RESPECTED American trainer Naazim Richardson says Deontay Wilder might be the hardest punching heavyweight to ever lace up a pair of boxing gloves.
He goes with ‘might’ because such a thing can never truly be quantified, yet you know, from talking to him, this man who has guided the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Shane Mosley and Steve Cunningham, he’s fairly sure of it.
He comes armed with an explanation, too, seemingly aware he’ll face backlash.
“I said he might be the best heavyweight puncher in history and people are like, ‘How can you compare him to Joe Louis and Mike Tyson and George Foreman?’” Richardson tells Boxing News. “The reason I say that is this: they were all better fighters than him.
“Tyson was technically sound. His defence was beautiful. His hand and foot speed was the fastest since Muhammad Ali. He had a different style, of course, but his hands and his feet were fast. His head movement was beautiful. He was damn hard to hit.
“George Foreman’s jab was way more educated than Deontay Wilder’s.
“They all had better attributes than him. Deontay didn’t have any of that when he started winning and defending world titles. He just hit you. I mean, he f**king hit you.”
Wilder, the current WBC heavyweight champion, has won 39 of his 40 professional fights inside the distance, a testament to this punch power, and is someone Richardson has admired from a distance for some time now.
“Wilder told me something in Atlantic City and from that day I knew he’d be world champion,” he says. “He said, ‘Naazim, I’ve got that ‘Bama strength, I ain’t ever been afraid of anybody since I was a little kid, and I’ve realised everybody I’ve hit with my right hand has responded. Some blinked, some shook their head, some fell down, and some went to sleep. But nobody ever just ignored it. I realise in 12 rounds I’m going to hit you at some point.’
“I told my son, ‘He’s going to be world champion.’ He said, ‘Why do you say that?’ I said, ‘I think that shows he’s going to be patient.’
“Artur Szpilka, for example, made him miss more than anybody. His herky-jerky style really upset him, and I was surprised he could do it for that long. Szpilka was making him miss the whole fight. But when Wilder landed, all those misses didn’t matter no more.”
Forget set-ups, forget foundations, and forget technique. With Wilder, Richardson suggests, it’s all about power. Raw, explosive, undiluted power.
There will be superior technicians, no doubt. There will even be contenders without titles, like Szpilka, capable of outboxing Wilder and exposing his myriad limitations. But, ultimately, once they get hit, they stay hit, and it’s this theory, admittedly basic, that will apply should Wilder eventually share a ring with WBA, IBF and WBO champion Anthony Joshua, Richardson believes.
“Deontay is a good friend of mine so I know I’m biased,” he says. “Joshua, to me, is the better fighter. He’s the more technically sound and schooled.
“But here’s the problem: damn near everybody Deontay Wilder fought was a better fighter than him. So that’s not a factor when it comes to this fight. Wilder can beat guys who are better than him.
“Fighting Deontay Wilder is like fighting a guy with a five-pound weight in both hands. He’s saying, ‘I don’t care what you do to me, I don’t care how many rounds you win, the minute this five-pound weight lands, everything you did is null and void.’
“I believe he punches harder than (Wladimir) Klitschko. And I saw Klitschko rock him. I also believe he punches harder than David Price, who they say knocked Joshua out in sparring.
“I used to feel the most technically sound boxer in the heavyweight division was ‘King Kong’, Luis Ortiz. Joshua is nice and is younger, but ‘King Kong’ was the best boxer. He could change things up better than Joshua. But Deontay Wilder weathered that storm.
“Before ‘King Kong’, I thought Joshua had a better chance. But he now knows he can get to those guys who box better than him. He knows he can get them if he takes his time.
“He also showed a good chin to hang on. Every time I saw Tyson hurt, he lost. Every time I see Joshua hurt in a fight, he damn near goes down. When you see Wilder hurt, he still stands his ground. He’s never shown fear or apprehension.”
Suffice to say, Richardson’s picking Wilder should the Joshua fight ever come to fruition. He’ll catch the Englishman at some point, he reckons, and that will be that. America, with the swing of a single fist, will finally lay claim to the best heavyweight on the planet.
From there, with power and personality in spades, there will presumably be no stopping ‘The Bronze Bomber’.
“What makes Wilder special is this,” Richardson says. “One: he’s always in shape. You don’t see any pictures of him where he’s not lean. You never see him puffy. He’s like those damn NBA players. I don’t know how he skipped the NBA. His jump shot must be not that good. If it was any good, they’d have scooped that boy up.
“Two: he carries that equaliser. He’s gifted. I used to say when (Wilder’s coach) Mark Breland gets him together with that jab and that right hand he’s going to really be a problem. But it’s going to be a slow learn because this kid can change the problem at any time. If I’m telling you, ‘Hey man, take a half a step back, you’re not setting it up properly,’ and he then ignores me, hits the guy and knocks the guy out, do I tell him he was wrong?
“Wilder is one of those kids in the classroom who can’t always show you how he got to the answer, but he’ll have the answer for you regardless. He can get to the bottom line.
“That might be his biggest downfall, by the way. He’s told Joshua he’ll go over there (England) and fight him in his back yard. He’s got that mentality. But I think he needs to lose that and become more business-like. He doesn’t need to be running up in anyone’s back yard and boxing them.”
The hope is that, despite the recent grandstanding, Joshua and Wilder will eventually do the right thing and give fans the fight they want (and the fight their bank balance craves). It might take time, super-fights typically do, but they will get there in the end.
And that’s fine by Richardson, a man known for his patience and cool head.
“I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong by umming and arring,” he says. “Because they realise once they fight each other there are not a lot of places to go for the winner and even fewer options for the loser.
“Anthony Joshua is sitting there thinking, hey, Deontay Wilder is not just a loss; Deontay Wilder inflicts damage. He ain’t afraid to lose a fight, but everyone’s afraid to go to the hospital in an emergency wagon. Nobody’s a tough guy when it comes to the emergency wagon. Deontay Wilder can inflict that emergency wagon ride just like Tyson used to do. Nobody wants that.”