It has been home to a handful of Deontay Wilder’s biggest triumphs, so it was no surprise when Wilder’s next fight – a mouth-watering clash with veteran heavyweight Robert Helenius, scheduled for October 15 – was announced as Barclays Center was tabbed to host it. At Tuesday’s first press conference, Wilder was expected to recall some of his key wins, from a knockout of Bermane Stiverne to a come-from-behind victory over Luis Ortiz to his one-punch knockout of Dominic Breazeale .
The only problem: Deontay Wilder didn’t show up.
Travel issues, a PBC official explained, made it necessary for Wilder to address several dozen pizza-munching media from a monitor. A calm Wilder took a few questions from the PBC emcee via satellite.
“This next reign is going to be special,” says Wilder. “It will be dedicated to the people.”
It’s been 10 months since Wilder’s last fight, a nasty knockout loss to Tyson Fury that ended one of boxing’s greatest heavyweight rivalries. Wilder has largely disappeared since then, appearing occasionally on podcasts and posting periodic family photos on social media. He recorded an album, was honored by Tuscaloosa with a seven-foot tall statue, and hung out with celebrities like Shaquille O’Neal and Dave Chappelle.
However, he didn’t spend much time thinking about boxing.
His words. Not mine. Asked if he wanted to once again display the crushing power that made him one of the greatest punchers of this generation, Wilder shrugged.
“To be honest, I didn’t miss it [boxing] at all,” says Wilder. “Many times have I sat around and thought, Should I go back or not? Because I’ve done so well for myself outside the ring to the point where I don’t need boxing. Financially, I won them all.
“I had to think long and hard about many things because of the position I am in. I used to have that itch, that feeling of getting back in the ring. I went to the gym a few times to try and get that feeling. I couldn’t find it. That feeling was no longer there.”
The sentiment, Wilder says, began to resurface last May, when Tuscaloosa, his hometown, unveiled an 830-pound statue (bronzed, of course) in front of the city’s tourism offices. Wilder, visibly moved, noted that the statue was erected “down the street from where they sold slaves at the time” and not far from where a century-old monument to Confederate soldiers was removed two years ago.
“[That] let me know there was more work to do,” says Wilder. “I have to keep fighting, motivating, inspiring. I have to go back.”
So Wilder it’s back.
Now the question is what has he left at the age of 36.
Over three years, Wilder boxed 30 rounds with Fury. The last 18 were particularly brutal. In 2020, he was knocked down twice before his then-trainer and former welterweight champion Mark Breland jumped to his feet to prevent a third. He was knocked down three times by Fury last year, the last time by a skull-grazing right hand that sent Wilder face first to the canvas.
Those around Wilder, predictably, insist he is sharp. His trainer, Malik Scott, says Wilder has looked stronger, more agile and more motivated than ever. In an effort to shake things up, Wilder has been training in Las Vegas, working out routinely at the UFC gym, emphasizing conditioning while honing new tactics with Don House, a cut man and trainer who joined Wilder’s team before his last fight.
“Trying something different,” says Wilder. “When you’re in a business for so long, with the same routine, sometimes it can get boring.”
Wilder looks good. He sounds good. But is he good? It is not known what Fury got from him. On paper, Helenius is perfect adversary return. He is credible, thanks to back-to-back knockouts of former competitor Adam Kownacki with a wobbly chin. But he is 38 years old and before this latest revival he was eliminated by Gerald Washington. Anything close to the Wilder of yesteryear should punch him.
Does Wilder still have the fire? He used to. When he was a football star turned boxer, he took up the sport as a means of providing for his family. When he burst onto the USA boxing scene on his way to a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics. At the time he faced many skeptics who didn’t believe this raw prospect could turn into the heaviest striker since Mike Tyson.
Is that warrior still there? Wilder said: He doesn’t need boxing. He has already won. He earned tens of millions fighting Fury, ensuring his family’s financial stability for generations to come. He has held the heavyweight title. He has fought on the big stage in front of big crowds. Getting back to that level won’t be easy. Wilder will have to be committed to doing so.
If he is, Wilder will enjoy an already interesting heavyweight scene. Fury is entrenched at the top, but there are plenty of attractive opponents below him. If Wilder beats Helenius, Andy Ruiz Jr., a former title contender who faces Luis Ortiz on Saturday, could be next. Derek Chisora, the faded former title challenger, has called him out. And while the Anthony Joshua fight doesn’t have the same hype as it once did, a fight with Joshua, who is himself rebuilding after back-to-back losses to Oleksandr Usyk, is still one of the most marketable in boxing.
So we’ll see. On Tuesday, Wilder appeared happy. He smiled when discussing his children’s response to his return. “I think they like seeing their dad in the spotlight,” Wilder says. He praised Helenius, a former sparring partner, for his persistence. “Your heart will tell you that you cannot give up,” he continued. “You will die for this.” He spoke about the responsibility he feels to set an example for other fighters.
“The Bronze Bomber is back, kid,” Wilder says.
On October 15, he is.
By the next day, we’ll know more if he’s here to stay.
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