The end came at the 1:43 mark of the first round.
The first of two vicious right-hand shots from heavyweight Deontay Wilder landed sharply on the left temple of Sergei Liakhovich, putting the ex-beltholder flat on his back where he remained, legs and arms twitching.
Referee Tom Taylor swiftly waved an end to the bout, dropping to one knee and grabbing Liakhovich by the chin with his left hand. He cradled the fighter’s head with his right and told him, “Stay down.”
Wilder, a 6-foot-7 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, was oblivious to what was transpiring behind him at the time. He mugged for the camera, wagging his tongue and leaning over the ropes to embrace the cheers of the crowd in celebration of his 29th straight knockout in as many fights.
“I came with a left hook, right hand, and then I came with a jab, right hand, right hand. I hit him the first time with a hook, but the hook didn’t really do it. But when I came back with the jab, right hand and the right hand, that got him after the jab had forced him to the ropes. I think that he was surprised by the ropes, and he bounced off, and that even gave me more momentum on my punch. Most of the time, when I hit a guy, I feel the full structure of their face in my glove and stuff,” said Wilder.
“But this time, I felt it a little bit, but that was definitely not all of the force of my punch. I think that it was more the position that he was in, and where I was. I had good gravity, I had good positioning and balance, and my feet were spread apart so I had good leverage on the punch. When I hit him, I saw him going down, and I just went to my neutral corner. I knew that it was over, because my corner was telling me that it was over when he fell down. So I was all happy and celebrating. “
Wilder’s demeanor changed, somewhat, upon seeing a replay of his triumph over Liakhovich, who had entered the bout having suffered consecutive ninth-round knockout losses to unbeaten contenders Robert Helenius and Bryant Jennings.
“I saw it afterward on the replay on the big screen when I looked back and I saw it on the monitor. That’s when my smile went into a frown, and I was concerned and I was worried, because that was a scary moment. That was one of those things that, when I saw that, I was like, ‘Oh, man,’ and I was saying prayers for him,” said Wilder.
“They’re saying that he’s going to be okay, and I heard that he’s going to be in the hospital for a couple of days, but that was a scary moment. I’ve seen it all over the place. That was on YouTube and it’s on the internet. Just to see his eyes roll into the back of his head and him going into a seizure like that, and he had a concussion as well, that was scary. Very scary.”
A 27-year-old father of two girls, ages 8 and 2, Wilder said that he reconciles his role as perhaps the division’s most devastating puncher through his practice of praying before his fights.
“I always tell people that I have two prayers. I have a team prayer, and I have an individual prayer. The team prayer is always about victory, and even in my personal prayer, that’s there about winning. But in my personal prayer, I also express to God that I want to knock out my opponent, but I don’t want to hurt them to the point where they can’t go back to their job, or they can’t do what they love to do anymore where they can’t provide for their families,” said Wilder.
“I know that this is what we signed up to do, and that it’s a part of the business, but I definitely don’t want to be the guy who kills somebody in the ring. I wouldn’t want that on my heart. Winning is one thing, but hurting somebody to the point where they can’t support their family? I’m a father myself, and I love my kids, and I want to support my kids, and if I couldn’t support them no more — especially being a man — that would truly hurt my heart. So I definitely don’t want to hurt nobody. But I’m definitely going to keep doing what I do, you know, because I love the knockouts.”
Photos by Tom Casino, Showtime
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org