As a result of Saturday’s (March 3) heavyweight heroics in Brooklyn, kids all over the world will this week be joining gyms and boxing just like Deontay Wilder.
That’s a joke, by the way; a riff on Wilder’s supposedly amateurish boxing style and the extent to which his success relies on punch power and athleticism rather than technique; the suggestion being that even newcomers, those unfamiliar with the mechanics of throwing straight and correct punches, can be just like Wilder, their hero, from day one.
Truth is, kids won’t be flocking to gyms (they’d need to leave the house first, and then know the names of the heavyweight champions), and, even if they did, they certainly won’t be encouraged, much less taught, to box like the reigning WBC world heavyweight champion.
That’s not to say Deontay Wilder shouldn’t be admired, however. Nor is it to say his style, for all its rough edges, will at some point lead to his demise. It might not.
After all, in this day and age, when the entire heavyweight division is seemingly “learning on the job”, the rudimentary swings of Wilder, aided by mind-bending power and a heart as big as his flaws, could be enough to clinch the number one spot. Larry Holmes might shake his head, while oiling his 68-year-old jab, and Jimmy Young might turn in his grave, but this is a different time and, for better or worse, these are a different breed.
Not all boxers are necessarily boxers in the purest sense of the word. Wilder, for one, while capable of outboxing opponents (see his 2015 fight with Bermane Stiverne), is predominantly a fighter. Unapologetically so. He gets in the ring and looks to fight. He attempts to punch his opponent as hard as he can, and as often as he can, and render them unconscious somewhere between round one and twelve. He doesn’t confuse or complicate matters. He doesn’t care if it looks good or not; if it looks neat and tidy; if it makes for a slick highlight reel. He just wants to get the job done.
Nobody said it had to be pretty. And it isn’t. Nobody said Wilder had to appear well-groomed and invincible in the process. And he doesn’t. Yet if ‘styles make fights’ is really a thing, and if variety is indeed the spice of life, then we must appreciate Deontay Wilder, 40-0 (39), not as an eyesore but as an incredibly effective operator whose funky angles and ability to improvise (and punch really, really hard) help trump men of greater technical ability and experience, the latest of which, Luis Ortiz, appeared hurt every time ‘The Bronze Bomber’ so much as brushed him with anything of note.
To celebrate the ugly beauty of Deontay Wilder, then, here are ten other world champions who ignored the critics (and the coaches) and did it their way and their way only.
10. Vic Darchinyan
Darchinyan was an awkward southpaw who’d hold his arms high and out wide – essentially allowing his opponent an open shot down the middle – and rely entirely on his ability to get out of jail with one punch. This punch could come from anywhere, had a rhythm all of its own, and was damaging enough to lead the Armenian to world titles at flyweight and super-flyweight.
9. Sam Soliman
Nobody wanted to fight Sam Soliman; few wanted to watch him. The Aussie spoiler, whose stamina and workrate won him numerous fights he wasn’t supposed to win, made a crab-like style, all hurried motion and wayward punching, his own, and somehow, against the odds, snared an IBF world middleweight title in 2014.
8. Vitali Klitschko
Where brother Wladimir was an example of technical proficiency and economy, Vitali Klitschko, the older of the two, combined a kickboxing background with a streetfighting attitude to manufacture a herky-jerky style few could suss. He was painfully upright, stiff and rigid. He pulled back from punches of his opponents and prodded with punches of his own. He appeared easy to hit, yet wasn’t. He won 45 pro fights and suffered only two defeats (one because of a cut, one because of an injury). In short, he must have been doing something right.
7. Roy Jones
When people suggest Roy Jones was the most gifted boxer of all time what they basically means is this: Roy Jones was the only boxer gifted enough to be able to break every rule in the book, get rid of it all together, do things on the fly, and not only get away with this but make it seem as if everyone else, those schmucks following the rules, were behind the times, their skills passe. Jones, in winning world titles at middleweight, super-middleweight, light-heavyweight and eventually heavyweight, performed moves most boxers couldn’t even imagine, let alone replicate.
6. Ricardo Mayorga
Cigar-smoking Mayorga, the unlikely undisputed world welterweight champion from Nicaragua, had no discernible style but made up for this deficiency with balls and bravado. On paper, Vernon Forrest, the man from whom he wrestled the titles in 2003, should have boxed his ears off, made a mockery of his brawling approach, and exploited the countless holes in his defence. Instead, Forrest was manhandled in three rounds and then outhustled over twelve some six months later. It was proof, once again, that technical ability doesn’t always win out.
5. Naseem Hamed
A three-time world champion at featherweight, Hamed made it cool to be different. He punched from ludicrous angles, launched uppercuts from his ankles, and had no clear stance, structure or game plan. He did what he wanted, danced to his own beat, and reinvented what it meant to be a little guy with a big personality (and earning potential). In doing so, he inspired an entire generation of copy cats (not just those from Sheffield). But nobody did it like Naz.
4. Jorge Paez
The only thing stranger than Paez’s hair styles was the vague outline of a boxing style he used to win world featherweight titles. Often off-balance, forever leaping in, Paez would switch stances (or simply walk forward with his feet square) and appear to make it up as he went along. Paez just wanted to punch you. It didn’t matter how it looked, or how he made it happen, he just wanted to land something – anything.
3. Carlos Maussa
Carlos Maussa, Columbian man of rubber, rose to prominence in 2005 when he dramatically knocked out Vivian Harris to win the WBA super-lightweight title. He was known before then – for being stopped in eight rounds by Miguel Cotto – but was hardly considered good enough to one day call himself a world champion. So the fact he went on to take Harris’ best, outlast him, and then eventually stop him in round nine was a testament to Maussa’s comically unorthodox style, all flailing arms and legs, and immense fighting spirit.
2. Muhammad Ali
It seems almost blasphemous to undermine Muhammad Ali’s ability to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, but, back in the sixties, this now-famous style was considered an anomaly. Ali, after all, danced around the ring and wouldn’t stand still. He leaned back to dodge punches. He threw his own punches off the back foot, without his feet set or any great weight behind them. His hands were mostly held down by his sides. He neglected body shots. He was, in many ways, a technical aberration; an exercise in how not to do it. Yet he was also, without question, The Greatest.
1. Jack Johnson
Maverick heavyweight Jack Johnson was a rule-breaker in every sense of the word. If he was told to do one thing, he’d do something else instead. If certain assumptions were made of him, he’d go out of his way to prove them wrong. In the ring, meanwhile, he was animalistic, a (wronged) man on a mission, and thought nothing of stalking his white opponents with his hands down by his sides, almost begging them to open up and engage with him. When they did, Johnson would then explode with punches, leaping in behind them, and often found himself stuck in a clinch. It was a style they couldn’t understand, perfected by a man they didn’t want to understand.