‘DEONTAY WILDER is just a hater,’ said many keyboard warriors after the WBC heavyweight champion tabbed Wladimir Klitschko to defeat Anthony Joshua. A Klitschko victory is plausible, but their commentary on Wilder isn’t based on one fight pick alone.
It began when Joshua fought Eric Molina last December. Wilder foresaw a protracted battle, warning the comic-book-muscular Joshua not to take the pudgy Molina lightly. Alas, “The Bronze Bomber” needed nine rounds to stop Molina back in 2015. Joshua finished him in three.
The result didn’t sway the unrepentant Wilder’s opinion of the IBF titlist. Rather, he blamed Molina’s early exit on a bad strategy. Given his latest prognostication, it’s clear Wilder is as bullish on Joshua as President Trump is on CNN.
At Wilder’s February media luncheon in New York’s The Palm steakhouse, this reporter was eager to get further clarification.
“My heart is with Joshua, but my mind says Klitschko,” he said in between bites of salmon. “Klitschko has been through every situation and seen every style. I don’t think the kid is ready for that—I don’t think they’ve prepared him for that.”
When it was pointed out that the same could be said of him, Wilder explained that he had learned plenty sparring with Klitschko. When reminded that Joshua had also sparred Wladimir, he retorted, “Yeah, but the kid didn’t spar over 50 rounds like I did.”
It’s worth noting that Joshua, who at 27 is four years younger than Wilder, is a mere 18-0 to Wilder’s 38-0. Didn’t the 41-year-old Klitschko look his age in recent fights, Wilder was asked?
Yes, Wilder agreed, but guys like Bryant Jennings and Tyson Fury exposed that age because they were agile. “Joshua has no flexibility and doesn’t move his head,” Wilder said.
While Wilder doesn’t seem convinced about Joshua, calling him a hater distorts the truth. Wilder doesn’t appear to have any personal disdain for him. In fact, there’s a hint of admiration every time he mentions “the kid,” and some thinly-veiled envy.
Can you blame him?
Joshua was groomed for stardom from the moment he won gold in front of his fellow Brits at the 2012 Olympics. Already a Sky Sports staple, last May he signed a TV licensing deal with U.S. network Showtime. Joshua also holds several major endorsements, the likes of which no American fighter can boast, including Floyd Mayweather. And on April 29, 90,000 are expected at Wembley Stadium to witness his coronation versus Klitschko.
“England is known for hyping their fighters up and I love that,” Wilder says. “I wish America was the same way. But unfortunately, they wait until you get to the very top and that’s when everyone wants to come around and show love.”
No doubt, Wilder hasn’t reached that level yet. Winning Olympic bronze didn’t lead to endorsements; becoming the first U.S. heavyweight titlist in nine years barely moved the needle. And though his recent TKO of Gerald Washington drew 2.6 million viewers, he’s largely unknown outside of his native Alabama.
Many fight fans remain skeptical. Parts of Wilder’s style are still amateurish, but his frightening power has bailed him out nearly every time. Facing mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin might’ve diminished their doubt. Wilder agreed to meet Povetkin in the latter’s native Russia when many thought he’d abdicate his title à la Riddick Bowe. He didn’t. You’d think he secretly administered the banned substance that led to Povetkin’s positive test and the bout’s cancellation.
Joshua, by contrast, is favoured to beat Klitschko who, prior to one off night versus Tyson Fury, successfully defended his title 18 times within a decade.
“People are always going to find a reason to downplay me,” Wilder says with a shrug. “I was in the Klitschko camp; I was in the [Tomasz] Adamek camp; the David Haye camp, and many more. Then add on my Olympic experience and all my pro fights. Yet they still said I’d lose to [Bermane] Stiverne. I am the best heavyweight in the world. Even if they don’t see it now, my time will come.”
Assuming a mandatory versus Bermane Stiverne doesn’t get in the way, Wilder’s plan is to unify versus WBO titlist Joseph Parker and then meet the Joshua-Klitschko winner. If it’s Joshua, he and Wilder have the makings of classic archrivals: Two undefeated super powers from opposite sides of the pond, vying for world supremacy.
Properly promoted, their showdown could translate to international stardom for the winner. Wilder wants that opportunity. It’s why he’ll be ringside on April 29, why he’s been vocal about his ambitions and why he’s pleading with the suits to move Joshua wisely. You can call him a Doubting Thomas if you want, but don’t crucify him for it. Just enjoy his chutzpah.