DEONTAY WILDER has declared himself to be “the hardest-hitting puncher in boxing history”. Looking at the stats and talking to insiders, maybe he is.
Of all the heavyweight champions, Wilder has the highest knockout percentage. He has 41 early wins in 43 fights (one draw) for a 95 per cent score. That puts the WBC heavyweight champion ahead of Rocky Marciano and Vitali Klitschko (87 per cent), George Foreman (85 per cent) and Mike Tyson (76 per cent). Granted, Wilder has something of an advantage over Foreman and Tyson because he’s yet to experience a late-career fade.
But all those punchers were very different fighters to Wilder.
Colin Hart, the veteran Sun reporter at ringside for almost every major heavyweight title fight since Henry Cooper challenged Muhammad Ali at Wembley Stadium in 1966, regards Wilder as “a one off”.
He said, “There are very few people who can take people out the way Wilder does. In the lighter weights there was Julian Jackson, but up at heavyweight, Wilder is a one off.
“People talk about George Foreman, but he didn’t do it with one punch the way Wilder does.
“He dropped Joe Frazier six times (when he took the title from him in 1973) and Mike Tyson didn’t do it with a single shot either.
“Anthony Joshua doesn’t. He hit Dominic Breazeale for seven rounds before stopping him – and Wilder did it with one punch.
“Joe Louis took a few out with one punch when he had his ‘Bum of the Month Club,’ but he didn’t do it at the highest level and Rocky Marciano used to wear them down.
“Against Roland LaStarza in their rematch [in 1953], Marciano hit him on the biceps for round after round until his hands dropped. That was Marciano. He hit them hard for round after round. There’s no softening up with Wilder. Look at Ortiz in Wilder’s last fight. He had hardly been touched – and then it was over.”
Matthew Macklin, commentating on the fight for Sky Sports, said Wilder was being “out-maneuvered, out-boxed and out-thought”. The hesitancy shown against Ortiz was understandable given the crisis Wilder had to come through when they had boxed 20 months earlier.
Wilder fumbled his way through the fog after running onto a shot late in the seventh when going for the finish after dazing the Cuban.
He was woozy throughout the eighth and most of the ninth as well, but survived and once his head had cleared, Wilder started landing the jab that measures opponents for his right hand and when the right hand lands, the fight is either over – or close to being over.
Ortiz gave him problems in the rematch as well. Two of the judges had him winning five of the opening six rounds and he appeared to be only seconds away from winning the seventh as well before a gap appeared in his defence…
The expression on the Cuban’s face after he got to his feet just after the referee’s count reached ‘Ten’ wasn’t just: ‘What hit me?’ It was also: ‘How did that happen?’
Asked for a reaction at the press conference later, Ortiz described his feelings as: “Shock,” before adding: “He only needs one second.”
Up to the point that right hand landed, Ortiz had been so comfortable; manoeuvring Wilder around the ring with his feet and keeping him quiet with his judgement of distance and the promise of his quick counters should he miss.
But as Ortiz has discovered twice, one false move against Wilder and the fight is over.
“You’ve got to bob and weave when you box Deontay,” said Wilder’s coach Mark Breland (alongside Jay Deas), the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and twice a holder of the WBA welterweight championship as a pro.
“He has long arms and long legs and it’s hard to get out of the way. If you pull back, you’re going to take punches. Those long arms and long legs means he’s always only a step away from you. You think he’s too far away – and then he catches you.”
Wilder is 6ft 7ins tall, his reach has been measured at 83 inches and on the end of his right hand is no place to be. “It’s the whip at the end of the punch where he gets his power,” said Breland, who says his shoulder has been “knocked out a couple of times” when taking Wilder on the pads.
“I tell Deontay to keep them on the outside and then shoot the long right hand. I tell him: ‘Don’t wait to punch, use your jab, use your jab to find them, then lock the right hand and throw it straight out.’”
Breland was also a lanky puncher – few welterweight champions have been taller than his 6ft 2ins – who used the one-two and accepts that sometimes Wilder’s work isn’t exactly textbook.
He sighed when asked about his fighter’s technique before answering: “The straight punches have more power, but even the sloppy rights hurt.
“If Deontay hits you, he hurts you.”
Breland believes the right hand that dropped Tyson Fury in the last round of their first fight was one of his sloppier shots.
