I was back and forth with George Foreman during fight week, and right after the fight, and the week after Tyson Fury beat Deontay Wilder, and threw a man that seems like maybe he has a God complex of sorts into mental disarray.
It makes sense for me to tap Foreman, because he's been there and done that, along the lines of Wilder. I mean, more than Wilder, because, to be frank, at this juncture Wilders' legacy is teetering.
His “Bomb Squad” can beg to differ, or grumble and fire angry volleys, but let's be really real: the man's best wins are over Luis Ortiz, whose best win is over Bryant Jennings.
It could play out different, the book has one or two or maybe more chapters left…but as of now, Wilder has to be regarded as a man with legit A grade power in one hand, who was skillfully managed, and along the way, came to believe the press releases and narrative bullet points that helped lift him to prominence. In short, he believed the hype. Now, it feels like maybe it's to a dangerous level. Scratch that, it might have reached a dangerous level after his draw with Tyson Fury.
Because Wilder then fought Luis Ortiz, and lost round after round after round…and then managed to detonate a bomb on the aged but still solid Cuban. And then the narrative push went into overdrive. “His power is ATG.” “Hardest puncher ever.” Etc.
He lapped it up, he took it in, collected it, savored it…and sort of OD'd on it.
Wilder over the past few years began to look differently at himself in the mirror. He saw his reflection, and, I think, possibly, adored it too much. He began to speak about being chosen by God.
Some of you understand, that isn't a healthy thought. I mean, it is if you want to run a successful cult, and you have the charisma to attract people who don't dismiss you as a loon, but instead latch on to you, derive comfort and strength from your aura. Like the people who dig Donald Trump gain second-hand confidence and courage from his “toughness,” members of the “Bomb Squad” puff their chest out and see themselves as lieutenants in his army.
You heard him in the new video, the one that will be pointed to, by right-thinking PR managers and brand marketers, as what NOT to do after a loss.
Arguably…Hey, if you want “hits” (1.7 M on Instagram, 2.7 M on Twitter (as of Monday morning ET), if you want “buzz,” then maybe the “King” video, which dropped Friday, was a good play. But I think it's about what image you want to convey, what TYPE of attention you seek.
Let's take a deeper look at the video, shall we?
He starts with, “Hello my people…My ‘Bomb Squad' Army.”
He looks intense, no hint of a smile, he looks ready to rumble. And he's addressing the people who stayed with him, didn't hammer him, and write him off after Fury reduced him to rubble in Las Vegas.
“My ‘Bomb Squad Nation,' Wilder continues, widening out his supposed sphere of influence.
“I just wanna let you know, I am here…Your King is here,” Wilder says.
Wait…”Your King?” When did it become like that? I maybe missed it. Was there a point, before this video, where Wilder became, or thought he became, something other than a boxer that some people like?
“We ain't goin' nowhere, for the war has just begun,” he says.
Oh…Now it's “we.” Before, it was mostly “me.” But after the loss, it becomes “we.” Is that because he appreciates the loyalty of the fans who have stood by him? That would make sense. But, the war? What war? He lost a prize fight, and while I understand that is incredibly meaningful to him, it still is what it is. And it isn't a war to the rest of us not named Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury. But, if Fury is seeking to re-gain mental and emotional strength by building up his base of die-hard converts, if he's seeking some narcissistic supply to fill in the psychic holes that Fury drilled into him, then using the terminology he does makes much sense.
“I will rise again,” he says, conjuring imagery that appeals to fans of mythology. He'd then join the Hall of Fame of folks who have “risen,” and being in the company of Jesus would sure bolster Wilders' legacy.
“I am strong…I am a king,” he tells us, and, maybe more so, he tells himself, while wearing a sweatshirt bearing the face of someone who undeniably was strong, and a king amongst men, Muhammad Ali.
“They can't take my pride,” he declares, indicating that “they” have done a decent in job in at least reducing some of his pride reservoir. Thing is, “they” didn't do that, Fury did.
But it is easier for Wilder to shift attention, off of the man who conquered him, and instead transfer attention on a new scapegoat, “they.” “Them.” This tactic is a favorite of cult leaders. It appeals to the part of ourselves that wants to fix things or solve mysteries by attacking an enemy. Trump likes to blast the reporters, the people who deliver the “fake news.”
