THE right hand was bad enough, but it was the follow-up left hook Deontay Wilder landed on Tyson Fury in the 12th round of their December bout that the WBC heavyweight champion believes turned an immediate rematch into a question mark.

“Fury didn’t want this rematch,” said Wilder, who left Los Angeles’ Staples Center with his title intact after a draw verdict was rendered. “He knows he got knocked out, he didn’t even know how he got on the ground or was on the ground. That’s scary. He don’t want to go through that again. And then he’s telling people he felt the effects after the fight and how hard it was and how dangerous a fighter I am. I was informed that he was concussed as well, so I know he don’t want this fight, his family don’t want him to take this fight either, and that’s okay.”

Wilder-Fury was the kind of fight the heavyweight division sorely needed. Not only was it a matchup of two of the three leading big men in the game, but then it delivered on fight night. No, it wasn’t Riddick Bowe-Evander Holyfield I, but Fury produced a brilliant tactical effort while Wilder lowered the boom twice, dropping the Brit in rounds nine and 12. The drama of the knockdown and Fury’s subsequent rise in the final round captivated the world beyond the boxing bubble, and when you add in the controversy of the scoring, the sequel was a natural.

And we thought we were getting one this spring before Fury shocked the boxing world on February 18 with his announcement that he signed a deal that would put his fights on the ESPN network. A week later, it was confirmed that he would take a bout before addressing a rematch with Wilder. None of this shocked the Alabama native.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Wilder, who was suddenly in limbo. But when Boxing News caught up to the 33-year-old on March 6, he was in good spirits and ready to get a deal done for his next fight. That morning, the WBC ordered a fight between Wilder and Dominic Breazeale [the fight will take place on Saturday (May 18) in New York]. He said, “Dominic Breazeale, getting my mandatory out of the way, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s always good to be able to get the mandatories out of the way because once you do that you’re a little bit freer to move around and you don’t have to have flies in your ears buzzing all the time. You want to go and kill the flies and get them out of the way and that’s what I’m gonna do with Breazeale – I’m gonna kill the fly.”

Anything less than a rematch with Fury or a unification bout with Anthony Joshua, especially with a challenger like Breazeale whose chin has been dented in victory and defeat, is a letdown and likely just another clip for Wilder’s highlight reel. But the champion disagrees, saying that finding motivation for Californian won’t be an issue.

“Well, the one thing that drives me and that’s gonna get me up every morning for how I’m gonna bash and pound Breazale’s head in is the history we’ve got with each other,” said Wilder, who engaged in a brawl with Breazeale in an Alabama hotel lobby in 2017. “There’s still bad blood and there will probably forever be bad blood until I get my hands on him. We still have a situation and we’ve got a story with each other. That’s the only thing that energises me and gets me motivated for Breazeale. I’ve got unfinished business with him.”

deontay wilder

Expected to finish that business, Wilder can then move on to finishing matters with the other big names among the big boys, namely Fury and IBF, WBA, WBO champion Joshua. On paper, despite the usual promotional and network entanglements, it would appear that getting Fury in the ring before the end of 2019 would be the easier deal to make. When asked if he sees the Joshua fight ultimately taking place, he says, “I think that fight happens and that fight could very well happen earlier than we all think. Boxing is crazy and the great thing about it is that it’s a 24-hour business. You never know what’s going to happen at any moment. The Joshua fight could just magically happen; you just never know. It’s very exciting right now because a lot of things can happen. Nothing is off the table. Everything is still on the table and open for negotiation.”

Assuming Wilder gets by Breazeale and Joshua beats Andy Ruiz, a bout between the two champions would be exactly what the sport needs. Then throw Fury in the mix, and just like that, the heavyweight division would be rocking at levels it hasn’t seen in a long time. And that’s just what Wilder wants.

