By Cliff Rold, photo by Ryan Hafey/PBC
Not everyone comes to boxing first.
Given a slightly different path in life, maybe Deontay Wilder is playing college basketball or football instead of entering a boxing gym at 19. He’s come a long way in the twelve years since. With limited experience and a ton of natural talent, he snared an Olympic bronze medal. After careful, methodical building as a professional, he’s got a belt and is inching closer to some potentially huge fights.
Gerald Washington came to boxing even later. After a four-year sojourn in the Navy, Washington played football for USC and made a couple NFL practice squads before exploring the sweet science. Turned pro at 30, he’s faced and defeated faded vets like Eddie Chambers and Ray Austin.
Is that enough to merit a title shot? Maybe not, but when an opponent was needed on short notice, was he supposed to turn it down?
Let’s go the report card.
Title: WBC heavyweight (2015-Present, 4 defenses)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 222 lbs.
Hails from: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Record: 37-0, 36 KO?
Record in Major Title Fights: 5-0, 4 KO
Rankings: #2 (Ring, Boxing Monthly, BoxRec), #3 (ESPN), #4 (BoxingScene, TBRB)
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 1 (Sergey Lyakhovich)
Previous Titles: None
Weight: 239 lbs.
Hails from: San Jose, California
Record: 18-0-1, 12 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: No title fights to date
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 0
Pre-Fight: Speed – Wilder A-; Washington B
Pre-Fight: Power – Wilder A; Washington B
Pre-Fight: Defense – Wilder B; Washington C+
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Wilder B+; Washington B
There are some things to like about Washington so far. He feints well, seems to be learning on the job, and for this fight is the lowest weight he’s ever been. He’s got a little pop in his right hand and has tremendous size. Against an athletic but sometimes technically troubled heavyweight like Wilder, he might have a puncher’s chance.
What Washington does wrong leaves cause for concern. He keeps his hands low and his chin high. He still pulls straight back and often with his head squared right up. Wilder is an explosive, deceptively fast heavyweight. His power is legitimate and will likely be the most Washington has seen to date. Amir Mansour, who Washington drew with to some contention, can also crack but he’s not shown the sort of concussive force Wilder can.
Will Wilder unleash that power easily? That’s a big question. He broke his hand against Chris Arreola. The big money fights he wants would be further set back with another injury. Could that constrain Wilder? If so, could it open a door for Washington?
It’s not the best heavyweight fight we could ask for, but it’s at least a notable fight in prime time this Saturday (Fox, 8 PM EST/5 PM PST).
Washington should be commended for coming as far as he’s come to date. To go from football well into his twenties to a title shot, no matter how specious his credentials, in his mid-30s is a testament to the work it took to come this far. He’s stood in there with some solid pros and shown real development. What he hasn’t done is ever work out the kinks. He’s still stiff, holds his hands very low, and telegraphs his right hand. Could he land the perfect shot? Sure, but let’s deal in the most likely. Against Wilder, a faster and more fluid fighter, his flaws will mean absorbing some big bombs. Eventually, the ending bomb will land and Wilder will remain undefeated.
Report Card and Staff Picks 2017: 2-3
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]