Deontay Wilder lives on the edge with supreme confidence
It was the middle of 1997 when I was surrounded by an eager audience of fellow under-10 kids as I stood-toe-to-toe with a friend who'd temporarily turned foe.
With one hand grabbing each other's shirts, my opponent and I exchanged blows of both the closed and open fist variety. They hurt; I was getting bested but I stuck in there and by some stroke of luck landed the last meaningful hit before a teacher came in to separate us.
In the eyes of my spectator classmates, I had won that duel but nothing, absolutely nothing, would make me want to re-engage my opponent.
Enter Deontay Wilder, a man made of tougher stuff than me. In Marc h 2018, Wilder fought Luis Ortiz, an undefeated opponent who'd previously made opponents look inept. This is not the kind of fight you take in March 2018 when all the talk was about setting up a potential high-money Wilder vs. Joshua fight. An Ortiz victory would throw a serious wrench in those plans.
During the fight, Ortiz not only made Wilder look like an amateur by out-boxing him but nearly knocked Wilder out before succumbing to Wilder's power a few rounds later.
Wilder vs Ortiz I highlights, Mar 2018
Unfazed by that baptism of fire, Wilder then faced Tyson Fury, the undefeated lineal heavyweight champion. He, again, got outclassed, managing to salvage a draw courtesy of two knockdowns. Lesser men may have focused on less threatening opponents but not Mr. Bomb Squad.
A rematch with Tyson Fury was planned for 2020 but in the meantime, to keep the champ busy, who better to fight than Luis Ortiz (Let's bypass the Breazeale encounter), the man who nearly put the WBC champion out the previous year?
Wilder walked in the ring, got outclassed again and lost every round up until the 7th when his right hand caught Luis Ortiz flush and sent him to the canvas, eyes wide open but unable to make the 10-count.
One might make arguments for the financial benefits of the Ortiz and Fury rematches but I argue we're dealing with a man who enjoys flirting with obvious danger and has complete belief in the efficacy of his right hand.
Wilder could easily have gone the route of his contemporaries. For instance, Tyson Fury recently notched two victories against no-name opponents and pocketed tens of millions of dollars from ESPN in the process. And Anthony Joshua tried to go the same route, carefully picking Jarrell Miller for his US debut before those plans spectacularly unraveled.
Wilder vs Fury highlights, Dec 2018
Wilder has, instead, chosen the path of greatest resistance in his bid to become the undisputed champion. If I were his manager, I would have spent 2019 lining up highlight-reel knockout opportunities for my fighter before he inevitably squares up against those at the top echelon of the division - I'll bet that was suggested, but Wilder had none of it.
We are witnessing the ascendancy of a man who is fully convinced of his invincibility as long as he can swing that right hand.
Wilder is the least skilled boxer among the top five heavyweights and one could make a convincing argument for why it is highly unlikely that he'll become the undisputed champion. Franz Kafka said, "In a man's struggle against the world, bet on the world." I'd like to make an amendment: If a man is wild enough to struggle against the world, consider betting the man.