By Keith Idec
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – By the beginning of the fifth round Saturday night, you had to wonder whether Deontay Wilder had reinjured his surgically repaired right hand.
He hadn’t thrown it much during the three previous rounds against a game Gerald Washington, who was effective enough to keep the fight very competitive. When the knockout artist from Tuscaloosa finally uncorked one early in the fifth round, Washington wasn’t able to take it.
The 6-feet-7, 222-pound Wilder’s right hand hurt Washington and a left hand sent Washington to the canvas. The 6-feet-6, 239-pound Washington got up, but Wilder attacked him and landed a barrage of power punches to a defenseless Washington’s head that made referee Michael Griffin stop the fight at 1:45 of the fifth round before a crowd of 12,346 at Legacy Arena.
Washington was on his feet when the fight was stopped, but stumbled across the ring and nearly fell again several seconds after Griffin halted the action.
“I knew he was going to come in excited to fight for a world title,” Wilder said. “I just kept calm and found my rhythm. I knew he was going to tire out, and when he did, I took advantage.
“It was all about timing. I’m very smart in the ring when it comes to using different tactics.”
Wilder was ahead, 39-37, on one scorecard when the fight was stopped. The bout was even (38-38) on the other two cards through four rounds.
The 31-year-old Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) made a fifth defense of the WBC heavyweight title he won by beating Canada’s Bermane Stiverne in January 2015.
Wilder was listed as more than a 20-1 favorite by multiple Internet sports books Saturday, but Washington (18-1-1, 12 KOs) came to fight. The former USC football player from Vallejo, California, made Wilder tentative in the first four rounds and clearly was eager to take advantage of this biggest opportunity of his life.
Washington was aggressive from the start of the first round, clearly not intimidated by battling the heavily favored Wilder in front of his hometown crowd. Wilder didn’t do much in the second round, as Washington tried to land power shots against the defending champion.
The bout became more physical in the third round, when Wilder and Washington tried to land power shots inside and wound up holding each other at times. The crowd began chanting Wilder’s first name later in that round to try to inspire him to counteract Washington’s aggression.
Washington indicated after the fight that his comparative inexperience cost him against Wilder. The 34-year-old Washington, just 4½ years into his pro career, had just 14 amateur fights and 33 bouts overall entering Saturday’s fight.
“I just got a little impatient,” Washington said. “I was trying to go for it. It was an even boxing match. I could have kept it like that and kept it boring. I don’t know why I fell asleep there. I guess I lost a little focus.
“I caught him with one shot when he was coming in. But instead of me keeping that play going and keep pushing him back, and keep him in control by keeping him in the center of the ring, I tried to get on him. I was trying to play a little counter-punch role and catch him coming in. He just caught me.”
Washington replaced Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk (33-1, 19 KOs) as Wilder’s opponent last month because Wawrzyk failed a test for a performance-enhancing drug. Wilder fought for the first time since having surgeries nearly seven months ago to repair multiple fractures to his right hand and a torn right biceps.
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.