“It was an overhand right that caught Fury,” he said, “and hitting the canvas woke him up. There’s a lot of power in the overhand right, but when he throws the straight right hand, they are not going to get up.”
The rights that have subsequently felled Breazeale and Ortiz were more to Breland’s liking. Against Breazeale, Wilder saw the gap, quickened his feet and pounced, while his reading of the Ortiz finish was: “I found my measurement, I saw the shot and I took it.”
Steve Farhood, the Hall-of-Fame writer and former editor of The Ring, said: “For one-punch power, I’d rate him [Wilder] at the top, along with Joe Louis and perhaps Jack Dempsey.
“Among non-champions, I still consider Earnie Shavers the hardest hitter I’ve ever seen.
“What makes Wilder different is the unique leverage he gets on his punches. He isn’t very heavy, especially by today’s standards, but his reach is exceptionally long, and when he lands that right hand in the right place … well, we’ve seen the results.
“There are different kinds of power. George Foreman was, of course, a huge hitter, but his power was very different from Mike Tyson, whose crunch was very much created by his tremendous hand speed.
“Louis’ biggest punches were short, Wilder’s are long right hands. Both devastating.”
Wilder took around two minutes to find Breazeale’s chin – his 20th in the opening round – and rather longer to find the gap against Ortiz.
Breland said, “I’m always telling him: ‘Take your time because you don’t want to miss a lot of punches. Get your own pace and everything comes together.”
There were moments in the Ortiz rematch when frustration appeared to be creeping into Wilder’s boxing. According to CompuBox, he only landed 23 punches in the opening six rounds and at times he beat his chest and shook his arms loose in an attempt to get himself going and find some kind of rhythm. Ordinary and outboxed for so long in that fight, Wilder went on to produce what we named the best knockout of 2019.
How does he do it?
At around 220lbs, Wilder is no behemoth – Fury called him a cruiserweight ahead of their first fight (when he came in at a light 212) – but he has a puncher’s physique with his broad shoulders and slim waist, there’s the leverage, the whip at the end of his punches – and the timing.
“Timing is a big part of it,” said Hart. “Deontay gets them when they’re coming forward or throwing punches themselves and that doubles the impact.
“But he’s a natural puncher. You can’t teach someone to punch like that. You can teach someone to punch properly or to punch better, but you can’t teach him how to punch that hard.
“To beat him, you have to keep your chin out of the way for 36 minutes.”
Only Bermane Stiverne (in their first fight) and Fury have lasted the full 12 rounds with Wilder. Both had to get off the floor to hear the final bell and had Wilder not hurt his right hand in the fourth, he may well have stopped Stiverne. He made amends in the rematch, though the Stiverne he knocked out inside a round was a blubbery, rusty and ill-prepared version of the fighter who had outslugged Chris Arreola for the vacant WBC belt three-and-a-half-years earlier.
Fury had more notice, but still, the routine wins over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta were seen as no sort of preparation for challenging Wilder in Los Angeles in December, 2018.
‘Wilder, if you lose concentration for one second during those 36 minutes, the fight is over’
Tyson broke the news of the Wilder fight to Richie Woodhall during a dinner evening in Cannock – and Woodhall didn’t believe him. He thought Fury was joking and decided against sharing the news with the diners.
In the build-up, previous opponents were quizzed about Wilder’s power – including Audley Harrison. He reckoned Wilder “almost had my eye out in sparring one day” and recalling the right hand that sent him on his way to a 70-second defeat when they fought, Harrison said: “The punch came at such an unusual angle and so fast there was no getting out of the way.”
For so much of their fight, Fury did a good job of seeing Wilder’s punches coming. He made Wilder hesitate, think and then when the champion did let his hands go, they were telegraphed swings, often thrown out of frustration.
Breland says we will see more punches – especially jabs – from Wilder in Las Vegas on February 22. “The first fight, Fury was moving away, joking and talking and distracting him,” said Breland. “Deontay won’t pay attention this time.
“He needs to jab more in the rematch. He let Fury out jab him in the first fight. Deontay was waiting, waiting, waiting. He was waiting for Tyson Fury to throw punches so he could counter, but I told him: ‘While you’re waiting, he’s hitting you and scoring points.’
“Deontay will knock him out this time. He just has to let his hands go.”
Hart is in agreement. “It might be like the first fight with Fury out-boxing him,” he said, “but with Wilder, if you lose concentration for one second during those 36 minutes, the fight is over.”