Pondering the plight of the American heavyweight can be painful. Shannon Briggs, not exactly a name that inspires greatness, was the last one to hold one of the major championship belts in 2007.
There wasn’t much to shout about before that, either. The likes of John Ruiz, Hasim Rahman, Lamon Brewster, Chris Byrd and even Roy Jones Jr. also won titles in the 2000’s, but none of them were great heavyweight champions.
Between 1996 and 1997, Evander Holyfield, Mike Tyson and Michael Moorer all held titles. That was the last time Americans held any dominance in the division.
Six Eastern Bloc fighters, one British fighter and one Nigerian have been heavyweight champion since Briggs. Today, all the titles are held by brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko of the Ukraine.
This really bothers Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder, a 6-foot-7 contender from Tuscaloosa, Ala. He wants to be the one to change that and just might be good enough; he is 30-0 with 30 knockouts. Not only has he knocked out everyone he’s fought, he has climbed to as high as No. 3 in the rankings of two of the four major governing bodies.
“Yeah, it’s super important for me to bring that belt back because that’s one thing — not just in America, the whole world — people want those belts back in America,” said Wilder, who fights for Golden Boy Promotions. “There’s nothing like having an American heavyweight. People dwell on those glamor days when we had exciting American heavyweights. Those were the days when everybody was watching boxing.
“Everybody having parties, coming over, family gatherings. Everybody was talking about it, man.”
Wilder has 17 first-round knockouts and has not gone deeper than the fourth round. Not that he’s been fighting a bunch of top 10 contenders, but his quality of opponents has improved steadily and he’s still knocking out all comers.
Even he’s blown away.
“It’s definitely amazing,” said Wilder, 28. “It’s exciting, but I don’t get too wrapped up in it. It excites me just to hear it or to hear it repeated. I mean, 30-0, all by way of knockout. That’s just great. But I’m just letting God do his will. He blessed me with power and I’m going to try and use it each and every fight.
“But I don’t want to get too wrapped up in it for the simple fact that I don’t want to disappoint myself if I don’t knock a guy out or if I go 12 rounds. If I don’t knock him out, I don’t. If I do, I do. It’s all good. As long as I get the ‘W’ at the end of the night, I’m good.”
Good thinking. It reflects the smarts of a man who found himself sitting around seven years ago at age 21 with a college buddy, talking about what he was going to do with his life. He had a daughter who was born with spina bifida and he knew he had to make some money.
He always wanted to be a famous athlete, so he told his friend he should take up boxing.
“He thought it was a great idea because of the fact that I was known for fighting, I was known for roughing guys up,” said Wilder, who said he got into his share of street fights growing up in Tuscaloosa. “I was that quiet guy that never looked for trouble, but trouble always found me.
“When the smoke cleared up, it was me the last man standing.”
Wilder donned the gloves and made the 2008 U.S. Olympic team with just 21 amateur bouts and won a bronze medal at the Beijing Games. Now he’s in position for a title shot as a pro. If he gets it and wins, Wilder not only will bring a much-desired heavyweight championship back to the States, we will once again have a champion with some personality.
Nothing against the Klitschkos. They are cool and classy but not flashy.
Wilder is flamboyant. He boasts before fights, showboats during them and talks big afterward.
“Outside of boxing, I’m a silly guy,” said Wilder, whose next fight is not yet scheduled. “Everybody knows I’m a straight silly guy, man. My personality is humble, laid-back, don’t have to have much. I’m a simple guy. But in the ring, it’s a business and I’ll tell you, the thing about the heavyweight division, one of the things is that excitement, the entertainment part of it.
“That’s one of the things that has died. And fans all love entertainment, they all love excitement. That’s what keeps them coming back. So I don’t want anybody to interpret me as being somebody who is arrogant or full of himself, but a guy who is trying to bring excitement and entertainment back to the sport.”