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Minus Crimson Tide, Deontay Wilder to uphold Tuscaloosa’s pride

05
Jan

For Deontay Wilder, the situation seemed like a prophecy and too magical to be coincidence.

On Jan. 3, the University of Alabama football team was to face Ohio State in the semifinals of the inaugural College Football Playoff. On Jan. 17, Wilder will challenge WBC heavyweight titleholder Bermane Stiverne.

Next to the 15-time NCAA champion Crimson Tide, Wilder (32-0, 32 knockouts) is perhaps the most popular entity in the city of Tuscaloosa and maintains a close relationship with the university’s football coach Nick Saban.

“My desire and my dream was for me to win a world title,” said Wilder, “and for Alabama to win a national title all in the same year. That’s what I really wanted.”

But the No. 1 Crimson Tide lost, 42-35, to the Buckeyes, who will play in the Jan. 12 national title game against Oregon, a 59-20 winner over Florida State.

“I watched the game at his house,” said co-manager Jay Deas of Wilder, who is also trained by ex-titleholder Mark Breland and Russ Anber. “We had Mark, Russ and the sparring partners over. I told Deontay when it was over, ‘All eyes turn to you,’ and he said he thought the same thing.”

Wilder will carry the pride of his city into his clash with Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas on Showtime, hoping to end the beltholder’s 13-fight unbeaten streak.

“Bama’s loss will increase attention, attendance and focus on Deontay’s mission to be champion,” said Deas. “As Deontay has said, ‘Alabama has had many national champions but this is a world championship.'”

In victory over Stiverne, 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. Wilder owns a first round knockout over Liakhovich from August 2013.

A resident of Tuscaloosa who starred as a high school wide receiver, defensive end in football and at power forward in basketball, Wilder longed to be an athlete at the University of Alabama.

“I guess that God didn’t have that in his plans to happen, us winning in the same year. Alabama has been winning and representing Tuscaloosa for years,” said Wilder, a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist and the last American male to medal in Olympic boxing.

“But for me, winning a world title, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime achievement. Maybe Alabama can win a national title again next year and I’ll still be the heavyweight champion of the world. For now, I guess that maybe God’s plan is that he wants me to shine in Tuscaloosa all by myself.”