When Deontay Wilder steps into the ring for his East Coast debut against Nicolai Firtha on Saturday in Atlantic City, N.J., he will be doing so in the midst of a streak that has rightfully placed his name in the debate over America's best heavyweight hope, as he'll be going for an extraordinary 30th consecutive knockout.
A 6-foot-7 fighter who earned an Olympic bronze medal in 2008, Wilder (29-0, 29 knockouts) is coming off first-round KOs of ex-beltholder Sergei Liakhovich and 2000 Olympic gold medalist Audley Harrison.
The bout with Firtha (21-10-1, 8 KOs) will take place on the undercard of Bernard Hopkins' IBF light heavyweight title defense against Karo Murat.
It will also take place just over an hour from the home of another unbeaten and highly-touted heavyweight, Philadelphia's Bryant Jennings, someone Wilder had recently said he'd like to fight "for the fans." The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native amended his words on the verge of his bout with Firtha, however.
"Fans will definitely makes comparisons between me and Bryant Jennings when they come to the fight. I guess that he may be coming to the fight also, and the fans will surely see, after what I do in the ring, where the next heavyweight champion lies, and that's in Deontay Wilder. Right now, fighting Jennings is not something that is in the forefront of my mind," said Wilder of Jennings, who is 17-0 with nine knockouts.
"But I definitely look forward to it if that happens, and if there's a contract that is signed.You can fast-forward to a lot of things, but right now, my main objective is Nicolai Firtha. I have to take care of him first, and I don't take no person lightly. We're in the heavyweight division, so all it takes is really just one punch and that can change the whole fight around whether it's the first round or the 12th round. I'm ready to get it on. I've never fought in Atlantic City. I'm excited and I'm ready to explore my options on the East Coast as far as the fans, and I'm definitely ready to gain some new fans."
Firtha, 34, has lost three of his last five fights, though those losses were against top opponents in Alexander Povetkin (UD 10), Tyson Fury (TKO 5), and Johnathon Banks (UD 12).
Although he never has gone more than four rounds in a fight, Wilder said he is unconcerned about critics who have questioned his chin and durability.
"As far as the critics, some people just don't understand boxing. Half the people that criticize are the ones who don't know s--t about what they're talking about. But it doesn't matter to me if the fight goes one or 12 rounds. When the time comes to go rounds, and if that time comes that I have to go rounds, then people will see that if I have to go rounds, the better I will get," said Wilder, who turns 28 on Oct. 22, is advised by Al Haymon and trainer and co-manager Jay Deas, and also trained by 1984 Olympic gold medalist Mark Breland.
"They will see that the longer the fight goes, the more my muscles will relax, and the more combinations I'll put together and the more punches I throw. Because in the first couple of rounds, even though we warm up in the back, when you get out in the ring, my body still is warming up to my opponent and adjusting to him. The more rounds I have to go, the more loose I become ... But as far as all of the critics, it's all entertainment for me. As long as somebody is keeping me in their minds and my name is coming out of their mouths, it's exciting. It's always exciting to see my name in a discussion, because I'm one of the most talked about heavyweights there is."