Deontay Wilder gestures during a news conference at MGM Grand Garden Arena
The change in Deontay Wilder took place in the long, dark night when he lost his world title to Tyson Fury last year.
Since that night of revelation and pain, Wilder has slowly been building for a long future in the boxing game. The defeat changed his boxing life.
“I made 10 defences of my heavyweight title,” he said. “I will get it back and I’m not finished yet.”
Last February, in Las Vegas, he was beaten by Fury and lost his WBC heavyweight title and in despair acted very odd. No, he ranted and raved like a troubled soul, a man with problems.
There appears to have been a drastic change in Wilder’s state of mind, attitude and appearance In Las Vegas this week. Last February, for his second fight with Fury, he arrived in Las Vegas wide-eyed, confused and seemed disturbingly distracted. This week he is calm, very calm. I have been an up-close witness to the two very different men; it is mildly alarming.
Wilder first won the WBC’s heavyweight championship in 2015, had knock-out finishes in his first seven defences, drew with Fury in late 2018 and then knocked out two more men before Fury dumped him twice and stopped him in seven rounds. That was then, this is now, as they say in the boxing game.
After the Fury loss, it was time for a change, time for some harsh truths and Wilder jettisoned his trainer of 12 years, Mark Breland, and formally hired his friend and one-time victim, Malik Scott. The pair have never been together in the intimacy of a championship fight and corner, but they fit perfectly from the start. However, in the frantic moments of quick decisions and calm during the sixty-second breaks, it requires something other than an open declaration of brotherly love. The truth is, they are untested as a partnership in the type of drama they might face on Saturday.
WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder meet at the final press conference before their third fight
“Deontay is a different man now, a different fighter, a better fighter,” declared Scott on Wednesday in Las Vegas. “I went with him to his toolbox and we looked at what he has – we looked at what he has not been using and we are now using those tools.” Scott, in other words, claims to have found Wilder’s jab.
Wilder has always insisted that his pure boxing skills were neglected, ignored or just plain missed whenever he fights. He claims his feet are better, his punch variety is better and his boxing intelligence is higher than he has been given credit for. He might have a point, by the way.
He also claims that Fury’s fists were loaded with something illegal last February when they met. And, just to be truly Deontay, he also claims Fury never hurt him in the rematch; Fury did hurt him, he cut him, he sent him tumbling and he handled him with ease. Wilder has never admitted that, but did admit, according to Scott, that he had to change for the third fight. There is zero respect left between these two.
Wilder can be impressive, he can pick his shots and get his feet right, but only when he is on top, going forward and on a roll; Fury broke that rhythm so easily last year by simply going forward, taking risks, taking punches, smiling and letting his fists fly.
WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury gestures during the final news conference
Scott has talked optimistically about Wilder using a variety of jabs, showing feints, blocking shots, parrying shots and generally fighting like a real seasoned pro. We will see.
Wilder turned professional after winning a rare modern Olympic medal for the USA when he got a bronze at heavyweight in Beijing in 2008. “He was a raw novice,” remembered David Price, a bronze winner at super-heavyweight in Beijing. “He changed, added a lot of skills, but he had no idea what to do when Fury put it on him.” Price, incidentally, beat Fury as an amateur and officially retired, having won the British heavyweight title during his career, this week.
“His right hand is like a gun,” claimed Bob Arum, the fight’s promoter. “He is the hardest puncher in heavyweight history. It’s that simple.” Arum promotes Fury, respects Wilder and predicts another stoppage win for his fighter.
“He would say that,” Scott added. “This is going to be a new Deontay, doing all of the old things, but doing them much better.” Malik Scott is a convincing witness; in 2014, Scott lost to Wilder in just 96 seconds. I guess, he knows from experience.
Over the years, and especially since the loss, Wilder has uttered some extreme and alarming and, frankly, comical things. However, on Wednesday he insisted that he had no regrets and no apologies to make. The animosity and total lack of respect is profound and real; there was no need for any circus confrontations when they met on Wednesday. The real fights don’t need fake fights.
Wilder is now 35, but young in boxing years having not started until he was 19, and has knocked out or stopped 41 of the 42 men he has beaten. “There is a lot left, I’m not done yet,” he warned. In the background, listening and nodding his head, was Scott.
On Saturday night, a city in need of a bit of its old glory, will be home to the trilogy and Wilder and Scott will test hope and love against fury (I couldn’t resist, sorry) and reality. Wilder is talking a good fight, Scott an even better one.
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