Wednesday, March 22, 2023  |



Deontay Wilder makes his move in a divided heavyweight division

Deontay Wilder riffs his promos like a WWE sport entertainer, and today was no exception. Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

In this era of heavyweights, we’ve been seeing as much action outside the ring as in it.

Today, Deontay Wilder spoke and made more clear the near-term picture in the top weight class, with his unveiling of a May 18 plan to battle Dominic Breazeale at Barclays Center, in Brooklyn, screening on Showtime.

Yes, Showtime “regular,” not on pay-per-view.

Rumor had it that Wilder vs. Breazeale would be placed on PPV, and that plan bubbled up after the planned Wilder versus Tyson Fury rematch – which was being brought over the goal-line when Top Rank and ESPN caused a fumble and grabbed Fury to the other side of the crowded street – went up in smoke.

That move, an OG move by Bob Arum which spurred groans in fans who were getting amped to see if Fury could again avoid Wilders’ detonations for 12 rounds and this time get majority credit from the judges, meant that the division’s stars are spread far and wide.

Anthony Joshua is aligned with Matchroom and Eddie Hearn and the DAZN streaming platform; his next bout unfolds June 1, at Madison Square Garden, in Manhattan, on the newbie-on-the-block stream service, which is trying to grow its subscription base. One figures that their May 4 Canelo Alvarez vs Danny Jacobs middleweight faceoff will aid that quest and the AJ versus Big Baby Miller NYC rumble will also spur growth.

Growth is the desired end-game for the people at ESPN, who have opened up their coffers to help Top Rank attract talent so the Las Vegas outfit can do their part in helping bring subscribers to the streaming service. Arum told interested parties that he thinks Fury can be a pretty massive star in America, with heavy promotion, and that he likes the idea of a Fury vs. Wilder rematch, but not right now. He’s thinking that fight is best served with a stint in the marination station, and he will have Fury fight one or two or so bouts to help the US public become familiar with him.

So, for you all playing at home, Fury is with ESPN….AJ with DAZN…and Wilder is with neither.

He’d been flirted with, wooed even, by Top Rank (and ESPN) the third week of February. Wilder advisor Shelly Finkel conveyed the Top Rank plan for Wilder to the Alabama boxer, and the fighter mulled it. Wilder also received an offer to come over to the DAZN side of the street; “nine figures” were offered, or “over $100 million,” various reports stated. Three fights worth $100 million and the first fight would have been a $20 million payday to fight Breazeale, reported ESPN.  Then, $40 million was on the table to fight Joshua and also $40 mill for Wilder-AJ 2, ESPN said. Another offer version was for more money, and an extra fight tacked on. Wilder said thanks, but no thanks, I don’t want to be tied down.

Instead, he signed on to face Breazeale, and will retain flexibility. With flexibility comes risk; if Breazeale lands a walk-off chin-checker, Wilder might wish he’d taken the money and security. Regardless, he made his decision and focused Tuesday on the here and now.

“It’s a pleasure to be back here in Brooklyn. Barclays Center is very close to my heart. I’ve been here so many times and I have a real connection to this arena. I’ve had some of my most memorable moments in the ring here,” said Wilder (40-0-1, 39 knockouts), who seemed quite eager to finish the job he started on Fury, and shut up critics who opined that the UK boxer out-boxed him, save for a few power shots that buzzed him.

“It’s always great to get a mandatory out of the way. They’re like flies buzzing in my ear. I just want to get them out of the way so I can do great things for the heavyweight division. I want one champion, one face, one name, but you need a lot of cooperation to make that happen,” continued the 33 year old, who referenced the fragmented set-up which has the division’s three best talents operating on different islands.

“I want to prove to the world that I’m the best. That’s what I believe in my heart. Until someone proves me wrong, I will continue to believe that. Breazeale is the next man in line. I can’t wait for this one,” he continued.

Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Now, some of us cynics might question his truthiness regarding this matchup. Breazeale has tried to elevate himself in the sphere but he was smacked down by Anthony Joshua when they battled in June 2016.  AJ took down the Cali-based fighter in round seven, so we suppose Wilder can seek to do it quicker to prove a point.

We can assume, I think, though no figure was released, that Wilder wouldn’t be taking a pay cut from what Top Rank and DAZN offered, right? ESPN said that Top Rank offered $12.5 million for a summer fight against an opponent TBD followed by $20 million to fight Tyson Fury on ESPN PPV in the autumn months. So, you can figure out, between what DAZN and ESPN-Top Rank offered, how this purse is making it more palatable for Wilder to fight WBC No. 4 ranked Breazeale, rather than the more buzzed about Brit, Fury.

One note, and we will see how minor or major it is on fight night, is a trainer change. Virgil Hunter, not Manny Robles, is over-seeing Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), who last gloved up on Dec. 22, downing Carlos Negron, an occasional heavyweight with a 20-2 mark.

