Deontay Wilder enlists help of alter ego 'The Bronze Bomber' to battle critics, Tyson Fury
Saturday's heavyweight title bout represents Wilder's final hurdle in career-long battle for respect
Throughout 40 professional fights, seven defenses of his WBC heavyweight title and a knockout of every opponent he has faced, it's incredible to consider that unbeaten Deontay Wiilder is still fighting for the main thing that has eluded him -- respect.
Fresh off the biggest critical victory of his career in March against unbeaten Luis Ortiz, Wilder (40-0, 39 KOs) enters his biggest commercial opportunity on Saturday in a pay-per-view showdown against lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0, 19 KOs) at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (Showtime PPV, 9 p.m. ET). Yet the 33-year-old slugger from Alabama is still chasing universal credibility within the suddenly resurgent division and the kind of crossover notoriety that should come with being a charismatic, 6-foot-7 American champion with thunderous power ... yet somehow hasn't.
"You are always going to be fighting for respect in this game because there is always new talent coming and developing," Wilder told CBS Sports. "You must keep your name active and keep that respect level as is because if they start disrespecting you, people are going to start thinking they have some advantage and can get to you. But I'm a king in this division. I demand my respect. If you don't give it to me, I'm going to take it."
Long before Wilder began violently finishing pro opponents or embarking on an ultimately fruitless quest of luring unified champion Anthony Joshua into a superfight for undisputed supremacy, the seeds of his discontent may have been planted during the site of his last boxing defeat at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
At 22 and just over two years removed from putting on a pair of gloves for the first time, Wilder advanced to the medal round before losing a decision to silver medalist Clemente Russo of Italy. Despite taking home the bronze, Wilder was left with a foul taste in his mouth. Not only does he believe the decision was corrupt, he claims he witnessed other things -- namely fighters accepting bribes -- that he admits blew his mind.
"I know that things weren't quite right," Wilder said. "It made me start thinking that a fighter could train for four years to go to this big event and it's really not about your skill level, it comes down to whether someone likes your country or not or whether they are getting paid off.
"When I fought my fight, if you go back and look, he wasn't hitting me. They were giving him points that he didn't deserve. Being that I was in the Olympics and have seen misjudgment and people getting paid, I understand and accepted fate because this is only amateurs, it doesn't matter. I was turning pro and that's when I would make my statement."
Make a statement as a professional he did, even as his team was constantly criticized for matching Wilder too slow throughout his rise from prospect to contender. Part of that statement was to largely avoiding letting the judges in on his fights. In fact, only Bermane Stiverne in their 2015 title bout was able to go the distance when Wilder broke his right hand (he would later stop Stiverne in Round 1 of their 2017 rematch).
But the more Wilder stepped up in class, the more big-time opponents either avoided him or failed drug tests (including three in a row) shortly before being scheduled to face him. Simultaneously, his critics relentlessly clowned him for his raw and barbaric style, especially after losing a handful of early rounds to journeyman like Eric Molina and Gerald Washington before violently ending them.
What those who simply pawned Wilder off as a reckless puncher who had yet to face an elite boxer capable of disarming him failed to notice was his steady improvements while very much learning on the job as heavyweight champion. Not only is Wilder one of the most athletic heavyweights the division has ever seen, he ended any worry about his chin or toughness by rallying to stop Luis Ortiz in March.
In the process, Wilder has become much more of a student of the game who watches closely in the early rounds for openings he can exploit once his opponent tires in the second half. He has also learned how to use his awkwardness to his advantage by creating the kind of in-ring chaos that he thrives in.
That's why Wilder is quick to counter the question of how he plans to deal with the 6-foot-9 Fury's abnormally slick speed and boxing ability for a heavyweight.
"The question is can he compete with my speed and boxing?" Wilder said. "Speed is power and I possess that. I'm faster than what these guys think and you can't see it in the fights but when guys come and spar with me in the fight, they sense that [and say,] 'You're smarter than what we think. You're faster.'
