SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Doubts and suspicions about Deontay Wilder’s true abilities as a heavyweight contender trail him like a shadow on a sunny day.
There is the limited amateur experience. Yet he won the bronze medal for the U.S. team in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. There is the limited exposure once he turned pro as he made frequent stops in boxing outposts in Ohio, Arizona, Louisiana and Mississippi, in the desert casinos of California, off the Strip in Las Vegas and in his home state of Alabama. He knocked out journeyman Owen Beck at a place called Killer Buzz Arena in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Ala.
And then there is his record – 30 victories all coming by way of knockout. It is gaudy, yet impressive. There is one true thing about Wilder. He is an enigma, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound conundrum with a right hand that can fell a sequoia.
A few things will become clear about Wilder once he steps out of the ring against Malik Scott at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon on Saturday night. Wilder will either be a legitimate contender or just another large pretender to the heavyweight throne.
The winner of the 12-round match, which will be the co-feature on the Danny Garcia-Mauricio Herrera main event on Showtime, will be the top contender for the vacant WBC title. Chris Arreola and Bermane Stiverne will fight for the title, which was left vacant when Vitali Klitschko retired to take the lead of an opposition political part in Ukraine last December.
“Malik is a good fighter. He’s crafty. He can test Deontay,’’ said Eric Gomez, Golden Boy Promotions' top matchmaker. “Deontay is at the point of no return now. The media and the fans have been pressuring him to do something big. This is the first step in letting Deontay loose.’’
Those around Wilder understand the suspicion around him.
“I think he’s the big X-factor. To the average boxing fan he’s must-see TV. They can’t quite get a grasp of who he is and where he is,’’ said Jay Deas, Wilder’s co-manager and co-trainer. “They can’t really put their finger on it, but they can’t turn away either.’’
Evander Holyfield told Lem Satterfield of RingTV.com that he recalls Wilder as a novice in the amateurs. Holyfield liked what he saw then, and he likes what he sees now.
“He could cause a lot of people a lot of headaches and a lot of problems,’’ Holyfield said. “I think he’s one of the greatest ones out there. He’s the only one that, right today, if he was to fight Klitschko, he stands a better chance at beating Klitschko than any of those other fighters out there. He’s got those long arms and the same way that the Klitschkos fight, he fights. Plus he’s younger and he’s got more going for him because he wants it. So I like his potential.’’
Regardless of other people’s suspicions about him, the 28-year-old Wilder exudes supreme confidence in his abilities and his future dominance in the heavyweight division. Sitting in the stands at a boxing gym in Guyanabo before his public workout Thursday afternoon, Wilder sounded like a man on a mission.
“I’m bringing the heavyweight division back to its glory days,’’ he said. “I still have a long time to go. I’m just glad to be a part of the movement of where it once was when it was entertaining, where it was excitement and everybody tuned in to the heavyweight bouts and they knew who the heavyweight champion of the world is. I’m excited about that.’’
His first step toward that is against Scott, a 33-year-old veteran from Philadelphia whose lone loss came against Dereck Chisora on a controversial sixth-round TKO in England last July. Scott got clipped, took a knee to gather himself and when he bounced back up the referee was at 9 1/2 in the count, and he stopped the fight. Before that loss Scott (36-1-1, 13 KOs) had a draw against Vyacheslav Glazkov, but most observers felt Scott deserved the nod.
Because all of Wilder’s fights have ended inside of four rounds, his trainer Mark Breland wants to see how Wilder will do in extended rounds.
“He’s got to be very busy. He normally starts fast,’’ Breland said. “The thing is everybody says distance. Has he been past five rounds? I would like to see that happen.’’
Scott wants to see that happen, too. But for a different reason and with different results.
“There’s no secret he has a big right hand, but I see a lot of loopholes in his game. I plan on taking advantage of all the loopholes on Saturday night,’’ Scott said. “I definitely plan on taking him in deep water and baptizing him.’’
Breland knows it’s a possibility, but he doesn’t think that will happen.
“I think Deontay is too strong for him,’’ Breland said.
Outside of the ring Wilder and Scott are friends, bonding while in the same camp to help Tomasz Adamek prepare for his title fight against Klitschko two years ago. They developed a friendship while living in the same house.
“I’ve been on his side of the world and he’s been on mine. I’ve held his babies and he’s kissed my babies. We’re close,’’ Wilder said.
They’ve also sparred together. Scott came to camp to help Wilder prepare for a match against Kelvin Price in 2012. That might have been when Scott said he picked up on those loopholes in Wilder’s game. Deas said it is hard to determine what chinks Scott has in his armor from those sparring sessions.
“He was doing things that he had seen on film relative to Kevin Price. He wasn’t just boxing as Malik,’’ Deas said. “It was very interesting. It was a good sparring session and both guys did good work.’’
Mike Tyson said he never liked to befriend other heavyweights that were his contemporaries. He said he couldn’t make the emotional disconnect needed to disconnect them from their senses in the ring.
Wilder and Scott said that won’t be a problem for them.
“I can make that separation,’’ Wilder said. “On the outside of ring I’m laidback. I’m a humble, people person. Inside the ring he’s not fighting Deontay. He’s fighting the Bronze Bomber. Inside the ring the Bronze Bomber isn’t taking names. He’s coming to rip your head off and try to knock you out.’’
Scott said there are bigger issues involved that will allow him to separate friendship from business in the ring.
“Me and Deontay love each other, but we don’t love each other that much,’’ Scott said. “Not so much that we won’t provide for our families or deprive ourselves from being the heavyweight champion. We’re putting our friendship on the side and we’re going to war. Afterwards our friendship will be intact.’’
As your parents say it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt. And if either of them plan on fighting for that WBC title, someone will get hurt Saturday night. Wilder vows it won’t be him.
“It would be great if I could go all my years without going past four rounds,’’ Wilder said. “That would be great to be undefeated and knock every guy out. That would be legendary. That’s being a Hall of Famer. What man has ever knockout every man he’s fought and not gone past four rounds? That sounds sweet to my ears. That would be a sick act to follow."