Heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder successfully defended his WBC claim this past weekend against stand-in contender Gerald Washington. The end came at 1:45 of the 5th round when two power-shots from the champ put the challenger onto the ground, and a barrage of haymakers following soon after eventually forced a stoppage to the contest. The fight leading up to that moment, however, was not an easy one for Wilder.
Going into the 5th, two judges had the bout even, and the other with Wilder ahead, to which I find a bit preposterous. It's true that perhaps the fight deserves a second viewing, but I had Washington winning three of the four rounds beforehand, with one going either way. The former USC tight end was controlling the pace of the fight, landing the cleaner and harder shots, and showed superior defense. Had Washington been able to maintain the momentum, we would likely be talking about a new heavyweight champion. Washington, admittedly, was a bit overzealous.
"I just got a little impatient. I was trying to go for it. It was an even boxing match. I could have kept it like that and kept it boring. I don't know why I fell asleep there. I guess I lost a little focus," Washington said in an interview. "I caught him with one shot when he was coming in. But instead of me keeping that play going and keep pushing him back and keep him in control by keeping him in the center of the ring, I tried to get on him. I was trying to play a little counter punch role and catch him coming in. He just caught me."
According to Wilder, the entire sequence was premeditated.
"I knew he was going to come in excited to fight for a world title," Wilder said. "I just kept calm and found my rhythm. I knew he was going to tire out, and when he did I took advantage. It was all about timing. I'm very smart in the ring when it comes to using different tactics in the ring."
I'd actually beg to differ. Was the shot a lucky one? No, not really. Wilder threw them with intention and skill. But despite what he claims, it didn't necessarily appear as if Wilder lured his adversary into a trap. Washington didn't seem any more tired than he did in the previous four rounds and was on his way to having a solid fifth. Wilder just happened to land the shots when he did, so perhaps a little "luck" was involved that they had enough of an effect on his opponent. Otherwise, it could have been a long night for the champ.
What is perhaps more telling is that the performance showed many of the places where Wilder is limited. His technique is sloppy and he overcommits (just look at the final punches before the ref steps in). He also drops whichever hand he's not throwing low below the shoulder, which would make a clean counter from a hard-punching adversary a huge problem. To be fair, it's probably necessary to mention that Wilder was also recovering from a bicep tear and hand fracture on his right side, but he didn't necessarily show that much better of a technique before the injury either. Couple that with the fact that Washington was called in on two weeks notice and it may only be a matter of time before a legitimate contender exposes the skill level of the WBC champ. Aside from Bermane Stiverne, Wilder has yet to really face any of the elite fighters in his division.
That, however, is also not so much his fault. He has certainly tried to get them in the ring, but some issue from the other side prevents the bout from coming off. First was former HW titleholder Alexander Povetkin, who would have been Wilder's toughest test to date had the Russian not failed a drug test back in May of last year. Andrzej Wawrzyk, the original opponent for last weekend's card, would have still been an underdog, but a much better test than Washington. Wawrzyk, however, also failed a drug test a month before the fight. With last weekend's victory, Wilder now appears to unify the division, where these sorts of matters will hopefully be less of an issue.
"I think I'm close to unifying the belts," Wilder said. "I think this year will be a big step forward. A lot of people are talking about it and my team is 100 percent on board with it. We're taking the right approach to getting me in the position to get all the belts. There are going to be a lot of great heavyweight fights this year."
His first target is New Zealand's Joseph Parker, who won the WBO stake back in December and has an upcoming bout against Tyson Fury's cousin, Hughie Fury. Parker, seemingly confident in his chances against the younger Fury, was sitting ringside Saturday night. During the post-fight interview, Wilder acknowledged his presence.
"As I've been saying, I'm looking to unify the division," Wilder said. "I think it's critical to have one fighter and one champion, and that's Deontay Wilder. Let's hope Joseph Parker is ready for me because I'm definitely ready for him."
With Anthony Joshua taking on Wladimir Klitschko in April and a possible Parker-Wilder bout coming down the line, there is the potential for a healthy revival of the heavyweight division. We might even come closer to crowning an undisputed champ, the last being Lennox Lewis who retired in 2003.
The face of boxing has traditionally been its heavyweight champion. When there is a strong heavyweight champion, there is a strong sport. With the state of things now, boxing needs a recognizable heavyweight champion more than ever. So while Deontay Wilder may not have the skillset to take him the entire way, he certainly has the attitude. Let's hope more of his colleagues follow suit.