It’s been 18 months since Deontay Wilder stepped in a ring for an actual fight, more than double the longest layoff between bouts of his boxing career. The former WBC heavyweight champion has always been active, a fast riser through the heavyweight ranks knocking out anyone who dared accept his challenges, and has defended that title at least twice a year since earning the belt with a lopsided decision win over Bermane Stiverne in 2015.
For many fighters, an 18-month layoff would bring about concerns of ring rust, but Wilder thinks his oft-delayed trilogy fight with Tyson Fury was a blessing in disguise. It offered him the rare opportunity to take a step back and, in his words, reinvent himself as a fighter.
“Actually, it has been refreshing to have such a long layoff,” Wilder told Uproxx on a video call this week. “We’ve been optimistic about it. It’s benefited us to go into camp and really focus on things that we need to do. I know we had to stop and then get back in there, stop, then get back. So it’s been an emotional roller coaster, but I think it’s been great. It allowed me to spend even more time with my guys — I love my brothers, I love my team, I love my family. So, it’s been very refreshing for me, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we’ve had some our greatest times being together like we’ve been. Because we all been trapped in together, and it’s just been a learning process for us. It allowed me to be able to reinvent myself, rejuvenate, and become refreshed, and now I’m ready to reintroduce myself to the world as Deontay Wilder.”
After suffering the first loss of his professional career to Fury in their second fight — a TKO finish that still causes him to bristle at the mention of his corner throwing in the towel in the seventh round, even if objective observers largely agreed with that decision —Wilder has spent the last year and a half making some dramatic changes. Gone are his longtime trainers, the ones that threw in the towel in an effort to protect him. In steps Malik Scott, who once tasted the fury of Wilder’s vicious right hand in a knockout loss to the soon-to-be champ in 2014.
Wilder is coy about the differences we’ll see from him as a fighter. Ever the salesman, the Bronze Bomber says fans will have to tune in and see for themselves, but Scott has spoken in camp and during fight week about how Wilder is a more well-rounded boxer.
That is the evolution of Wilder that many have been waiting on. His knockout power has carried him to the top, but most believed he needed to be more diverse in his skills beyond that punishing right hand to stay there. Fury seemingly proved those questions right in the first two fights — although the right hand nearly bailed Wilder out in the first with a near-knockout in the final round — and now, it’s up to Wilder to show how much he’s truly been able to reinvent himself over the past 18 months.
Fury’s defensive skills and ability to dictate the pacing and spacing of a fight have posed problems for Wilder in the past, as Fury closes down his space to unleash that right hand and makes life awkward on him inside. We’ve heard promises of a greater commitment to the jab and body work from Wilder, but that’s all talk until we see it in action. Wilder knows that, too, which is why for all the appreciation he has for a lengthy layoff to refine his craft, Saturday night can’t arrive soon enough.
“We all have just been determined,” Wilder says. “We all have rededicated ourselves to this sport. We all have put in the hard work. Everyone has a part to play on this team, and everyone have played it very well. We’ve strived to be perfect, and we’ve strived to make perfect permanent. And, man, it’s just been a lot of joy, it’s been a lot of fun to work beside so many great men. And that’s why we just can’t wait. We’re looking forward to Saturday night, to finally get this over with. You know, I know how to speak for myself, [long sigh], it’s been a long journey for me, man. This has been one of the longest training camps, one of the longest journeys I’ve ever took in my life.”
The former champ has a sense of calm about him, something he says is attributed to the trust he has in the work he’s put in and the relationship he’s built with Scott. It’s a process that can take years for some trainers and fighters, but for Wilder and Scott, their previous relationship as opponents-turned-friends made it happen almost immediately when they started camp.
Some have posited that Wilder hired Scott to avoid hard critiques, while others have insisted Scott has Wilder’s ear enough to get him to believe he needs to make changes to shore up other areas of his craft. We’ll find out just how successful this partnership can be come Saturday night and whether the talk of a new and improved Wilder is anything more than that. Wilder, for his part, seems ready to be done with the talking portion of the proceedings, antsy to get to Saturday night. For the first time in a year and a half, he can do what he feels he was born to do: put on a show and be violent.
“We don’t usually get trilogies, and when we do get them, the fighters try to make the best of it,” Wilder said. “I’m sure me and Fury is gonna make the best of it. And I want it to be the best trilogy that’s ever happened in the history of boxing. I’m putting my life on the line. I’m putting my heart in it, my energy, my soul, just for that to happen. So stay tuned. It’s gonna be amazing.”