When the stock market plummets, based on fears of an epic and global downturn, from coronavirus shock effects, Trump blames Democrats and screams “hoax.” It appeals to dimwits who blame immigrants because well paying full time jobs have been getting harder and harder to find for the last few decades. Be wary of the person who when offered the choice of taking responsibility for their actions or a negative result, shakes their head and instead starts talking about “they,” or “them,” or “the do nothing Democrats.”
“I'm a king that will NEVER give up,” Wilder barks. Again, he's a “king.” Not a fighter, or a man.
Post-loss, it is interesting, his assessment of his identity hasn't lessened, it has inflated. Maybe makes sense, to compensate for the battering his ego took, and he then needed to attend to. He could attend to it by saying, “Everything happens for a reason,” or “That which does not kill me makes me stronger.” Or he could name himself King, and go out and find an even jazzier robe/costume for the next ring walk.
“I'm a king that will fight to the death,” he next says, returning to the theme that proliferated from Sunday morning onward, when trainer Jay Deas told media post fight that co-trainer Mark Breland had been told to NEVER throw in the towel. Painting himself as someone who is willing to die for his craft, his cause, makes Wilder an ultra heroic warrior, sets him apart from 99.9% of the people on Earth. That would make him pretty much a God among men, right? I get the feeling he wants that, no?
He then says that if you don't “understand what it is to go to war,” you best know “we will rise again.” Some online critics said Wilder should go sign up for military service, so he himself can truly understand what it's like to “go to war.” Good point, critics, of which there were many…
You see he again opens his arms, so his subjects, er, fans can feel greater attachment and loyalty to him. This may appeal to some down trodden folks, who see themselves as being down, low, and they would appreciate rising, if only metaphorically, while hanging virtually on the back of the King-God.
He uses “we” again…”WE will regain the title,” says the ex WBC champion, age 34. He then switches pronouns, “I will be back,” after realizing briefly that the attempted comeback will not be a team effort, really, it's going to be up to him.
That thought brings Wilder down, because he defuses the harsh reality. “We will hold out heads up high! Your king is in great spirit! And WE will rise like a phoenix and regain the title. I'll see you in a few months…for the war has just begun,” once again throwing off many viewers with his odd timing.
It's like watching a B or C grade movie, and a lead man who thinks he's A grade trying to sound majestic and profound and…not succeeding.
“All my love”–awkward pause–“to all my people.”
He starts and finishes with “my people,” which will appeal to a band of folks who have brain wiring which eats up such appeals from such characters.
Let's change gears, and factor in the voice of someone who actually has had to wrestle with some of the demons Wilder is engaged with. What happens when you are built up to be unbeatable…and then get beaten? That was the toughest test of both of George Foremans' careers. Foreman took off 15 months after Ali busted the narrative bubble in Zaire before he gloved up again. And, get this, he took on someone who punched just as hard as him, Ron Lyle, in his first fight back. He fought five more times, still engaging in some wrestling in his mind as to what his identity now was, and he then hung up the mitts. In 1977, after fighting Jimmy Young, his psyche cracked, because he wasn't able to re-craft his identity after Ali changed it. And he took almost ten years, did that hard work of gluing it back together, and only then did he return to boxing. This might be instructive to Wilder, or not. Foreman fought Steve Zouski, Charles Hostetter, Bobby Crabtree, Tim Anderson, Rocky Sekorski, Tom Trimm and Guido Crane as he made sure his re-structured identity held firm. Yes, he took it slow.
This is what Foreman said to me on Sunday, Feb. 23, the day after Fury exploded Wilders' brain.
“Beat him from the first minute on,” Foreman said. “Finally a big man fighting like a big man. I hope Wilder is okay. He was no match!”
He also Tweeted out three days after the Fury triumph, this:
“Oh yes! He could use me. he needs ground work. Don’t know why I have a soft heart for the loser?”
Foreman also gave me deeper insight into his comeback, and maybe that could be shown to Wilder, and help him wrap his still reeling brain around the last week.
