by Johnny Walker
This Saturday night, on the undercard of the Bernard Hopkins vs Karo Murat light heavyweight title fight in Atlantic City, rising American heavyweight giant Deontay “The Bronze Bomber” Wilder (29-0) will try to make it 30 knockouts in 30 fights as he takes on journeyman Nicolai Firtha (21-10-1).
Take a cyber-tour of boxing sites on the Web and you’ll find a wide variety of opinions about Wilder, from starry-eyed true believers who are convinced he will retake the heavyweight division for America, to total cynics who think Wilder is another Seth Mitchell, meaning an American heavyweight whose reputation is mostly built on hype, a guy who will fail spectacularly when given a real test by a viable, name heavyweight.
The former Olympian Wilder (he won the bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing, China games) who relies on a powerful right hand to dispense with the competition, is certainly a work in progress. The biggest name on his resume so far is former WBO world champion Sergei Liakhovich, who appeared to be pretty much shot before Wilder took him on, the Belarussian’s last hurrah being the heroic struggle he put up against Robert Helenius before being stopped in a bloody battle. As is his M.O., Wilder wasted little time getting rid of whatever is left of Liakhovich, stopping him in the first round.
The Liakhovich fight didn’t prove anything one way or another regarding the six-foot-seven inch tall Wilder’s future in the heavyweight division, but it did keep people interested. Unfortunately for Wilder, another stoppage win on Saturday over Firtha isn’t really going to prove anything either.
Yes, Firtha, at six-foot-six inches tall, is at the very least a big body to put in front of Wilder. And Firtha has proven durable and hung in there only to lose unanimous decisions against some recognizable names like Alexander Povetkin and Johnathon Banks. But he was also stopped in the fifth round by Anglo-Irish giant Tyson Fury and was even KO’d by the now retired Tye Fields, nobody’s idea of a world beater.
So this upcoming fight leaves Wilder, whose top-heavy physique makes many observers wonder what will happen when he finally gets hit hard by somebody (the Bronze Bomber has been dropped once already as a professional, by journeyman Harold Sconiers), in much the same position that he’s been in all along.
Even if he KOs Firtha quickly, many will just shrug and say Firtha was already stopped by Fury, who though he is physically massive, is not known as a huge puncher, and the aforementioned Fields. Another quick knockout win for Wilder will certainly be enough to keep his fans happy and on board, but outside of that group, the general air of cynicism will remain until the “Bronze Bomber” defeats a currently competitive name in the division like Fury himself.
As a personality, Wilder is also a work in progress. Unlike the genial and mature Seth Mitchell, Wilder can come off as silly and arrogant, especially when he indulges in the tiresome “gangsta” posturing that seems totally played out in 2013. While this kind of thing still excites some people (it seems to work for Adrien Broner), it also turns a segment of the boxing audience off, meaning even for many Americans who might otherwise get behind him, Wilder remains an acquired taste.
There are signs lately that Wilder–who at age 28 is still young, especially in the heavyweight division–has realized he needs to soften his public persona, and if that is truly the case, it will only benefit him as he attempts to move up the ladder. And one can only applaud his decisions to spar with the likes of world champion Wladimir Klitschko (who has named Wilder as a possible future opponent) and Britain’s David Haye, a recognition that he needs to sharpen his skills against top-flight heavyweight opposition.
Whether all of this will pay off in the long run for Wilder with world heavyweight titles and universal acclaim is still anyone’s guess. But expect him to make it 30 KOs in a row on Saturday night.