Tuscaloosa's own Deontay Wilder defeated incumbent champion Bermane Striverne in a 12 round unanimous decision to claim the WBC Heavyweight Championship on Saturday night. The fight was hosted by the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the first heavyweight title bout held there since Mike Tyson made a snack of Evander Holyfield's ear on November 9, 1996. In the end, the judges' cards read: 118-109, 119-108 and 120-107.
Striverne had seized the title in May of 2014 by virtue of a sixth round knockout of then-champ Chris Arreola. The pair fought for the belt vacated by the retired Vitali Klitschko, who reportedly ended his boxing career to run for President of Ukraine. Wilder came into the fight perfect at 32-0 with 32 knockouts. Striverne carried a record of 24-2-1 into the bout.
Wilder had never had a fight go longer than four rounds, and had only gone that deep once prior to Saturday night. His detractors said he couldn't go deep into a fight, couldn't box, couldn't take a punch, and had not fought any legitimate contenders. Wilder, known as "The Bronze Bomber" since he won the Bronze Medal in the 2008 Olympic Games, disproved all of those things in Saturday night's tilt.
Wilder fought a beautiful fight, dominating Striverne throughout. On numerous occasions Striverne tried to bait the bigger 6'7" fighter into taking unnecessary chances, but Wilder refused to give in. Trainer Mark Breland told Deontay at one point, "Every time he talks, hit him in the mouth." Wilder did just that, over and over again. Wilder threw 621 punches to just over 300 for Striverne, and connected on a higher percentage as well, controlling the fight from bell to bell.
When the 12th round ended, the decision was nothing more than a formality as the winner was clear. Wilder was announced as the winner and handed the prized championship belt. As he celebrated, Wilder fired back at his critics, screaming, "Who can't box?" and "Who can't take a punch?" He also shouted, "Tuscaloosa, Alabama I love you!"
Wilder's rise to prominence has been well chronicled, from a football and basketball player with dreams of playing for the hometown Crimson Tide to having a daughter born with spina bifida. When Wilder found out about the problem with the pregnancy he quit school and took two jobs, as a dish washer at Red Lobster and a beer truck worker for Greene Beverage. On a whim he wandered into Jay Deas's Skyy Gym in Northport and took up boxing at the age of 20. With less than 30 amateur fights the raw fighter made the Olympic team, went to Beijing and was the only (and last)to medal, bringing home the bronze.
After the Olympics Wilder turned pro and was nursed along until he reached the rank of number one contender, earning his title shot. The new champ won a purse of $1MM, with Striverne taking home a still-handsome $910K. Many see Wilder as the future of boxing, and with his big personality he will give a much needed boost to the heavyweight division.
Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox tweeted on Saturday night that the city is already planning a parade for the newly crowned champ. Details will be released later.
On a personal note, I am very proud to have Deontay as a close personal friend, and would like to say how proud I am of him and how much he deserves this.
Roll Deontay Roll!