’re going to break it. That’s one of the things that I haven’t had thoughts of. I keep an open mind with my hand and I trust in my team. I trust in my team of doctors that things are going to come out like they said. So far, so good. I can’t wait to get those small gloves on my hands and get back in there and give the fans what they want to see, and that’s knockouts.
BoxingScene.com: If you could press a button and get any fight or fights done, what would they be? What does the agenda look like?
Deontay Wilder: I wouldn’t even push a button. I just have my remote control as if I was the remote control car. I’m going to guide myself to each and every fight. After this fight, I’m looking to go after Joseph Parker. I think Joseph Parker will beat Hughie Fury. I’m going after that belt. I may have a mandatory after that. Whoever it may be, I’m going to get rid of him and at the end of the year I’m looking to have the winner of Joshua and Klitschko, if they still have the belt at that time. That’s how my year is going to go.
BoxingScene.com: Are you going to be at Wembley for the Joshua-Klitschko fight, or at least watching one way or the other?
Deontay Wilder: I’m going to be watching one way or the other. I’m definitely trying to make plans to be over there in person.
BoxingScene.com: What do you think of that fight?
Deontay Wilder: My heart is for Joshua but my mind goes for Klitschko. I really don’t think that they’ve prepared Joshua for a Klitschko fight. Definitely Father Time is at his door, but Klitschko is still a smart guy and he’s still a dangerous fighter. We all know that in boxing styles make fights. I think their styles both complement each other very, very well, and you’re going to see a great fight. I think Klitschko is very confident in this fight, just because Joshua lacks experience. He knows that he hasn’t fought anyone to be prepared for that level. Like I said, my heart is for Joshua but my mind goes Klitschko.
BoxingScene.com: It’ll be a huge fight no matter what, but is one of those guys a bigger opponent or a more attractive opponent in terms of a promotion, or for your motivational purposes?
Deontay Wilder: As of right now I think the Joshua and me fight is the bigger fight. That’s what the fans are craving for and that’s what they’re hollering now for. Joshua and Wilder fight. When you see two tall guys, two athletic guys, nice builds, people want to see that. They want to see two guys that seem like they’re in shape to fight. So I think that would be the biggest fight that the fans would want to see. They see that Fury beat Klitschko, so they kind of discredit him a little as far as being the biggest fight for me. The Joshua and Deontay Wilder fight definitely would be the best, especially if he pulls off a win against Klitschko. Then they’ll definitely demand it. It’ll be a fight that must happen immediately, the demand will be so high.
BoxingScene.com: If we talk a year from now, what will have had to happen for you to say, “Yeah, I’m satisfied. I had the year I wanted”?
Deontay Wilder: I would have had to accomplish getting all the titles. If not all of them, definitely another title and being that much closer to unifying all of them. This year is all about unification. After this fight I’m going after another belt, and then at the end of the year we’re going to unify. That’s how I want this year to go. I think that’s how it’s going. Everybody’s on course. Everybody’s on the grid. My team’s ready. We’re just making sure that my opponents’ teams are on the same page as us and we can make big fights happen.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBF junior middleweight title – Birmingham, Alabama
Tony Harrison (No. 2 IBF/No. 7 IWBR) vs. Jarrett Hurd (No. 3 IBF/No. 16 IWBR)
Harrison (24-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Three straight victories since lone loss in 2015 (3-0, 2 KO)
Hurd (19-0, 13 KO): First title fight; Five consecutive wins by stoppage (32 total rounds)
Fitzbitz says: Harrison is slotted higher according to both the IBF and independent rankings, but my hunch is that Hurd has a higher upside and will prove it in a marquee debut. Hurd in 8
Vacant WBC super bantamweight title – Hull, United Kingdom
Rey Vargas (No. 1 WBC/No. 36 IWBR) vs. Gavin McDonnell (No. 2 WBC/No. 9 IWBR)
Vargas (28-0, 22 KO): First title fight; First fight outside of North America
McDonnell (16-0-2, 4 KO): First title fight; Five-fight winning streak since 2014 (5-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Vargas, like Harrison, is ranked higher by the sanctioning body, but his independent ranking is 27 spots lower. That tells me he’s got more going for him in a home turf fight. McDonnell by decision
WBC heavyweight title – Birmingham, Alabama
Deontay Wilder (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Gerald Washington (No. 8 WBC/No. 32 IWBR)
Wilder (37-0, 36 KO): Fifth title defense; KO wins in all four title defenses (37 total rounds)
Washington (18-0-1, 12 KO): First title fight; Second fight in Alabama (1-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: I’m not convinced that Wilder is the world’s best heavyweight. But he’s the best heavyweight in this fight, by a long distance. Expect an impressive KO win. Wilder in 7
Last week's picks: None
2017 picks record: 11-3 (78.5 percent)
Overall picks record: 834-277 (75.0 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.