Deontay Wilder will become a permanent fixture in his hometown. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
A life-size statue created in honor of the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist and former longtime WBC heavyweight titlist will be unveiled May 25 on the grounds of Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports in Wilder’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A public ceremony will be held to reveal the sculpture in a moment nearly seven years in the making.
“We are excited to unveil this highly anticipated piece of public art featuring the Bronze Bomber – Tuscaloosa’s world-champion boxer – and created by Caleb O’Connor, who has adopted Tuscaloosa as his home and has created many other beautiful pieces in our City,” Mayor Walt Maddox noted in a statement released through the Tuscaloosa government’s office on Monday.
Local reports indicate that the ceremony will be open to the public, with Wilder and O’Connor both expected to be in attendance for the event.
The sculpture has been in the works since September 2015, roughly eight months after Wilder (42-2-1, 41KOs) outpointed Bermane Stiverne in their first fight earlier that January. With the feat, Wilder became the first American boxer in more than seven years to claim a piece of the heavyweight crown. Two defenses into his reign came the idea by O’Connor—who relocated to Tuscaloosa in 2009—to create a statue in his honor.
Several delays were encountered, along with its original plans to unveil the statue in front of the YMCA in downtown Tuscaloosa where Wilder occasionally trained. Instead, the statue will overlook the city’s Riverwalk while on display at a location dealing primarily with visitors and tourists, a hotspot particularly during the college football season as the city is home to the 18-time national champion Alabama Crimson Tide.
It will also reside roughly two miles from Tuscaloosa Central High School, where Wilder was a two-sport star athlete (football and basketball). The statue will also be located two miles in the opposite direction of Skyy Boxing where Wilder trained throughout most of his boxing lifetime since taking up the sport in 2005.
Wilder has helped put the city on the map in terms of his accomplishments in the ring. The 6’7” heavyweight emerged as an unlikely medalist during the 2008 Beijing Olympics, having boxed for less than three years by the time he claimed a Bronze medal. Wilder’s feat spared the 2008 U.S. team from being shut out at the medal table, also earning the permanent ring moniker of ‘The Bronze Bomber.’
A few months after his medal haul came Wilder’s November 2008 pro debut in Nashville. At the time, more than a year had passed since Shannon Briggs lost his WBO heavyweight title to Sultan Ibragimov, the June 2007 defeat marking a 7 ½ year drought without a U.S. heavyweight holding a major title.
Wilder changed that in January 2015 following his first win over Stiverne.
Ten successful title defenses followed, fourth all-time for an individual title reign, with Wilder scoring knockouts in all but one—his December 2018 draw with England’s Tyson Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs) where Wilder had Fury down twice including a dramatic 12th round knockdown where Fury miraculously beat the count of referee Jack Reiss.
Wilder’s title reign came to an end in his February 2020 rematch with Fury, suffering a seventh-round stoppage in their ESPN/Fox Sports Pay-Per-View main event from MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Their trilogy bout saw both fighters hit the deck before Wilder was knocked out in the eleventh round of what was universally hailed as the 2021 Fight of the Year.
Among his achievements, Wilder owns the all-time mark for the highest knockout percentage (91.1%) of any heavyweight titlist in history, along with the highest knockout-to-win mark (97.6%). The 36-year-old heavyweight has not fought since his third fight with Fury; there exists the strong possibility that he will never fight again, although the door is not completely closed.
Whatever the case, Wilder will now enjoy a permanent reminder of what he means to the city where he was born and raised.
Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox