By Jake Donovan
The last time Deontay Wilder opened up training camp for a fight, he thought it was to hit the road. Instead, it resulted in his biggest homecoming to date.
In the wake of his failed plans for a mandatory title defense versus Alexander Povetkin – whose positive drug test for Meldonium killed their scheduled May 21 clash in Moscow – the unbeaten heavyweight returns to his home state of Alabama for the third time in just 13 months.
His latest adventure takes place this Saturday as he faces veteran contender Chris Arreola. The bout will air live on Fox in primetime (Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET/7:00 p.m. local time) at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, less than an hour from his hometown in Tuscaloosa.
The event marks the third time he defends in his home state since becoming champ with a 12-round win over Bermane Stiverne last January – his lone career bout to go the distance. His only fight away from Alabama came in his most recent ring appearance, a highlight reel one-punch 9th round knockout of Artur Szpilka this past January in Brooklyn, New York.
“It's a great feeling,” Wilder (36-0. 35KOs) said to BoxingScene.com of once again fighting in Birmingham, which has hosted three of his last four bouts. “They always say home is where the hear this and it's true. I just wanted to stay close to my loved ones in light of everything that happened the last time we was supposed to fight.”
That adventure, of course, ended with Wilder boarding a plane in Sheffield, England, only to head home rather than to Moscow. Rather than becoming the first ever American to defend a portion of the heavyweight title in Russia, he was left with a lot of air miles and countless hours in the gym without anything to show for it in light of the drug testing scandal that is now part of two active multi-million dollar lawsuits.
“For this fight, we had to keep it at home,” Wilder (36-0, 35KOs) said of the decision to return to the ring as soon as possible. “All the traveling we did that last time and not even get to fight, I wasn’t about to go through all that again. So we decided to keep this good thing going that we have happening in my home state of Alabama.”
Wilder made history with his homecoming last June, knocking out Eric Molina in the 9th round of the first-ever heavyweight title fight to take place anywhere in Alabama. With this Saturday’s fight, Birmingham will join Las Vegas as the only two U.S. cities to host three heavyweight title bouts in a 13-month span.
The fight with Wilder played to a sold out crowd of more than 9,500 at Bartow Arena on UAB campus, while last September’s knockout win over Johann Duhaupas took place last September while competing with college football season in SEC (Southeastern Conference) country. Ticket sales for this weekend’s event have already surpassed the previous two events, with expectations raised to where the majority – if not all – of the 18,000-seat arena is filled with paying patrons.
“Every time we have a show here it gets bigger and bigger,” Wilder notes, his trademark million-dollar grin that has been missing for the past couple of months once again gracing his profile. “This was never a boxing state, we helped create (a commission) to become one. There was a point where they had fights here but we had to borrow other commissions. They cut that out and those commissions wanted us to go there. But we are making this a boxing state for sure.”
The card features at least five televised fights spanning consecutive broadcasts on Fox and FS1. The most important thing in putting together such a loaded show was filling the void at the top.
With that came the question of why a heavyweight with just one clean win in his last four starts and who is not deserving of yet another title shot, is in fact fighting for the sport’s top prize.
“Look, do Chris Arreola deserve this title shot? No he doesn't,” acknowledged Wilder. “But for what we were looking to accomplish here, getting a fight this summer, do he fit the description? Yes he do, 100 percent.
“What we were looking for was a heavyweight who always comes to fight. This is on national TV, on Fox in primetime. Fans want to see excitement; they want to see heavyweights throw big punches looking to knock the other guy out. So we knew in getting Chris Arreola, that's what we (are) giving the fans.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2