IN the real-life melodrama of boxing, the role of trainer is one of the most fascinating. There are scores of trainers who have become as legendary as some of the best boxers in history. Boxers flock and beg to be trained by the likes of Freddie Roach, Robert Garcia and Virgil Hunter, but for every trainer who is a household name, there are thousands of others who go unrecognised. Deontay Wilder is quickly becoming one of boxing’s superstars, but Jay Deas, the man who orchestrated his success, is relatively unknown and unpraised.
If you saw Jay Deas driving down the street you would never notice him. He would move past you in his 1996 Honda Accord. He might be driving his two daughters to school, or running some other pedestrian household errand. You would never know that his day consists of yelling instructions and simulating boxing matches in the clinch with WBC heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder.
The one thing that separates Jay Deas from the common man is his love, passion, and encyclopedic knowledge of boxing. He was highly influenced by the exploits of his older brother Tommy.
“As a child, my oldest brother was a boxing writer. He was writing for national publications even in high school, so I grew up around it through him,” Deas told Boxing News. “I remember being the only third grader to know the top 10 of every weight class. I didn’t understand why everybody else didn’t know the top 10.”
As Deas grew up, he had many different interests. He attended college on a baseball scholarship. He entered the field of journalism and became a TV crime reporter, but he never lost his love for the sport of boxing.
One day while working as a reporter in Panama City, Florida, Jay got a call from his brother about starting a gym in their hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Boxing still had a hold on him, so he returned home to follow his passion.
“My brother really wanted to get a gym going in Tuscaloosa. We started Skyy boxing in 1997,” said Deas. “We did our first [boxing] show in 1995. We’ve had the gym ever since, and we have two gyms now. We’ve done over 80 boxing shows since 1995.”
When Jay and Tommy embarked on their boxing endeavors, Tommy acted as the head trainer, while Jay headed up the promotional end of things. They were a small operation and Jay acted as the resident sparring partner.
“I was the sparring partner. I’ve done thousands of rounds with every boxer that’s come through the pike,” Deas emphasised.
Eventually, Tommy left Skyy Boxing due to his promotion as a sports editor, which left Jay in charge as the head trainer. To get prepared as a trainer, Deas visited several boxing trainers that had a history of success and that he respected such as Ronnie Shields. He spent time in their gyms taking notes and developing his own boxing program along the way.
In late 2005, Deas felt like he was prepared to take over the reins of the Skyy Boxing Gym. Fate seemed to agree with Deas’ appraisal of his own abilities. One of the first boxers to enter the Skyy Boxing Gym with Deas as the head trainer was a 20-year-old named Deontay Wilder.
“We were getting ready to do some sort of a [boxing] show and we were taking down the ring [in the gym] to take to the show, and me and the guys were working together, and he [Deontay Wilder] walked in,” recalled Deas. “My first thought was that’s a tall, athletic guy. He said he wanted to box. I hear that all the time, so there wasn’t this golden moment.”
At this point, Deas didn’t realise that his partnership with Deontay Wilder was about to change the course of his life. His first encounter with Wilder didn’t produce a “golden moment,” but Deas didn’t have to wait long for that moment to come into fruition. Deas was wowed by Wilder’s diligence in the gym, which made him pay extra attention to Wilder. The second “wow” moment made Deas realise what he had in Wilder.
“The second wow moment came a couple weeks later when we started him in sparring, and I had a couple of good journeymen, and he caught a journeyman heavyweight with a right hand and knocked him down,” Deas recollected. “The pro got up and looked at me and said, ‘Whatever you do, keep him.’”
Keep him he did.
In the 10 years that Deas and Wilder have been together, Wilder has won a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics and captured the WBC heavyweight title, which brings us to the present.
He defends his title on Saturday, January 16 against Artur “The Pin” Szpilka, but the prospect of a heavyweight title unification bout between Wilder and the winner of the impending Tyson Fury-Wladimir Klitschko return is on everybody’s mind. In truth, Deas was very impressed with Fury’s performance first time round.
“He fought a very intelligent fight,” said Deas. “It wasn’t an exciting fight, but it was a very interesting fight. I was very impressed with Fury.”
Deas also praised Fury’s entire team and their preparation for the fight.
“Fury’s people did him a big service when they took that padding out of the ring. Excessive padding makes is so you feel like you’re boxing in sand,” stated Deas. “Secondly, he got the gloves that he wanted. He got the gloves he felt comfortable in, not the gloves Klitschko insisted on. Before the fight even began, Fury won major points for his success.”
Szpilka and Povetkin are the two men that stand in Wilder’s path to a title unification bout, but Deas believes that Wilder will face Fury for the ultimate prize this year.
“I would love a unification fight [with Fury], and I would like to do it in England.”
With all of the success that Deas has experienced with Wilder, you would expect that he would be a more renowned name within the sport of boxing, yet he is still overlooked by boxing pundits. Usually when a trainer has a large amount of success with a fighter, they take on other fighters in an effort to boost their reputation in the sport of boxing. But not Jay Deas.
“We’ve [Skyy Boxing] had several guys that have approached us about helping them in their careers,” said Deas. “We haven’t really gone down that path mostly because Deontay fights so often that I really need to immerse myself for it to be successful.”
Deas also added, “My goal is to be the trainer and manager of the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. That’s my number one goal. My other goal is that I want Deontay Wilder, at the age of 35-40, to be able to do, on a daily basis, whatever he wants to do.”
Deas’ commitment to Deontay Wilder is incredibly admirable. He doesn’t just view himself as Wilder’s trainer or manager, but he’s part of his family. Deas and Wilder share a bond that transcends the sport of boxing, which speaks volumes about Deas as a trainer and a person.
Jay Deas may not be the most popular name as far as trainers go in the sport of boxing, but he should be regarded as one of the most honest, truthful, and caring. We’ll see if he can take another step toward his goal of being the trainer of the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world when Wilder faces Szpilka.