(Main photo credit: Stephanie Trapp/SHOWTIME®)
The heavyweight division in boxing has been searching for a dominant, exciting and charismatic champion since Mike Tyson was the major draw in all of sports.
Evander Holyfield was a trooper, but he didn’t captivate the young masses like Iron Mike. Hasim Rahman, Chris Byrd, Shannon Briggs, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster and some other boxers have reached the pinnacle of heavyweight boxing success but their reign was as unimpressive as their ability to enthrall the viewers and incite the boxing emotions of casual fans like Tyson.
Some of those champions had sick boxing skills inside of the ring, but didn’t have Tyson’s gift of gab or convincing demeanor.
In fact, for the past decade, The Klitschko Brothers, have been the dominant attractions in the heavyweight division. A boxing division that was once as American as Apple Pie and iPhone Apps became a personal playground for Russian boxing success.
Until Jan. 17th 2015 when Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs) from Tuscaloosa, Alabama -- the last American man to win an Olympic boxing medal -- also became the first American to claim the heavyweight championship since Brooklyn’s Briggs did it in 2007. Wilder routed Bermane Stiverne to win the WBC heavyweight championship. His performance inside the ring displayed an athleticism rarely seen in the heavyweight division. However, his post-fight interview was what convinced the world that he had what it took to be world champion and make the heavyweight division relevant in the US again.
On that night at MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A," marked the anticipated rebirth of heavyweight boxing in this country.
"Once you have that strong American heavyweight to unify the division, “ Wilder said at a recent press conference, “to hold all the titles, that’s when I feel true stardom will come. Once I unify the division, I think it’ll be a dramatic change.’’
Wilder’s journey from high school football and basketball star to boxing champion was inspired by his daughter Naieya being diagnosed with spina bifida when Wilder was just 19 years old. The news changed his life's course. Wilder dropped out of college and began working odd jobs to pay his daughter’s medical bills.
He switched his focus to boxing and promised her he would be heavyweight champion one day. He’s been exceeding expectations ever since and creating a legacy for himself that continues to grow. The next challenger along the undefeated Wilder’s ambitious quest to unify the heavyweight title is Polish pounder Artur Szpilka.
The two gladiators will meet on Saturday, January 16th at The Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, on the first card hosted by SHOWTIME Championship Boxing for 2016 -- the show’s 30th anniversary year. The battle airs at 10pm ET and is promoted by DiBella Entertainment. It’s the first time in 115 years that a heavyweight championship fight is going down in BK. Wilder is trying to keep his unbeaten streak alive and in the process turn Brooklyn into a heavyweight hot spot.
Leading up to the fight, The Shadow League sat down with the champ for an interview at the Madison Avenue offices we share with Black Enterprise. Wilder, as usual was confident, sociable and ready to talk.