By Tim Struby
They are an essential part of any sports fan’s life. Will Cam Newton lead the Panthers to a Superbowl? Can Porzingis help resuscitate the Knicks? What makes the Kansas City Royals, a team with no definitive superstar, so special?
But when it comes to boxing, the stakes are higher (physically, psychically, etc.) so the questions delve a bit deeper. They get more personal.
Does he have the heart to become a champion?
When the going gets tough, will he show the character to stand and fight?
What will he risk to be the best?
As Deontay Wilder steps into the Barclays Center ring this weekend against Artur Szpilka (20-1, 15KO’s; seen above in Ed Diller photo), some aspects of the WBC champion cannot be questioned.
At 6’ 7”, he is a remarkable physical specimen. He has leading man looks and smile that’s worthy of Broadway. He’s genuine, charismatic, and is the first heavyweight to bring a title to American soil since 2006. The former Olympic bronze medal-winner is a star.
Yet questions hover around the Tuscaloosa native like an entourage. Despite a 35-0 record – and an astounding 34 KO’s – the 30 year-old’s performances haven’t reflected such dominance. Forget about the easy early bouts to build his record. That’s business. And there’s no shame that Wilder has yet to face the division’s top fighters. Advisor Al Haymon has every right to be cautious with what is certainly the prize of his stable (since the retirement of Money Mayweather).
No, Wilder’s issues have been those of consistency. In January 2015, he impressed with a one-sided unanimous decision over a tenacious and tough Berman Stiverne, landing 227 of 621 punches. Wilder showed off a steely jab and potent right hand, and perhaps more importantly calmly weathered some heavy shots.
But in his next bout against Eric Molina (23-3, 17 KO’s), a man who looks like he spends most of his time training at In-N-Out Burger, The Bronze Bomber underwhelmed. Although Molina went down four times, Wilder looked vulnerable, a bit winded, and couldn’t dispatch Molina until the 9th round. Not the first title defense the American star had hoped for. Especially in front of his hometown crowd.
In his last bout in September, Wilder used unknown Johann Dehaupas as a punching bag for 11 rounds (when it was mercifully stopped) landing 326 punches to Dehaupas’s 98.
Another victory, yes.
More answers? No.
No matter Wilder’s record, the essential questions that consume boxing fans will only be resolved with time. With risk. With adversity. Sometimes, with a defeat. Perhaps this Saturday night against Szpilka. Because unlike other sports, stats and wins mean little in boxing. Answers about a fighter – who he is, what he’s capable of (or not), and whether is what we all hope he is – don’t reveal themselves often. But when they do, all the questions disappear.