Deontay Wilder, who is the WBC heavyweight champion, returns to the ring Saturday night against unbeaten and mostly unknown Gerald Washington (18-0-1, 12 knockouts) at Legacy Arena in Alabama. Photo by Ryan Hafey/PBC.
Washington is a 34-year-old former Southern California tight end and defensive end. He is also a former Navy helicopter mechanic who turned pro less than five years ago.
The 31-year-old Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) is making his fifth title defense and fourth in Birmingham, about an hour from his Tuscaloosa hometown. He had surgeries to repair a broken right hand and torn right biceps sustained in last summer's fight against Chris Arreola. Trainer Jay Deas said they quickly returned to the ring even with that arm in a sling, working on his left.
The 6-foot-7 Wilder predicts a lot of jabs in the fight with the 6-5 Washington, both tall, athletic fighters.
Wilder enters the ring for what he's hoping becomes another steppingstone to unifying the title. If he wins, he expects next to fight WBO champion Joseph Parker this summer and then, he hopes, the winner of the April bout between Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko. Parker is first scheduled to fight Hughie Fury, Tyson Fury's cousin.
Wilder's recent path has taken unexpected turns. He was on his way to board a flight for Russia last year when he learned opponent Alexander Povetkin had tested positive for meldonium. Wilder instead turned to Arreola , whose corner stopped the fight after the eighth round. Wilder had fought half the fight mostly relying on his left hand following the injuries.
Washington is a late substitute after Polish challenger Andrzej Wawrzyk also failed a drug test. Wilder, who has been a vocal critic of boxing cheaters , already scored one big victory recently, winning a unanimous verdict in a New York title seeking the $5 million he was scheduled to receive for the Povetkin fight last summer.
Wilder said Washington is a better opponent than Wawrzyk and perhaps the most athletic he has faced. The WBC champ said he's focused on Washington while also "window-shopping" for future fights .
"I am the man to beat," Wilder said. "I don't care what other heavyweight has what title and what country they're from. Deontay Wilder is the man to beat."