Eddie Hearn recognizes that Deontay Wilder is no longer the fighter he once was after his stoppage defeat at the hands of Zhilei Zhang.

Hearn was confident in Wilder’s abilities before Saturday’s contest, entrusting the former heavyweight titleholder with Matchroom’s captaincy for its “5 vs 5” tournament, in which each of Hearn’s five fighters lost to their Queensberry rivals. Wilder and Zhang were both coming off defeats by Joseph Parker before their contest in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but Zhang made light work of Wilder, pushing the former champion back and brutally stopping him in the fifth round.

Wilder was once one of the world’s most feared heavyweights – he held the WBC title for five years and stopped every opponent he had faced before his trilogy with Tyson Fury. The former belt holder always lacked technical ability, but he made up for it with his frightening power. He famously said his opponents had to be perfect for 36 minutes to win, but he only had to be perfect for a second to stop them. 

Hearn instead believes that Wilder is no longer the fighter who produced famous knockouts of the likes of Luis Ortiz and Dominic Breazeale, and that the fighter who used to believe he only needed one perfect punch to win now lacks the belief to compete at the very top.

“[Wilder is] just not the same, in all honesty,” Hearn told Fight Hub TV. “I just feel his belief is not there anymore, and you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Why?’ Is it just the time? Is something else not right? He is not letting his hands go, and that is what made him one of the most feared fighters in the world. He is not the fighter he was, at the moment. People come back, but it is deep in the road.”

Wilder, 38, went on record before the fight with Zhang saying that retirement was a very realistic option if he was to lose. He has lost four of his past five fights, and it looks almost certain that he will retire after a highly entertaining career. He helped revitalize the American heavyweight boxing scene and delivered the brutal knockouts that followers of boxing crave. Hearn thinks that although Wilder may never have beaten the elite fighters in his era, he will still be remembered fondly by fans for his entertaining style and his famous trilogy with Fury.

“He was world champion,” Hearn said. “He had a lot of defenses. He lit up the heavyweight division. He didn’t have many wins against elite-level guys but had some good wins and was exciting. He had some great fights with Tyson Fury, so he will be remembered.”