Deontay Wilder still unproven but already entertaining
LAS VEGAS – The jury is still out on whether Deontay Wilder has what it takes to make it big in the ring but he demonstrated again Thursday that he is a master outside it.
The final press conference before Wilder (32-0, 32 knockouts) tries to wrest the WBC heavyweight title belt from Bermane Stiverne on Saturday at the MGM Grand was, well, mundane as promoter Don King served up his familiar shtick and taciturn fighters gave thanks to their supporters. Reporters rolled their eyes and checked their watches every few minutes.
Then it was Wilder’s turn at the microphone, where he is obviously comfortable, and the event became infused with energy and then conflict.
“I ain’t scared to talk because I can back it up,” said the towering Alabamian, who is hoping to become the first American big man to hold a title since 2006. “I ain’t scared to hold my head high and my chest out because I’m ready. When I do the unexpected, I don’t want you to degrade this man (Stiverne). If this is a test for me, let it be a test for me. And watch me pass the test.
“I guarantee you I will do it. I can’t wait. Y’all are in for a treat.”
He was only getting started.
“I know your manager has been speaking for you. That’s OK,” Wilder said as he looked across the dais at Stiverne, who kept his steady gaze forward. “The problem is he can’t fight for you. You don’t understand what type of man you’re getting into the ring with. You don’t understand what you’re getting yourself into.
“You’ve only been champ for a short time. You walk around like you’ve been the champ for a long time. In the end you’re just a tourist to that belt. It’s coming back with me, I promise you.”
Stiverne (24-1-1, 21 KOs) sat expressionless but he seemed to have anger in his eyes. The Haitian-Canadian is soft spoken, perhaps uneasy in front of crowds, but he punched back.
One knock on Wilder is his thin resume. Stiverne seized on that theme.
“This will be a fight like he’s never seen before,” Stiverne said to the crowd. “I ain’t no cab driver, I ain’t no one-hit wonder. This is the real deal.” He turned to Wilder. “This belt ain’t going nowhere. The green belt is staying right here. It ain’t goin’ nowhere, baby.
“You said I ain’t seen nobody like you. I’ve seen plenty like you. I’ve seen people who talk more than you. One thing about me: I don’t worry about how I go into the ring; I worry how I get out of the ring.”
Someone shouted, “What round, Bermane?”
“I’m going to keep Deontay’s record clean: He ain’t going to (last) four rounds,” Stiverne said as Wilder tried to chime in. “ÔÇª Boy, you’re going to get hurt. ÔÇª You better shut up. I’m the champ. Shut up.”
Soon the fighters were face to face for the obligatory staredown, which emphasized the striking difference in their heights. Wilder is 6 feet 7 inches, Stiverne 6-2, but the disparity seemed greater.
The intensity of their stares were equal. They locked eyes for several minutes, expressionless, as a hundred or more journalists and others associated with the event stared at them. Wilder kept his sights on Stiverne even as he was pulled away before finally turning his head and making his way back to the dais for one-on-one interviews.
Overall, Wilder seemed to enjoy the whole thing but retained his edge.
“You gotta have fun,” he said. “Life is a serious game. You have to have fun living it. I love this stuff, I love this part of it. I want to entertain fans but I’m still serious about this, very serious. This is for the title.
“It’s not going to be the easy ride his people are thinking it will be.”
His Kingdom: Don King, who handles Stiverne, is 83 now and not as involved in boxing as he once was. He still has impressive vigor, though. And he comes up with the overused malapropos for which he’s famous.
The most interesting thing he said involved one his old fighters.
“When Bermane knockouts out the knockout artist Deontay Wilder, I’m going to call on Mike Tyson to see if we can bring him back for an opportunity to do what George Foreman did. Tyson, I think, is 48. He don’t know nothing about this yet. I’m just telling everyone just in case.”
Foreman came out of a 10-year retirement and won the IBF title at 45 years old when he stopped Michael Moorer in 1994.
Tyson is 48. The former champ hasn’t fought since he was stopped by Kevin McBride in six rounds, his third knockout loss in four fights. There is no reason to think he will come out of retirement, particularly because he has done well in his ventures the past few years.
Still, King evidently dreams about a multi-million-dollar fight involving the onetime superstar. He was asked one-on-one after the press conference whether he is serious about approaching Tyson if Stiverne wins and he smiled.
“If Bermane wins, why not?” he said. “He could come out of retirement and make a few million dollars. And if [Tyson] wins? Can you imagine?”
And many more …
Bernard Hopkins turned 50 today. The public relations people arranged to have a cake with candles brought in and everyone at the press conference sang “Happy Birthday” to the half-century-old Alien.
It was only two months ago that the now-former light heavyweight champ exchanged punches with one of the baddest men on the planet, Sergey Kovalev. Amazing.
Happy Birthday, Bernard.