“So I was told by Archie Moore and Dick Sadler, my corner, ‘if you ever get knocked down, listen to the ref's count, find your corner, let us count. I did (against Ali in The Rumble in the Jungle, 10-3-74), Sadler told me to wait, then he signaled get up. When I got up the fight was over, the ref said that’s it. Walking to my corner, then to the dressing room, was like death. On the floor I said, ‘He has been covering up all night, he will try to finish me, now I’ll knock him out.' No one wanted to hear me. ‘You lost,' they said, and then I said, ‘The next time I’m counted out it’ll be on a stretcher! It’d be better to die than to go through that again.' Thus the Lyle fight (1-24-76), he knew what I was doing and didn’t want to be a part of it. (About Wilder saying he'd rather die than surrender), on dying… When I found religion, I found reason, boxing became a game,” Foreman said. “So I left the sport, I became a son, father, preacher and friend that was needed. I had to live as long as possible. When I returned to boxing (in 1987), I knew this competitive spirit could be contagious. And that my family needed me alive more than the money I brought in. I watched a replay of Ali, fighting Larry Holmes (10-2-80). Ali like all boxers knew not how to quit, so after so many rounds of being beat, Dundee said, “I’m the chief corner man and I stopped the fight” and he was for a moment the most hated man alive,” Foreman said, speaking to Mark Breland's towel toss move and Wilders' angry response to the loving act.
“But I saw this and said I need Angelo Dundee in my corner, someone who would not be afraid of me, to save ‘me from me.' That's the main reason he was hired by me. I was angry with Sadler for years, but I was healthy and ready twenty years later. Thank goodness I didn’t beat the count,” he continued, summarizing a response to trauma that Wilder would be wise to at least take in, if not follow as a blue print.
“Wilder is still a wounded young lion, he's most dangerous then. In another month, he will regain his health, the lion will be more than a big roaring cat,” Foreman said. “He’ll know and learn better about life, ‘Life is much more that fisticuffs.' There is: children graduations, grands and electric bills. Let him heal, he was run over by truck.”
That final takeaway from George, that's a nugget. Lest any of us are tempted to critique the “King” video and write Wilder off forever, listen to George. That “King” talk might have been done as there was still fog of battle in his brain.
Foreman advises that we give Wilder room to process. “You don’t learn better till you learn,” the two time heavyweight champion said. “Once you get a life you never want to lose it. Joe Biden said when you have children your heart beats outside your chest. So Wilder gets hit, he forgets about his kids. Guy has had an injury to the head. He will speak wiser in a few days. His child was his reason to box. We forget.”
“Amen,” I said to Foreman.
“Amen brother, now pass the biscuits,” he responded.
Points taken…Give Wilder time and space to recover, and retain perspective, the world keeps turning, there are hands to wash, and biscuits to eat. Amen, indeed.
SUNDAY NIGHT END NOTE: After I posted this column, I heard from my friend Joelle Azoulay. I'm thankful to her, because she alerted me to some points that I hadn't considered.
“Hello,” she messaged me. “So when Deontay used the term “king” …it's familiar as a non-literal usage among some African-Americans. It can be used as a term to BOLSTER and EMPOWER, as a response to a history of degradation.”
She fired me some links, to some stories which touch on how the word is used by people in the way Wilder probably meant it.
Someone else pointed out that in their mind, the way Wilder uses the term, it's sort of an antidote term to counter the “n word.” Really, it's not so much, they said, to state or imply that Wilder in that video sees himself as a ruler of a nation or army, but as a strong and ultra capable being. And as Joelle noted, as a response to generations worth of demeaning and marginalizing.
Someone else told me that some of their friends use the term, and the “king and queens” construct regarding guys and gals in a relationship, and it is a positive setup, of mutual respect, of acknowledgment. And yet another person, a lady, said she didn't support the use of the word “king” as Wilder employed it, because in her sphere, it can be used to subjugate a woman in a relationship. The man is the king, the No. 1 in the equation, and the lady is the queen, the No. 2, almost support staff.
Back to Joelle; I appreciated her re-focusing me, reminding me that Wilder isn't merely an athlete who “shuts up and dribbles.” When he got heated and gave his “to this day!” monologue to Radio Rahim, he was being bold and courageous, because yeah, that sort of talk is risky, from the point of view of alienating potential customers.
Props to Wilder for NOT being all about commerce, and taking a stand on principle then, and in doing so in the “king” video, if in a narrowed silo of intended audience. A day after I posted my analysis column, I was reminded that Deontay is, actually, a sensitive soul. We forget, because, hello he can punch through brick walls with his right hand. But, yeah, he feels pain, maybe more emotionally than physically, and we all respond differently to pain. He's 34, only 34, lots of us keep learning hard lessons at 44, and 54, and beyond.
I haven't changed my mind, though, regarding his stated desire to die rather than surrender, to me, it's still about his 8 kids.