Records are made to be broken, but those records gain more meaning if the occupant goes on to achieve genuine greatness. Such is the hope for 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Deontay Wilder, whose 28 straight knockouts to begin a career is longer than some of the biggest names in heavyweight history -- Vitali Klitschko (27), Earnie Shavers (27), John L. Sullivan (25) and Mike Tyson (19) being four. Other big men he's surpassed include Alex Stewart and Mac Foster (24 each), Herbie Hide (22) and Frank Bruno (21) and his run is longer than the best produced at any point of their careers by George Foreman (24), Rocky Marciano (16), Ken Norton (14) and Sonny Liston (11).
Beyond the heavyweight realm, Wilder's streak ties him the one Charlie Parnam compilded from the start of his career as well as with Carlos Zarate and Jesus Pimentel, whose streaks weren't from the start of a career. His string is longer than those compiled by Henry Armstrong (27) and Aaron Pryor (26), neither of which were compiled from the start of a career, and if he stops Liakhovich he'll tie the 29 straight KOs from the beginning of a career compiled by Alfonzo Zamora and Acelino Freitas as well as Ruben Olivares (not from the start).
Names lying beyond Olivares include Juan Manuel Ibar (30, not from start), Wilfredo Gomez (32, not from start), Bob Allotey (33, not from start), Billy Fox (43, from the start) and all-time record-holder Lamar Clark (44, not from start). Clark, like Wilder, faced plenty of criticism about his level of opposition, and for good reason -- a large number of his opponents had not won a fight at the time Clark fought them.
On Friday, Wilder will face his first former titlist in Sergei Liakhovich, who, at 37, is coming off a 16-month layoff and is engaging in only his third fight since May 2010. He's been stopped in his last two fights and has suffered three KO defeats in his last six bouts. But he has been a durable sort and may push Wilder past the fourth round for the first time -- "may" being the operative word.
Is Wilder the potential savior of American heavyweight boxing? Will he become a statistical footnote? Or will he be somewhere in between? Those answers have yet to be determined, but Saturday's fight with Liakhovich may give us a better idea. Statistical factors that may influence the outcome include:
Surprising Factoids: One would think that someone with Wilder's KO success would be a bomber who overwhelms his opponents with power shots. The reality is quite the opposite, for in five CompuBox-tracked fights, 67% of Wilder's total punches have been jabs. Against Owen Beck it was 72% (108 of 150) while it was 67.9% against Kertson
Manswell (19 of 28), 50% against Damon McCreary (22 of 44) and Jesse Oltmanns (3 of 6) and 68% against Kelvin Price (49 of 72). His measured approach mirrors that of trainer Mark Breland, who often set up his bombs with long, busy jabs.
Another less surprising stat is that virtually all of Wilder's fire has targeted the head. In five fights tracked by CompuBox, four of them saw Wilder not land a single body shot. In the one fight where he did, against Price, only two of his 16 connects struck the flanks. That one-dimensional approach won't work against the very best heavyweights but it may well fly against the faded Liakhovich.
Finally, at one point Wilder suffered from accuracy issues. Against Beck, Wilder landed just 28% overall and 33% power and against McCreary he connected at a 23% rate in all phases, well below the heavyweight norms of 36% overall, 29% jabs and 42% power. But against Price, his best opponent to date, Wilder upped his precision considerably by landing 39% overall and an eye-busting 70% of his hardest blows. Given Liakhovich's recent struggles, he could duplicate those numbers.
Liakhovich's Struggles: There's a good reason why the ex-WBO titlist has laid off for so long -- the beating Bryant Jennings dished out in scoring a ninth round corner retirement. "Bye Bye" out-landed Liakhovich 253-124 (overall), 60-41 (jabs) and 193-83 (power) and connected on 48% of his total punches, 31% of his jabs and 58% of his power shots. Liakhovich, ever the trier, averaged 48.8 punches per round and landed 28% overall, 20% jabs and 36% power, not bad numbers against a pretty good defensive fighter. In the end, however, Liakhovich simply couldn't keep up nor could he continue to withstand the punishment.
Against Robert Helenius, who at 6-6 1/2 is a half-inch shorter than Wilder, Liakhovich fared well in terms of statistics. He out-landed Helenius 170-140 overall and 113-65 in power shots, plus he was the far more accurate fighter (36%-27% overall, 27%-22% jabs, 44%-35% power) but all that hard work was erased with a power surge in the eighth that produced a knockdown and led to the TKO loss 19 seconds into the ensuing round.
When Liakhovich fought the seven-footer Nikolay Valuev, he simply couldn't get past the Russian giant's jab. It accounted for a 194-80 connect bulge that powered his 289-135 gap in total connects and led to a 95-55 edge in landed power shots. But the good news for Liakhovich is that he landed 34% of his total punches, 27% of his jabs and 53% of his power punches. That said, Valuev's massive torso made for a much larger target than Wilder's lean, willowy but chiseled physique.
Prediction: Pain -- for Liakhovich. If Wilder goes wild and goes for the early knockout he may overwhelm the aging and rusty Belorussian and take him out. The more likely outcome will see Wilder using the jab early to establish range and drop in his big right hands only once in a while. Given Liakhovich's durability this fight will likely go farther than any of Wilder's fights have thus far, but not much more. Wilder by eighth round TKO.