Wilder inspired to win title and fulfill promise to daughter
In the ring, Deontay Wilder is considered among the premier fighters in his division. Standing 6-foot-7, he’s an athletic boxer whose double-fisted power has produced 32 knockouts in as many fights without a loss.
But there is one whose perseverance THE RING’s No. 6-rated heavyweight admires more than any opponent he will face, his 9-year-old daughter, Naieya, whom doctors said might never walk shortly after her birth on March 20, 2005.
“She’s been through so much throughout her nine years of living and she’s still going through a lot now. She’s good though. I mean she’s happy that Daddy can support her to beyond belief,” said Wilder, 29, who also has a son, Dereon, 3, and another daughter, Ava, 4.
“Soon, it will be more than that. She knows what’s going on. A lot of people say they’re my No. 1 fan but I know that, for sure, that she’s my ultimate No. 1 fan. It’s nothing like the love that you have for your children and I love them dearly.”
Wilder said Naieya’s motor skills and learning abilities belie the fact that she was born with the congenital disorder spina bifida. X-rays revealed a hole in Naieya’s spine shortly after her birth as well as the condition which usually confines a person to a wheelchair for life.
Wilder said medical professionals expected a similar fate to be in store for Naieya.
“A lot of kids that are born with the condition of spina bifida are paralyzed from the waist down. You have a hole in your spine and fluid runs up to your head and stuff like that…But basically, a lot of kids who have the disorder are in wheelchairs,” said Wilder.
“The doctors said that she would never be able to walk and to ever have a natural childhood ability to learn. But there are several different cases of spina bifida and if God has something for you, then it’s for you. Can’t nobody take that away from you. No doctor. I don’t care how long he’s gone to school to learn his craft or whatever. God has the last say-so on everything.”
As his daughter has overcome, so Wilder believes he is “ordained” to dethrone Bermane Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) as WBC titleholder when they meet on Jan. 17 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Showtime.
In victory, Wilder would become America’s first heavyweight titleholder since 2007, when Shannon Briggs lost a unanimous decision to Sultan Ibragimov, giving up the WBO strap he had won from Sergei Liakhovich seven months earlier.
As teenager, Wilder’s grandmother, Evelyn Loggins, told him he was “special” and “anointed.” It was also about three years ago when a more specific prophecy was made by the late Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who said “the best heavyweight prospect for winning the heavyweight title is Deontay Wilder.”
But if the words of Steward and Loggins weren’t enough, Wilder made a promise long ago to Naieya that he would become a champion.
“She inspires me and we inspire each other each and every day, man. She inspires me still now,” said Wilder, “because when she was a year old, I promised her that Daddy would become a world champion. Now I can make this happen. This can be realistic. I can make this promise a reality now and I will, you know. “
A resident of Tuscaloosa, Ala., who starred as a high-school wide receiver and defensive end in football and at power forward in basketball, Wilder figured he was destined to be an athlete at the University of Alabama.
But as a 19-year-old, Wilder experienced the early responsibilities of fatherhood. Accepting his role, Wilder dropped out and took two jobs, one driving a truck and another at a restaurant.
Encouraged by a college friend, not to mention his success as a street fighter and the desire to escape that behavior, Wilder turned to boxing. Wilder’s success led to a bronze medal in the 2008 U.S. Olympics, making him the last American male to medal in Olympic boxing.
Meanwhile, Wilder could only watch as Naeiya experienced an early journey of pain over her first year of life brought on by the numerous examinations and surgeries, albeit successful.
“She motivates me to keep going because she’s only a nine-year-old girl and she’s gone through the things that she’s gone through. There was the surgeries and the doctors and the needles being stuck through her,” said Wilder of Naeiya, who was enrolled in a program called RISE at the University of Alabama.
“She would be screaming through her lungs and reaching for her father and that makes me want to hit the doctors. But I know that if she can go through that, then I can go through the trials and tribulations of becoming a world champion. You know all that we know is working hard.”
But Naieya’s determination led to her being fitted with knee braces and eventually to her walking. By the age of seven, Wilder said of Naieya, “was not only walking” but “running, flipping and one of the smartest little girls in her class.”
“There’s no limitations to what she can do. You can never tell from my daughter that she has anything going on. She’s just like her father, man, just like me,” said Wilder. “There is no limitation to what she can do. If you tell me I can’t do it, then I’m going to do it. I’ll definitely try to prove you wrong. But all of my kids are my motivation.”
Wilder’s next challenge is Stiverne, 36, whose sixth-round technical knockout over Chris Arreola in May earned the WBC belt which had been vacated when Vitali Klitschko retired to pursue a political career in Ukraine.
Stiverne also became the first heavyweight titleholder of Haitian descent and is 12-0-1 with nine stoppages since being knocked out in the fourth round by Demetrice King in July 2007.
Wilder is coming off a fourth-round knockout of Jason Gavern, whom he dropped in the third and final rounds. Prior to Gavern, Wilder became Stiverne’s mandatory challenger with a 96-second knockout of Malik Scott in a WBC eliminator bout in March.
“I’m going to be a proud father when it comes time to come back and to show my baby girl, Naieya, what I brought her because I promised that to her – and I can’t let her down, man. I can’t let her down. It’s just like making God a promise,” said Wilder of winning the heavyweight title.
“So he’s counting on you to do what you said you was going to do and she’s counting on me to do as a father what I said that I was going to do and I’ll never let my kids down…I have to fulfill that promise. Nothing against nobody but this is something that I promised my daughter a long time ago and it’s gotta be fulfilled.”