IN 2013, Deontay Wilder told me he was all muscle, bone, and skin. He then showed me the tip of his whip.

Both less sinister and sexual than it sounds, and entirely unrelated to cars, the whip in question was the technique behind a punch responsible for a 100 per cent knockout ratio and the tip, according to its owner, was the part of that punch that elevated it above others.

“Get back,” Wilder said, snapping into an orthodox stance beside a heavy bag, as if about to set off a firework. “Watch.”

He then revved up his right arm, locked and loaded, and let fly with a punch; a cross to most, a cannonball to him.



Somehow almost comical in its execution, Wilder made all the requisite noises before looking my way once his right hand had left its mark on the bag. “Back home we talk about my punches as being like a whip,” the heavyweight from Alabama, then 27, said. “And the most painful part of the whip is the tip. That’s where I do my damage, right at the end of my punches. The tip of the whip.”

Standing nearby at that moment was Frank Joseph, a boxing agent who had earlier held pads for Wilder and now rued his sudden inability to hold steady a plastic cup of coffee. Waiting for his two trembling hands to settle, Joseph could be heard rapping his endorsement over the repetitive beat of Wilder abusing the heavy bag. “You can tell how hard he hits just by looking at my f***ing hands,” he moaned at one point, offering both for inspection. “Whenever you hold pads for anyone with a dig, you’ll feel it afterwards. But I’ve never had the full-on shakes like this before. His power is frightening.”

For further proof, there were specks of coffee on the floor. These, combined with the indentations on the bag, told a story of their own.

“My power is totally natural,” Wilder stopped hitting the bag to say. “I really don’t try to knock guys out. I’ve just always been able to punch hard and have always been strong.

“Even back when I was a 185-pound (American) footballer, I’d lift as much as the biggest guys on the team. There I was, this little, skinny guy, doing everything the bigger guys were doing. Nobody could believe it.”

Deontay Wilder ahead of Saturday’s fight with Zhilei Zhang (Mark Robinson Matchroom Boxing)

Both that day and that month Wilder, brought over to spar David Haye ahead of his ill-fated 2013 fight with Tyson Fury, was going to do as he pleased. He hit things; he swaggered about the place; he preached; he yelled; he illuminated otherwise drab rooms. Better yet, his punch power, once boxing’s Loch Ness monster, was now, thanks to 29 consecutive knockouts, carrying with it an authenticity that enabled him to showcase his wares in a London gym without fear of someone critiquing his technique, mocking him for beating soft opposition, or simply telling him to stop whacking the bag and making so much noise: “BOMB SQUAD!”

It wasn’t always like that, mind.

Two years earlier, in fact, when Wilder first arrived in London to spar Haye ahead of the Englishman’s fight against Wladimir Klitschko, the 6’8 puncher would never have imagined holding court in the same gym and teaching and preaching and going on about tips and whips and dancing between sparring rounds as though at a family barbecue. No, that Wilder, then 25, was a different proposition altogether. Raw and largely unsure of himself, he was full of basketball player athleticism but still in the process of figuring out how to transfer this athleticism from hardwood to canvas. He was erratic. He was excitable. He was reckless. He kept Haye on his toes without treading on them or lifting him off them.

Meanwhile, outside the ring he was pleasant, down-to-earth, and well-mannered. He was thankful for the opportunity. He was unknown, approached only because of his size and amateur achievements (an Olympic bronze medal in 2008 was no mean feat), and behaved accordingly, travelling with no airs and graces, and acquiescing to Haye’s every demand, respectful of the fact it was his gym and his city. He was, in other words, a delight.

Come 2013, however, he was different. Still a delight, the difference now was that you heard him before you saw him. There was a “BOMB SQUAD!” on every corner – a brave and dangerous mantra in this day and age – and Wilder, once the student, had this time arrived not as a sparring partner but as someone intent on showing how much he had improved and, in turn, showing everyone why he would soon become America’s next world heavyweight champion.

Moreover, whenever Wilder sparred, which he did regularly that summer, he sparred like no heavyweight I had ever seen. Utterly relaxed, veins of ice, he would nonchalantly rattle through rounds with Haye, Mariusz Wach and Filip Hrgovic as if the only repercussion of a misstep would be a grazed knee. He would, in stark contrast to those other heavyweights, be getting buck wild, whooping and hollering during rounds, winding up punches, forever loose. He would take to goading each of his sparring partners, begging for more, and would even attempt to inspire and motivate them if he sensed they were flagging, almost affronted by their indolence. “Come on, champ, let’s go!” he would mumble through his gum shield. “This is The Champ’s camp!”

Deontay Wilder

Deontay Wilder (Mikey Williams/Top Rank)

So impressive was Wilder second time around, in fact, you would search hard for flaws and mistakes if only to redress the balance. You would take heart whenever Haye landed a stiff right hand, for instance, or whenever Wach got up in his grill, attached his chin to his chest and accosted Wilder against the ropes. Your eyes at that point would then stray from the American’s hands, and what he did with them, to focus instead on his legs, those spindly stilts propping up a 225-pound body, and you would wonder how many rounds he would last in a kickboxing contest, or indeed a boxing match, should somebody crack him clean on the jaw. You would interpret legs smaller than your own as a sign he was fallible, human.

“I always say, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover,’” Wilder explained when this was later put to him. “My legs look skinny, I know, but it’s all muscle. I’m all muscle, bone and skin. Think of someone like Thomas Hearns. That dude never had the biggest legs in the world, but, boy, could he bang.”

Unable to argue, you would then find yourself going back to his competition, or lack thereof, the overriding thought this: fight someone decent and Wilder might suddenly be flustered, unsteady. He might even go the distance.

“Styles make fights,” he said. “But so far in my career I’ve cancelled out all the styles I’ve come up against by hitting too damn hard. Once you get hit by my shots, style goes out the window, man. Someone like (Sergey) Liakhovich might look effective and durable against other guys, but he hadn’t tasted power like mine. And you saw what happened to him.”

We did.

But if, like Liakhovich, you are in need of reminding, what happened to the Belarusian was that he disappeared in just 104 seconds, curled into the fetal position upon sampling a single right hand. For then further proof of Wilder’s power, we have also seen, a decade on from his London trip, what has happened to Bermane Stiverne, Artur Szpilka, Gerald Washington, Johann Duhaupas, Luis Ortiz (twice), Dominic Breazeale and Robert Helenius when struck by the tip of Wilder’s whip.