The news Deontay Wilder weighed in at 214 pounds and the weight of his pants and socks for the 7th defence of his fight with Cuban Luis Ortiz drew a raised eye brow or two. In the modern era, which consensus seems to determine began when Mike Tyson knocked out Trevor Berbick in 1986, or alternatively, when Lennox Lewis overcame Tyson’s nemesis Evander in 1996, we’ve grown accustomed to heavyweights of gigantic dimension.
Beneath the greatness of Lennox and the longevity of Wladimir Klitschko, a procession of giants from the four corners of the globe have tried to impose their own dominance on the division and prove the boxing truism; ‘a good big un always beats a good little un.’
Wilder’s public profile remains stubbornly modest in proportion despite an Apollo Creedesque record of 38-0, of the 38 he’s overcome, only Bermane Stiverne reached the final bell. In a career dating back a decade, and now as a heavyweight of full maturity, this is the lowest he’s tipped the scales since 2009 when he knocked out a 352 pound club fighter called Richard Greene Jnr. a fighter introduced as either The Big Fella or the Head Sweller to those paying attention during his five fight career.
For the curious, Greene Jnr. hailed from a town in Indiana called Kokomo, a name folk lore insists derives from the name of one of the four sons of the last leader of the Miami people, a man who stood 7ft tall. I digress. But then, its easy to be when immersed in the Deontay Wilder record, there is little illumination to stave off apathy or the conclusion, he is either entirely untested, or protected or impossible to assess.
In weighing beneath 215, which is a nudge over 15stone for the old-timers who visit, Wilder joins an exclusive group of men who have fought for World Heavyweight titles, of any denomination, at such a modest poundage in the ‘modern era’. Only Evander Holyfield, David Haye, Roy Jones Jnr. and, erm, cough, Eddie Chambers, as far as BoxRec suggests, have ducked between the ropes so lightly built.
Specifically, Haye was 210.5 for his clash with Audley Harrison, and probably wishes he hadn’t bothered working so hard, Evander was 210 for his fight with Larry Holmes in 1992 and 211.5 when he tackled Sultan Ibramigov in 2007. Roy Jones, in 2003, for his clash with John Ruiz tipped up at 193 pounds. And hindsight suggest should either have retired to sit alongside Sugar Ray or stuck at the greater poundage. He was never the same when he shed the heavyweight pounds.
One assumes the slimmer frame Wilder has sculpted is an attempt to capitalise on his hand speed which is good, though the trajectory is often long and arcing, and to ensure he has the engine to capitalise later when Ortiz may be assumed to fade.
Certainly, if unqualified psychological conclusions were to be drawn one could surmise the threat posed by Ortiz, despite his own lack of activity, competition and youth, is far greater than any Wilder has contemplated before. He may just have skipped a little more, run that extra mile and sparred that extra round.
It leads me to believe that Wilder will prevail and while I’m not desiring of the hipster status an Ortiz pick craves, it would be similarly myopic to presume the Cuban doesn’t cause Wilder significant stylistic problems. Regardless of their respective weights, Ortiz’s tools, 38 years old though they may be, were forged in the hothouse of the Cuban boxing system – he can box better than anyone Wilder has faced.
Those who choose to leave Cuba, at great emotional sacrifice, to become professionals are too frequently distracted and poorly motivated to execute on their pedigree. And those who write about him, as I do, should contemplate him as an individual and not merely a stereotype or echo of some of the big men who came before him. Juan Carlos Gomez, Mike Perez and the memorable Jorge Gonzalez, he of the ponytailed mullet, all fell short of fulfilling their potential in the professional ranks. The hipster pick has to assume Ortiz will recognise this opportunity for what it is; both his first, and last.
He has a chance. For Wilder always offers those. But youth and speed should be enough.