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Deontay Wilder still an unappreciated star in America

WBC heavyweight titlist Deontay Wilder. Photo credit: Ryan Hafey/ Premier Boxing Champions
03
Dec

LOS ANGELES — There was momentary silence on the other end of the phone as the sportswriter calling from Los Angeles waited for an answer.

“Who again?” the editor of a major metropolitan media outlet asked.

“Deontay Wilder. Deontay Wilder; he’s fighting Tyson Fury in a heavyweight title fight, so I thought while I’m out here, would you be interested?” the sportswriter asked.

“No.”

Click.

The scary part of it was the East Coast-based sports boss wasn’t the only one — there were four others in large cities.

Deontay Wilder should be a bigger star in America than he is.

And it’s not really Wilder’s fault why he’s not.

Nor should it be.

All the gifted WBC heavyweight champion does is put on exciting fights. He successfully defended his title for the eighth time at the Staples Center Saturday night before a raucous crowd with a highly entertaining split-draw with Fury, the “Gypsy King” — a matchup every one of the 17,698 in attendance would likely want to see again.

And more will the next time they fight.

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 knockouts) did what he always does — entertain. He’s a closer, he’s a puncher, and probably a little too unpredictable for his trainers when it comes to getting his opponents in trouble with his craziness before spelling their doom — though it didn’t happen in the case of Fury, who becomes the only opponent Wilder has not knocked out.

The Showtime pay-per-view hopefully garnered some attention. The Wilder-Luis Ortiz fight in March drew an average of 1.1 million viewers and peaked at 1.2 million on Showtime. The last time Showtime had done over a million viewers was in 2015 when Wilder had first defeated Stiverne for the WBC title.

Apparently, Wilder does reach a decent amount of sports fans.

Yet, Wilder actually deserved — and deserves — more. He deserves to be in that pantheon with all the other American sports stars, like Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Judge, Serena Williams and Mike Trout. He deserves to be there in the fighting world pantheon with Conor McGregor, able to stop traffic in the middle of Peoria, Illinois, because he’s “Deontay Wilder, WBC world heavyweight champion.” In boxing, there’s a penchant for making an event and a fighter bigger than they actually are.

In Wilder’s case, it’s not true at all. He says he’s going to knock someone out — or he’s going to try. You may never see the word “boring” associated with a Deontay Wilder fight. Out of the ring, his storyline hits all of the prerequisites that should carry crossover appeal. His daughter, Naieya, was diagnosed with spina bifida, and a teenaged Wilder was forced to drive a beer truck to tackle mounting medical costs. He didn’t start boxing until the advanced age of 20.

In his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the congenial 33-year-old is royalty, as he should be. But as a crossover star, like Floyd Mayweather, that’s an area that still needs building in America. Again, it’s not Wilder’s fault, nor is it Al Haymon’s fault.

Wilder does everything he’s supposed to do as a fighter, and, as his manager, Haymon makes sure he’s amply compensated — as he does with all of his fighters. The Showtime machine has banged the drum trumpeting Wilder’s success. His promoter, Lou DiBella, has the loudest mouth and the biggest media connections in boxing — DiBella talks, people lean in and listen.

The fault lies with boxing’s place on the sports landscape. No, boxing is not on the level of the NFL or major college football in the United States. Though it carries a higher status in every other part of the world. Throughout the weekend in Los Angeles, it was the Brits singing Saturday morning, waking up half of the hotels where they were staying, and making an event halfway across their world into a world event — everywhere but in America, where it seemed Wilder-Fury got lost in the shuffle of star running back Kareem Hunt being cut by the Kansas City Chiefs, the Alabama-Georgia SEC championship game, compounded by a full slate of NFL, NBA and NHL games. Of the media attending Wilder-Fury, 60 percent were from Britain.

Boxing has sunken so deep into the crevices of the general American sports fan’s psyche that a gem like Wilder is, and continues to be, overlooked — as he was by a sports editor who for a moment thought Mike Tyson was making a comeback after hearing Fury’s name.

What’s Wilder left to do?

For one, continue to do what he has been doing: putting on great fights and attempting to knock out everyone in front of him. Secondly, get himself out there, be more accessible — not just pop his head up yelling “Bomb Squad” when he has a fight coming up. The general overall sports public’s awareness of him will need to catch up.

One way that happens is if Wilder beats Fury in a rematch — which actually should garner more attention than the original. The other is for Anthony Joshua and his promoter, Eddie Hearn, to climb out of hiding and give the “Bronze Bomber” the chance that he deserves — actually, what the world deserves — and that’s a world championship heavyweight fight between two undefeated sluggers in their prime.

But again, it’s not Deontay Wilder’s fault if it doesn’t happen next year. Joshua can continue being sloppy, picking apart the Alexander Povetkins and Joseph Parkers of the world. Why should Joshua care anyway? He has the backing of an entire nation, filling up Wembley Stadium in England like college football powerhouses Alabama and Georgia could fill the 101,821-seat Bryant–Denny Stadium on a crisp, late November Saturday afternoon (Alabama-Georgia was actually played in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in Atlanta, Georgia).

Deontay Wilder deserves that same attention Joshua and Fury receive from their countrymen, who view them as superheroes.

He deserves the late-night talk show circuit appearances befitting world champions. He deserves to be recognized when he walks through Times Square in the middle of December and mobbed, the way hordes would envelope Muhammad Ali.

Deontay Wilder deserves a lot of good things in 2019. Hopefully, the rest of the sports world and ignorant sports editors/producers who think boxing is nonexistent will take some notice. They have readers, listeners and viewers that do still know and do still follow boxing — and fighters like Deontay Wilder. Hopefully, a Fury rematch comes soon to grab the positivity off of this, before more American sports editors/producers go “click” on covering future heavyweight championship fights.

Maybe it helps put boxing in a better place than it is in the United States when boxing isn’t getting in the way of itself—and in the way of Deontay Wilder becoming a sports superstar.

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