Uber-confident Deontay Wilder to AJ: ‘After I finish Ortiz … no more waiting!’
You can look deep into a man’s eyes, and you can like to think that you can see into his soul, but really, mostly, you can’t.
I tried that with Deontay Wilder (39-0, 38 KOs) late Wednesday afternoon at Barclays Center as we count down to what should be the stiffest date of his career, which kicked off in the pay-for-play ranks in 2008. We the media peppered him with queries after some of the other boxers on the card did a lil’ working out in a ring set up in the rotunda area of the arena, which has been a cozy and consistent home to pugilists since 2014. Many were centered on the Cuban opponent who goes by the nickname “King Kong,” speaking to his size and strength. His record backs that moniker up, decently, at 28-0 (24 KOs).
And just as many were centered on what could come next for Wilder, the Alabama attraction who has made Brooklyn his second boxing home. And that fits, because the borough is a diverse one, and boasts a quite rich history of fertilizing and hatching majestically talented African-American sweet scientists. Bowe, Tyson … guys that, yes, have some things in common with Wilder. They could crack, he can crack, they could talk, and he can yap more than a bit too.
And I listened to his answers, I drifted a bit, to where I thought he might end up. Where will his arc drop? What will be a breaking point? He doesn’t give even half a hint that it will come Saturday night, in a bout to be shown on the Showtime platform. No, I’m not even obliquely hinting that he’s taking Luis Ortiz lightly. Wilder hasn’t shown that to be part of his MO — not to my eyes, anyway. The fact is that Ortiz has worked harder than ever to get his body/fat ratio down to a level that could make him that much more dangerous, adding an improved measure of mobility to his solid lockdown of the basics, not to mention power in both hands.
Video by Ryan Songalia
I do think the 32-year-old hitter betters the 38-year-old Ortiz, being that I think Ortiz peaked in 2014 or so, and so it only makes sense that the next stiffest test would be the Englishman who will likely take into possession a belt held by Joseph Parker on March 31, leaving Anthony Joshua with the WBA, IBF and IBF belts, with Wilder being the holdout, having the WBC strap in his hold. And I looked into the eyes and tried to see deeper in … Maybe catch a hint of self-doubt … hear a hitch in his voice which detracted from his most muscular message of certainty — that he thinks no man, present or past, and that includes the top-tier greats — our game’s royalty, the Alis and Tysons — can beat him.
I wasn’t, as I fired a few queries and drifted to Wilder’s future, able to detect an errant note. Nothing in his eyes said he didn’t really believe that he wouldn’t beat Ortiz, get Joshua to sign on to fight him and then defeat the Brit. OK, we all know belief in self can go a long, long way, but eventually it butts up against someone with a similar level of self-regard, and also maybe a better right cross. That might be AJ … but my eye-scan detection effort left me with this takeaway: I won’t bet against Wilder downing Ortiz and then getting that AJ fight, and then activating his visualizations.
And I think that will be the only way for him to get the respect he’s craving — the adoration befitting, in historical norms, “the baddest man on the planet,” which he firmly believes he is.
Yeah, I know it won’t happen before Saturday night. The fan turnout to the open session at Barclays told me that; there are still plenty ‘o seats on the Bronze Bomber train for rooters who want to attach to the movement. The music there was often too loud, with not quite enough fans present to deaden the decibels, as media shouted out questions to Alicia Napoleon, who gets a WBA title crack Saturday and sends a sharp message to the mutts on the playground who didn’t see the future utility of her “thunder thighs;” to Jose Uzcategui, the Venezuelan-Mexican who promised to finish the job he started so well against Andre Dirrell, before their May 2017 scrap dissolved into an “only in boxing” explosion of clusterfuckery; of 168er Dirrell, who told me that he was absolutely loving sharp tongue-lashings from Virgil Hunter, the Andre Ward tutor who he said is proving to be a superb instructor, and opening his mind and eyes to new methods and strategies.
