Deontay Wilder-Johann Duhaupas: What a time to be alive
Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder kicked off 2015 with his first significant win in the sport this past January, beating Bermane Stiverne for the WBC heavyweight tittle, and becoming the first American to hold a heavyweight belt in eight years. After knocking out every menial opponent he had faced up until that point, Wilder conquered his first big test by boxing Stiverne’s ears off in a wide unanimous decision victory. Now having answered to some of his critics with the win over a justifiable foe, the 29-year-old from Alabama will look to make his second defense against an opponent many will presume to be in the same class of fighters Wilder had stopped with ease all along. This time, however, it will be historic, according to the promoter of this weekend’s card, Lou DiBella.
“The significant thing about this card is that this is the first time in 30 years that a heavyweight championship belt will be contested on prime time, free television…so Deontay is making some history here,” said DiBella in his intro for the Sept. 17 media conference call for this Saturday night’s main event between Wilder and Johann Duhaupas. The fight he referred to 30 years ago was when Larry Holmes decisioned Carl Williams in 1985 to retain his IBF heavyweight title and remain unbeaten at 48-0. Holmes was, at his best – and was – amidst his reign, the next great American heavyweight champion after the Muhammad Ali era. It was the last victory for Holmes before losing to Michael Spinks in his next fight and a young Mike Tyson two fights later. Although the sport has become a shell of itself since the ’80s, an American heavyweight world titleholder returns to prime time – for free. What a time to be alive.
Saturday night (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/ 5:30 p.m. PT) is Wilder’s time on the Premier Boxing Champions platform and the scene at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Ala. will be a breath of fresh air, compared to the mundane crowds PBC events have been known to produce in its inaugural year. In his last fight against Eric Molina last June, Wilder brought the WBC title back to his home state and packed the Bartow Arena in Birmingham with a rousing crowd that created a great backdrop for his homecoming. Broadcast then on Showtime, Molina wasn’t put in there as a serious threat for Wilder but to rather illuminate the knockout skills of the “Bronze Bomber.” It’s typically the norm for homecoming bouts of the same circumstance but Molina fought surprisingly well against Wilder up until the ninth round when he was finally stopped after enduring the third knockdown of the fight. It turned out to be more competitive than first thought but, in the end, the superior fighter won and Wilder did so by generating an event rather than just a forgetful drubbing.
Duhaupas, 32-2 (20), is the No. 11-ranked heavyweight contender in the world, according to the WBC – the only major sanctioning body to have him ranked in the top-15 as opposed to the WBA, WBO or IBF. Not even the pronunciation is assured when uttered from American mouths for the first time but, little do they know, he is undoubtedly the best heavyweight out of France today. Duhaupas (Dyoo-pah in French or Due-how-pah in hasty American English) is a sizable opponent whose 6-foot-5, 240-pound frame should match up well to Wilder’s lengthy 6-foot-7-inch, 220-pound build. He’s a mystery to most, even to the PBC website, which, in its preview of the fight, can’t even provide the information of his reptilian reach and it has his weight completely wrong in the tale-of-the-tape.
There isn’t much pizzazz in his boxing style. Duhaupas will stand in front of his opponent and fight but is crafty enough to possess the inability to get caught by the big punch. The 34-year-old has never been stopped and that has been something bandied about countless times by those promoting the fight. He is coming off his best win with a close majority decision against Manuel Charr in April but is only 19 months removed from losing in March of 2014 to Erkan Teper.
The Frenchman now fights for the first time on US soil and he will enter the hostile environment of the American South that will cheer on its household heavyweight name. That said, the South is somewhat a peculiar place in the States and, although it may have the future heavyweight boxing kingpin under its umbrella, American football is the true heavyweight in terms of sports popularity in the Dixie. College football in the state of Alabama, in particular, puts most ideas of fandom to shame as its love for the sport reaches extreme proportions that can’t be matched. Wilder won’t be the only heavy favorite on Saturday; the Alabama Crimson Tide will face the University of Louisiana-Monroe as a 38-point favorite (-45000) earlier in the afternoon. Wilder-Duhaupas won’t have to go up against Alabama football programming but it will have to compete with the state’s second biggest college football team, Auburn, as its faces a neighboring Dixie team, Mississippi State, in a much more competitive match-up (Auburn -125; all odds via 5dimes.com). Since it’s popular to mention nowadays in the boxing circles, these college football games are also on “free” TV. What a time to be alive.
Wilder, 34-0 (33), is a 32-1 favorite (-3200) over Duhaupas (+1600), a number that dwarfs the -10000 betting line Deontay received as the favorite to beat Molina in June. Yet, after this fight, there will be a mandatory opponent looming that was appointed by the WBC and it will be a sure test for Wilder if a deal is to be reached. Russian heavyweight Alexander Povetkin became the No.1 contender for Wilder’s title after he blasted Mike Perez in the first round this past May in an elimination bout. There are some boxing promoters who may become weak in the knees with the prospect of going into a bidding process with Al Haymon, his PBC brand and the deep pockets of investors who back them. Could be the contrary for Alexander Povetkin, who is backed by Russian billionaire Andrei Ryabinsky, who was believed to be behind the $23 million bid Povetkin’s team won for the rights to his fight with the undisputed champion of the division, Wladimir Klitschko. The negotiations of that fight will be set for October and the only thing that can possibly get in the way is if the Wilder team decides to try and fight Klitschko – the real heavyweight champion of the world, who holds the WBA, WBO, IBF and RING titles. Klitschko defends his crown Oct. 24 versus Tyson Fury on HBO in the last fight of his contract with the network, signed on Nov. 2014. The stars could, in fact, be aligning should both Wilder and Klitschko win their next fights.
Wilder possesses key elements to making a boxing star, especially in America: unquestionable knockout power in the heavyweight division, a cheerful personality that sometimes toes the line of boisterousness and a great backstory that was laid out nicely in the ESPN short film “E60: The Promise.”
His skills in the ring may not be fine-tuned but, because of that, it could accidentally produce some stellar fights in the future. Wilder also gives off the impression that he understands this is entertainment, something that so often gets pushed to the wayside. He even went so far as to send a message to Duhaupas from his YouTube channel, involving a reptile doll representing Godzilla and a tub of lighter fluid. The 75-second stunt was a trailing mist of a flammable substance short of a absolute disaster but Wilder is trying to do what many greats of the past have done and that’s drum up interest. Other crazy antics include fighting an internet troll on camera and they don’t stop there. In classic fighter fashion, Wilder also sometimes says a few crazy things himself.
“I’m the legitimate heavyweight champion of the world, so Wladimir Klitschko wants what I have,” said Wilder in the same aforementioned PBC preview for Saturday, continuing, “But my next defense will be another step toward becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. I won’t rest until I achieve winning all of the titles, once and for all, so people won’t be confused any longer.”
The statement is confusing in itself but that’s the way the sport of boxing figures to conduct itself these days and that’s not necessarily Wilder’s fault.
It’s why DiBella has to mention this Saturday’s fight has a historic quality that no other major sport would have to peddle for its significance. Wilder-Duhaupas isn’t historic (take a look at the ratings of the fight when compared to college football at the same time), and it’s nothing more than “a minor hurdle to clear on his way to bigger and better things” – another quote from the preview by a nameless writer. Klitschko-Wilder would be historic – regardless of what channel it’s on. Funny the sport has to jump through all these hoops when something so simple like the squared circle of truth sits there waiting to conduct its next polygraph test. What a time to be alive.