Wilder: I can’t stop now, I must continue my journey.

Deontay Wilder is hardly ever at a loss for words. (photo by Ryan Hafey)

A hometown performance in his honor nearly brought the former WBC heavyweight champion to that point, as Wilder (42-2-1, 41KOs) fought back tears as he addressed his adoring crowd Tuesday night. afternoon in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A ceremony was held to unveil a life-size statue of his likeness to remain on permanent display in front of the Tuscaloosa Visitor Center in downtown Tuscaloosa.

“This moment in time, my God,” Wilder said as he walked to a packed room at the Tuscaloosa River Market, down the street from the statue’s location. “In the midst of this journey, I am being blessed. It’s not like I’m retired and it’s been ten, twenty years. Now is when I get my flowers.”

There had been speculation as to Wilder’s next move, whether another championship run was expected or he would head off into the sunset with hundreds of millions earned in the ring and enjoy it with his family. He provided a hint of things to come for the first time since his 11th-round knockout loss to Tyson Fury in their epic trilogy clash last October, perhaps saving the big reveal for when he was in the presence of those closest to him. and dear to your heart. .

“I can’t stop now. I must continue my journey,” Wilder declared humbly, prompting raucous cheers from the crowd in attendance. “Guys, I love you so much. I can’t end like this. This journey is not over. I must continue my journey.

Wilder has remained out of the public eye since the third fight with England’s Fury (31-0-1, 22KOs), where both fighters hit the nail on the head in their memorable lineal/WBC heavyweight championship that received universal praise as Fight of the Year. 2021. .

The fight took place in Las Vegas, which has hosted Wilder’s last three fights, as well as his January 2015 WBC heavyweight title victory over Bermane Stiverne. The moment saw Wilder become the first American heavyweight in more than seven years to hold a share of the divisional crown, fitting for the 6’7” boxer who for eight years was the only US male boxer in claim an Olympic medal, taking home a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Wilder’s achievement in Beijing came less than three years after he started in the sport.

“The level of adversity Deontay overcame — he entered the gym at 20, in a sport where kids start at 7 or 8,” said Jay Deas, the founder of Skyy Boxing and who trained Wilder from the start. day and served as his co-director for the entire race. “People think he fell from the sky. He did the work that a lot of people aren’t willing to do. He put in the work and never gets the credit. Show me another sport where someone starts at 20 and achieves what he could.

“I remember going through the bios of all the fighters at the 2008 Olympics. When I got to the Deontay Wilder page, it was listed as having 24 fights, fewer fights than anyone at the 2008 Olympics. In the end, just one guy from The United States won a medal: Deontay Wilder.”

Wilder first got into the sport in 2005, a year after graduating from Tuscaloosa Central High School. He abandoned other dreams to instead travel a path that would allow him to better support his eldest daughter, Naieya, who was born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal column and spine do not form. correctly. Less than three years later, Wilder qualified for the US team as a heavyweight at Beijing 2008, where he advanced to the semifinal rounds, keeping the US Olympic boxing team from missing the medal table. , and also earned the permanent ring nickname of ‘The Bronze Bombardment.’

His professional career turned out to be just as inspiring for those who accompanied him from the beginning. Following his January 2015 victory over Stiverne, Wilder made ten consecutive title defenses, the fourth all-time for all heavyweight champions during a single title reign. All but one title defense ended in a knockout: his December 2018 split decision draw with Fury, whom Wilder dropped twice, including a dramatic 12th-round knockdown. His 91.1 percent knockout rate and 97.6 percent knockout-to-win ratio are the best in heavyweight history.

The 16+ year journey that began with his first visit to Deas’ Skyy Boxing gym was enough for his beloved city to forever honor his achievements, with the event staging that “for years to come, people will see that statue and see a lighthouse”. of hope.”

Jake Donovan is a senior writer for BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox

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