By Jake Donovan
It was a whole new Deontay Wilder on display, the sense everyone got the moment he slowly strolled into the Arena Club at Legacy Arena on Wednesday afternoon.
The meeting room was set up for a press conference to officially unveil his July 16 title defense versus Chris Arreola, which will be staged at Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama. However, once it was his turn to speak, the unbeaten heavyweight titlist had something else to reveal.
“I’m still not over it,” Wilder told BoxingScene.com when broached with the subject of moving on from the fallout from his canceled defense versus Alexander Povetkin.
For months, plans were in place for Wilder to face Povetkin, his longtime mandatory challenger whose promoter put up $7.15 million to bring the fight to Moscow, Russia. Wilder – always in fight-ready physical condition – mentally prepared for the journey from Tuscaloosa, AL to Moscow, with a two-week pit stop in Sheffield, England.
He never made it out of Sheffield, his flight redirected home after it was learned that Povetkin tested positive for the banned substance Meldonium during random drug testing on April 27.
The matter is now being handled in a New York City courtroom while Wilder (36-0, 35KOs) attempts to move on with his career. Povetkin’s promoter, World of Boxing didn’t offer any resistance upon blessing from the World Boxing Council (WBC) to grant the reigning champ an optional title defense while this mess is sorted out.
With that, Wilder was assigned Arreola as his next opponent, but it’s clear that he’s yet to fully move on from the past. He looked sharp in a brand new outfit, a white collared shirt and sparkling-gold jeans as he quietly entered the Arena Club just prior to the start of the press conference.
Missing was the usual strut in his step and the multimillion dollar smile that often lights up any room he enters. Perhaps it was fatigue, as he’d just finished a training session prior to traveling an hour from his Tuscaloosa hometown to meet the press and formally announce the fourth defense of his heavyweight title reign, three of which will have taken place in Birmingham come fight night.
Despite representing his home state, his mind was still stuck with visions of Moscow.
“To even travel to a whole ‘nother country and get ready, I was a completely different Deontay for that fight,” Wilder revealed of the level of training – physically and mentally – that went into his past camp. “To do everything I did and to come home without anything to show for it, man it took a lot out of me.
“It was the first time in my career I didn’t want to talk to nobody. I didn’t want to do interviews. I wasn’t even on no Instagram, no Twitter or any social media stuff. Honestly, I was on the verge of depression. When we set a date for a fight, the fighters are ready to fight and on fair grounds. Then the week of the fight, you find out someone trying to cheat and in his own country, it just takes everything out of you.”
Wilder promised that it will be business as usual once he enters the ring on July 16. His entire boxing career – pro and amateur - has been a series of milestones:
- The first American boxer in more than seven years to own a piece of the heavyweight crown upon beating Bermane Stiverne in Jan. ’15;
- The last American male to capture an Olympic medal, winning the bronze in the 2008 Beijing Games
- The first to defend the heavyweight title in the state of Alabama, a feat he will have now done three times over as July 16 rolls around
- The first heavyweight titlist in 30 years to defend his title live in primetime on NBC, which came last September in a knockout win over Johan Duhaupas
- Come July 16, the first-ever heavyweight titlist to defend live in primetime on Fox
Had Povetkin held up his end of the contract, Wilder would have also been the first-ever American boxer to defend the heavyweight title in Russia.
Now he looks to fend off a different form of history, as Arreola (36-4-1, 31KO) makes his third attempt at becoming the first ever boxer of Mexican descent to claim a heavyweight belt. The veteran challenger from Riverside, Calif. – whose attendance for the press conference came via Skype – came up short in efforts versus Vitali Klitschko (Sept. ’09) and Stiverne (May ’14 rematch), and also comes in on the heels of having tested positive for marijuana following a split decision win turned No Contest versus Travis Kauffman last December.
Many have questioned the credentials of Arreola heading into this fight, but Wilder expects – at the worst – a desperate contender going out swinging for one last crack at realizing his dream.
“You have to just put aside whatever you’re going through,” Wilder noted of moving forward with his next fight. “This here, this (is) the heavyweight division. One punch can change your whole world. You have to have tunnel vision, especially a guy like Chris Arreola who’s gonna come in looking to take your head off.
“I’m still mad about all that mess with Alexander Povetkin. But that’s in the hands of the lawyers now. I have to put faith in that process and just worry about this boy (Arreola) trying to snatch my WBC title, which I ain’t ever gonna let go of.”
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2