"It does my heart good to hear trainers or other fighters thinking that I'm just a one-trick pony. I smile when they say it. If you are thinking that, it's over with. When they get in that ring, everything changes."
The in-ring transformation doesn't stop with Wilder's opponents.
Part of what has helped Wilder overcome everything from criticism to boxing politics ruining his negotiations with Joshua has been his ability to block it out while taking out his frustrations on his opponents. To do so, he has relied on meditation and visualization before a fight to help him enter an altered zone of consciousness that he calls "The Bronze Bomber," his alter ego.
"For me, when I turn into the Bronze Bomber, it separates me from all these other fighters," Wilder said. "It makes me channel into another dimension that is scary. It's scary! I have a scary feeling when I turn into that man because I feel stronger. The way my mindset is, the energy that is channeling! All of that is real."
The most vicious reveal of "The Bronze Bomber" thus far was likely his one-round destruction of Stiverne when Wilder ran across the ring with rabid intensity and a look in his eyes that was scary. It's the same look that Wilder flashed at Fury while slipping into character during a British television "Face Off" last month on BT Sport.
As Wilder began to explain the possibility that his alter ego was "an ancestry spirit" due to his Nigerian heritage, Fury became noticeably uncomfortable. A bit of a spiritual debate ensued with Fury yelling, "This is where I don't like you anymore," just before Wilder began to scream back at him.
"It's funny. He definitely got uncomfortable," Wilder said. "I saw his facial expressions and I could feel his energy. He is always talking about how he is getting to me but in reality I am getting to him. I am in his head because he knows that it's real."
Considering Fury's history of getting inside the heads of his opponents, including his 2015 title win over Wladimir Klitschko, many wondered whether he could do the same with Wilder during their October media tour, which featured the light-punching Fury emphatically guaranteeing he would win by knockout. Wilder believes there was a moment during the tour when he proved any and all mental games would be ineffective.
"I told him in London, 'You're not going to be able to get in my head. I'm not Klitschko,'" Wilder said. "When I told him that his facial expression changed a bit. He can say what he wants, I don't get offended by that but I will apply the discipline in the ring. Understand that whatever you say will be applied against you. I will be the judge and jury and it will be judgement day come [Saturday]."
Wilder believes that every great athlete in history has something within them that is "abnormal" and essentially allows them to elevate to a mental zone in which it's capable to accomplish things "a normal person couldn't do." A recent chat with NBA legend Dominique Wilkins after welcoming him into his home confirmed Wilder's beliefs on the subject.
"Dominique was telling me how he used to visualize and meditate and a certain thing that he felt that made him be able to react and be one of the best," Wilder said. "So I know I'm not crazy."
The transformation from Wilder into his alter ego begins in training camp each time he lifts weights, runs and spars. His intense focus continues through personal meditation sessions until it's time for the "The Bronze Bomber" to be unleashed on fight.
"When the lights come on, it's just a different person that comes out inside of me," Wilder said. "I'm a playmaker. I'm a playmaker and when it's time for me to be able to make plays, I do it well. When I fought Ortiz I told him that I had already fought you 100 times. Nothing you are going to be able to do is going to get me out because I fought you 100 times due to visualization and meditation. The transformation is there the night of the fight. I'm no longer Deontay Wilder no more, I'm the Bronze Bomber."
Wilder can only hope a victory on Saturday is finally enough to transform the opinions of those who still doubt him. He can also hope the added leverage of Fury's lineal championship helps him either secure a unification with Joshua that would be the biggest fight in the sport or at least allow him to stand alone as the best in the division.
Either way, Wilder will need to become the first to solve the tricky Fury in order to do so.
"It's going to be a different thing when he actually has to get in the ring with me," Wilder said. "He's very nervous. I know he is. He's very, very nervous. I've been doing this a long time and when I wasn't in the boxing ring, I was out fighting in the street. I never looked for trouble but trouble found me and I had to teach people lessons.
"I've already been through so much in my career, it's the wrong time to be messing with me. It's the wrong time."
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