Keidel: Deontay Wilder Needs To Fight Anthony Joshua

Wilder Has Fought A Mass Of Obscurity

Jason Keidel
May 20, 2019 - 1:23 pm

In 1963, Henry Cooper launched a left hook that hit Cassius Clay so hard the young boxer said his ancestors in Africa felt it.

Such was the punch that Deontay Wilder threw Saturday night at Barclays Center. A perfect, whipping right hand that could have buckled the building instead landed on the jaw of Dominic Breazeale, who went straight down and didn't rise until the ref counted him out just 43 seconds into the first round. Punches like this - which are Wilder's signature - have a special sound, a vicious thud that is often followed by flesh collapsing on canvas.

But unlike Clay, who won the fight and then became Muhammad Ali - and also the most important athlete of the 20th Century - Breazeale will never reach such renown. Even Cooper retired a boxer of some note and was also knighted in 2000. Breazeale is just a guy, another Wilder victim whose great accomplishment was fighting Deontay Wilder.

When boxing was still an essential sport, we measured our favorite fighters much the way we now judge our pro sports teams. We judge clubs not only by individual accomplishment but also by the competence of their competition.

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Ali was The Greatest because he fought the greatest. He hunted the best and biggest boxers in the world and toppled them. HIs list of victims is as impressive as any boxer in history. Ali conquered Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, and Floyd Patterson, just for starters. Who has Deontay Wilder defeated of any accomplishment? Wilder just joined an exclusive list of heavyweight champs who defended their belts at least nine times, including Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Frazier and Ali.

We can name their foes. By comparison, Wilder (40-0-1) has fought a mass of obscurity. Part of that is because the heavyweight division has long been poached by team sports who can pay gifted 220-pound athletes the same money sans the brain damage. Part of that is boxing as a sport has been partially eclipsed by the more trendy UFC.

And part of that is the absence of Anthony Joshua from Wilder's resume.

Related: Deontay Wilder On WFAN: Fights Against Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury Will Happen

Joshua, the hulking British boxer whom many consider the best heavyweight in the world, is the one boxer who can upgrade Wilder's resume from respectability to reverence. Joshua (22-0) is big and can bang, and is one of the few current fighters who have knocked out opponents at the same rate as Wilder (just above 95%).

Instead, we're hearing that Wilder will face Luis "King Kong" Ortiz, who Wilder has already defeated once before. It was a great fight but Ortiz is not a great fighter. In order for Wilder to become the best boxer in the world, he has to square off against the one boxer many fans and pundits think is better. Joshua is not just a name, but a corporeal membrane between where Wilder is and where he thinks he belongs. And time is not on the Bronze Bomber's side.

Wilder, 33, is four years older than Joshua, 29. So every year - if not every month - that flies off the calendar gives an edge to Joshua, who is in his prime, while Wilder is on the corroding edge of his. For every Foreman, who won the belt deep into his 40s, way more fighters lose their skill and will in their mid-30s. Father Time is the only undefeated and unbeatable champion of sports.

No one is accusing Wilder of ducking or dodging or dancing around Joshua. One of the main irritants of modern boxing is the financial courtship that often takes years before the two best boxers sit at the same table and sign a contract. Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao should have fought five years before they actually did. By the time they finally ducked under the same ropes, Pacquiao was a fraction of his former eminence. Saul "Canelo" Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin also fought years later than they should have, with Triple G entering their first fight well into his 30s.

The ancient boxing mantra says that boxing is only as strong as the heavyweight division. That is no longer true, with most of today's greats weighing under 160 pounds. But Wilder has a sense of boxing history and his part of a curious lineage of hard-hitting heavyweights from his home state, Alabama, going back to Earnie Shavers and the Brown Bomber himself, Joe Louis.

A few years back, I spent nearly two hours interviewing Wilder for CBS Local Sports. He's fast, funny, and charming, dedicating his professional life to his daughter, who has been saddled with spina bifida. If you heard or watched him on Boomer & Gio this morning, you may be spellbound by his size or outsized personality. (Some are sick of all the talk, but boxers have doubled as provocateurs since the young Ali was predicting the round in which he would KO his foes.)

So Wilder is easy to root for because of his wit, his will, and because he's an American. Maybe the heavyweight division is no longer the barometer of boxing's health, but Wilder can go a long way to changing that if he makes a great fight with a great fighter, Anthony Joshua. And for at least one night we can be reminded why being heavyweight champion of the world was the stand-alone crown of professional sports, back when it was worn only by kings.

Twitter: @JasonKeidel