By: Sean Crose
It was an unusual pairing. There was the man dressed in white, middle aged to elderly, and there was the much younger man standing before him, towering, seemingly larger than life. Yet Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, and Deontay Wilder, undefeated WBC heavyweight champion of the world, seemed to be getting on just fine. In fact, Francis named Wilder the Boxing Ambassador for Peace. It was a cool, if surprising, development. Cool because it was nice to see a spiritual leader engaging with a professional boxer, boxing being a profession some look down on. Surprising because Wilder had been known to say some crazy things, some violent things, some frightening things.
Perhaps, Francis instinctively knew what others had already long ago discovered – that Wilder’s words don’t always match with Wilder the man. That, when it comes to combat sports, public utterances often amount to pro wrestling style salesmanship. For here in Wilder is a fighter who has found himself worried about a fallen opponent, who has lived the life of a concerned parent for a child with medical issues, and who – it has been whispered – given another fighter a crack at his title simply so that fighter could take care of his own family. Those who watch Wilder’s fights know he likes to wear masks. Yet the masks Wilder wears can sometimes be more than the mere material objects he walks to the ring in.
If one is to understand the difference between Wilder the boxer and Wilder the man, then one might want to consider one simple fact: Wilder knows that combat sports are about combat. And in combat, you go for the finish. You don’t hesitate. You end things, lest you be the one who gets ended. Perhaps no one in sports today has what’s known as “the killer instinct” in the abundance Wilder does. As a professional boxer, he has no moral qualms about laying a man out. After all, it’s part of the game. With a clean conscience, then, Wilder is able to enable his killer instinct to maximum effect. Other fighters are capable of doing the same thing, of course. They just don’t hit as hard as Wilder does.
And, make no mistake about it – its Wilder’s power that sets the Alabaman above his peers – perhaps above all previous fighters in history, for that matter. Others can hit – but not as Wilder does. The man absolutely, positively, turns off the lights in a way no one else can. Yet Wilder’s skills are underrated, too. This is no flailing maniac in the ring. While he may rely on his high caliber rifle of a right hand, Wilder arguably has created a style designed to enable him to pull the trigger for maximum effect. Watching the 6’7 heavyweight in action, one becomes impressed with his patience. He’s willing to let round after round after round go to his opponent. All the while, he’s readying himself for the opportunity to strike. And he has yet to meet a man he hasn’t eventually landed on. Hard. Tyson Fury, however, has gotten up. What’s more, the Englishman has battled Wilder to a draw, making him the only person Wilder hasn’t been able to defeat outright in the ring. Then again, Wilder is the only person Fury hasn’t been able to defeat outright in the ring. Fury came close, but that thunderous right of Wilder’s put him on the mat in the final round of their 2018 bout. The outspoken Brit managed to get up and fight gamely, but he didn’t get the win. Now a highly publicized and highly anticipated rematch between the two super-sized divisional rivals is set to go down this Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada.
In truth, it appears each man respects the other. Indeed, each man may actually like the other. They seem, Wilder and Fury, to be almost equally matched in size, temperament, and talent. Fury, though, is wildly unpredictable. One never knows what version of Fury will show up in the ring. Wilder, on the other hand, is thoroughly predictable. You needn’t be Sherlock Holmes to know what he’s bringing to a fight. And what he’s bringing, frankly, is scary. That’s something no mask can hide.