“Come March 3, I will prove that — that I’m the king,” Wilder said to the assembled media after some light work with Jay Deas and then Mark Breland. “I’ve been saying that for years. He is the big test. Everybody labeled “King Kong” the bogeyman of the division. Now here I am to shine a light on the bogeyman!”
The event started at 3 p.m., and throughout the session, the promoter of the scraps, Lou DiBella, would swoop by me, a grin affixed. “Woodsy, Ortiz looks gooood. This is high risk,” he said, rushing away to offer well wishes to some functionary, flunky, colleague, compadre or what have you.
“This is the fight that the fans been waiting for. If this is the fight that labels me the best, then I’m going to pass with flying colors.”
Yeah, no …
I’m not here to be peeing on the parade. This Saturday fight could play out a few ways: Wilder could blow away Ortiz, and then they say Ortiz was an old bum. He could smart-box Ortiz but not KO him, and leave the fans without their pound of flesh, so there will be a blowback; Ortiz upsets him and then Wilder gets savaged and scorned and his ultra-confident talk, his belief that no Tyson and no Ali would beat him, gets thrown in his face. Only if Ortiz enters the Barclays ring looking ripped and ready, and then shows that his physique is in fact a complement to his skills set, and we see some ebb and flow, with Wilder getting his chin checked but not wrecked … THEN a win over Ortiz will send Wilder some of that coveted adoration and attention.
But no, I think he will still have to set a date with Joshua to get to the point where the masses are ready to anoint that showdown winner as “the best.”
Back to Deontay’s chat in a media scrum. “Nothing I haven’t said I haven’t done, and I am going to knock King Kong out!”
You see yourself, right now, as “the baddest man on the planet,” don’t you, Deontay, I asked.
“I definitely do. I said before: I believe, and I’m gonna receive it. I speak it all the time. If you don’t believe in yourself, you’re only going to go as far as other people say you are. You should believe you are the best at what you guys do. I believe I’m the best at what I do! No matter what job you have, you should feel like you are the best. For me, I’m a fighter. So I feel like I’m the best. If I don’t feel like I’m the best in here, then I’ll be on the ground!”
He continued … He isn’t worrying too much about Ortiz. Yes, he has skills … Cubans have skills. But it will be up to Ortiz to prove that he’s on Wilders’ level, he said. Then, the subject of an AJ fight came up. AJ’s promoter is “scared,” the Alabamian said. “Eddie, you are so scared!” He said there should be no talk of an AJ vs Jarrell Miller fight — that shouldn’t be a thing — that he’s the real king and that Hearn is simply milking AJ. Hearn is the one who will keep that fight from happening, Wilder thinks. “Whenever they ready to fight, I’m ready. After this fight, after I finish Ortiz, and if they beat Parker, there’s no more waiting! There’s no more time to lose!”
How can you not like that insistence, friends? We the fans are always moaning about excessive marination. Wilder is not going that direction. He is in an old-school frame of mind and isn’t wanting to prime the pump to perfection, milk every last dime from the promotion. “The fans want it. But you guys have to smoke ’em out as well! As much as ya’ll ask me about this man, demand the fight!… Once I knock Ortiz out, ain’t nowhere else they can go!”
If Joshua looks to down Parker and then take on “Big Baby,” people here will whisper he’s avoiding Wilder, the WBC boss said. Asked to send a message to Hearn, Wilder didn’t hesitate: “Don’t wait, make the date! Don’t wait, make the date!” He finished with a repeated message that yes, he likes his chances in a Time Machine Showdown against a Tyson or Ali. “Why would I say any man would knock me out? I don’t believe no man would … they’d have to show me in that ring!”
So … you get a sense of the stakes here, and why DiBella was so revved. He gets it. The stakes are high as an elephant’s eye, here. Ortiz can really, truly eff things up. I don’t think he will, I think Wilder, who yes, sometimes looks goofy and gangly, is the better athletic and that his wiry strength will speak once again, louder, than the Kong-strong musculature of the Cuban. Talk to me readers; who do you think wins Saturday, Wilder or Ortiz? And how?