“I hope he’s training his hardest,” Wilder told the assembled at Barclays Center. “I’m glad he has Virgil Hunter on his side to show him something new. Every man I’ve faced, they’ve landed on the canvas. I’m going to continue to do that on May 18. No man who gets in the ring will be able to defeat Deontay Wilder. I hold the keys to the heavyweight division. No fighter is doing what I’m doing. I’m trying to give the fans something they’ve never seen before. Enjoy this one, because it’s going to be a massacre. May 18 will be a beautiful day for me and a beautiful day to see what I’m planning to do for the sport of boxing.”

Wilder riffs his promos like a WWE sport entertainer, and today was no exception. On social media, many took exception to Wilders’ declaration of, “If he dies, he dies.” He’s went down this morbid road before, a few times, and generally rubs many folks the wrong way with that line of publicizing.

Breazeale looked super sharp, he won the attire war, and stayed composed at the event: “I’m super excited for this. I’ve been waiting over a year and a half for a shot at this title. I’ve got three knockouts here at Barclays Center and I can’t wait for another. I’m a great fighter but there are always things to be learned. I’ve learned a lot already with Virgil Hunter. I bring something that everyone wants to see from heavyweights, and that’s trouble. I’m going to bring pressure and action. I’m sick of seeing this guy walking around with his belt. I’m going to put him down. People are going to be rising to their feet when I knock him down.”

The underdog talked a pretty solid game: “Deontay loves to hear his own voice. All he does is talk and talk. It’s time to get in the ring. Nobody can get in there and save him. It’s just me and him. Leather on leather. We’ll see who lands first. Hopefully he gets off the canvas.”

Photo by Amanda Westcott/SHOWTIME

Showtime boxing boss Stephen Espinoza had his time at the mic; we didn’t know if this would be the case, being that Wilder was being wooed. “We are thrilled to be bringing you Deontay Wilder vs. Dominic Breazeale on SHOWTIME,” Espinoza said.  “It would be an understatement to say that there has been a lot of speculation regarding Deontay’s future. We’re proud to have him on SHOWTIME. It was critical for Deontay, for the sport and his fans, that this fight be available not on pay-per-view, but on SHOWTIME. Because of his insistence, that’s the primary reason we’re standing here today.”

The boxing boss continued: “SHOWTIME is where this fight belongs. We’re the home of the biggest fights and best talents, month in and month out. This is where a heavyweight title fight belongs. This will be Deontay’s 12th appearance on SHOWTIME and or SHOWTIME PPV and we’ve built something special. Recently ESPN named its World Fame 100, which lists the most talked about athletes in the world. Deontay is ranked 34, two slots behind Tom Brady and higher than any other active boxer in the sport. He’s a bonafide superstar, there is no question,” said Espinoza, doing a good job of hyping up this scrap, which many pundits see as potential easy work for Wilder.

“Dominic Breazeale is big, strong, experienced and powerful. Above all, he’s motivated. It’s no secret that there is a personal rivalry between these two fighter,” he continued, referring to an ugly extra-curricular beef from two years ago. “This will not be a friendly promotion. There is genuine animosity. This is a premium fight and this is the heavyweight championship on May 18 live on SHOWTIME.”

My three cents: The boxing business sometimes threatens to overtake the in-ring element of the game; that’s a function of the presence of social media and the 24-7 news cycle. This last month with the Fury-to-ESPN news and the wooing of Wilder has been a hot news item. And sides are being taken; some fans think that maybe Wilder is being steered wrong by Al Haymon and maybe even his own advisor, Shelly Finkel, too. Are they over-promising about what sort of bounty could be waiting for him when an AJ fight comes to fruition?

People are also wondering about the health and wellness of Showtime; it’s only natural, after HBO jetted. But I think lots of fans came to appreciate Sho more after last Saturday when they saw the Fox crew, still jelling, do that Spence-Garcia PPV and show some rough patches.

People might be looking past Sho, because these new entities are splashy. But I sense that Espinoza and company are digging in, and fighting furiously, and not in an unfocused way. They kept Wilder in the fold, at least for this fight, and can remind him how well they did with those Mayweather PPVs. Also, they can remind him they did cross-over business, with HBO…so they are positioned to be old hands at crossing streets to bring more revenue to Wilder’s yard, it can be argued. And do you think that maybe Wilder heard from opiners who told him that over there, they are looking to build platforms…while at Showtime and PBC, YOU are the platform, you the fighter is our primary focus, not the subscriber growth rate.

Yes, it’s quite the atmosphere we have in boxing. Fans and media are aligned with factions and it can be hard to sift through peoples’ agendas. Also, we the media have to, ideally, be examining our coverage, and making sure we are intellectually consistent. Do we apply the same standards and principles to Bob and to Al and to Eddie, etc?

As always, we like to hear the wisdom of the crowds, hear from you, the readers. Will this Wilder play turn out be an ace for him?

Listen if you like to Woods’ podcast; living legend George Foreman came on “TALKBOX “and spoke on his departed daughter, Freeda.