“People always talk about the golden age and if they’re dwelling on that time to come back, just wait,” he said. “I’ve got so many things I want to do, so many plans and I think we’re leading in the right direction. The heavyweight division is moving in the right direction and it’s a great time to be a fighter. And I will put the heavyweight division back to those days. I’ll let this generation feel what the old generation felt, but it will be even better because of technology and because we have a different mindset, so I think it’s gonna be a little bit cooler than it was back in the day. That’s old school stuff; this is new, baby. We’re kicking in the doors and I’m gonna make the heavyweight division even more exciting than I’ve already done. You come to see Deontay Wilder, one thing’s for sure, you know most likely you’re gonna see a knockout. And with that being said, that makes me the most exciting heavyweight out there.”

He’s got a good case. Even before the Fury bout, Wilder engaged in one of the best heavyweight scraps of recent years when he shook off some bombs from Luis Ortiz before halting the Cuban in the 10th frame last March. And while his unorthodox and raw style makes him vulnerable against some, his power is still the equalizer, and no matter what part of the globe you’re from, when people watch heavyweights, they want to see knockouts. And Wilder has issued 39 of them over the course of his 40-0-1 career.

“No matter what type of speed that I hit you with, I know if my hand lands to your face, it’s gonna hurt,” he said. “And I take things out of these fighters when I fight them. The majority of my opponents are never the same after they fought Deontay Wilder. I take something from these guys each and every time. We’ve seen the history of it. Look at [Bermane] Stiverne right now. He never bounced back. Look at [Artur] Szpilka and Gerald Washington. I take something out of these fighters.”

Wilder believes he took something out of Fury too and in a moment far removed from the often venomous trash talk, Wilder doesn’t blame for “The Gypsy King” for taking another path at the moment.

“This is a dangerous sport we risk our lives in so we have to make the best decisions and best choices for our family,” he said. “People don’t understand how it is for fighters, and we deserve our respect and deserve our just due because it takes a lot to get in that ring. We literally risk our lives and I hold that to my heart.”

It’s a somber statement and an accurate one, and that’s just the fight in the ring. The fight outside the ropes can often be even rougher, and when you throw in promoters, networks and managers into the mix, it’s no wonder that many boxers call the fight the easy part of the business. There, they only have one opponent to battle. Even so, Wilder sounds optimistic as the spring of 2019 approaches.

Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury

“These guys gotta understand that everything rotates around Deontay Wilder,” he said. “I’ve got five discussions going on about me with other fighters and everybody’s getting deals because of the potential of fighting me at the end. When I came out as a free agent, that was the best thing I could have ever said and did. And although I have a love and support for Showtime, and I love working with them, a lot of people thought I was solely with them, and I am a free agent as well. Fury saw an opportunity and he took it and I can’t down him. I just don’t want people to judge my heart without knowing me. I want all the smoke. I’m not afraid of no man. I’ll put myself against anybody. Anybody, any weight division, any day.”

Leave those flyweights alone, Deontay.

“Hey, anybody,” Wilder laughs. “I say anybody can get it, I mean anyone, any division. I’m the man.”

He may be. Having just celebrated his fourth anniversary as WBC champion, Wilder currently has the 13th longest reign in heavyweight history. With the exception of Wladimir Klitschko, who will most certainly be a first-year hall of famer when his name appears on the ballot, all the fighters above Wilder are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and several notables under him, including Rocky Marciano, Mike Tyson, George Foreman, Evander Holyfield and Joe Frazier are in Canastota too.

Now calling Wilder a hall of famer at this place in time is a loaded statement, but the point is that he’s on the right track and is within striking range of such a lofty place in the annals of heavyweight history.

“I definitely feel that way and I know I’ve had a helluva run in the heavyweight division,” he said. “The things that I’ve been able to do in the fashion that I’ve been able to do them in has been remarkable. But I’m definitely nowhere near to where I want to be.”

And to get there, he’ll need some help. He’ll need to beat Fury, and take the other three belts from Joshua. Back in the heavyweight golden age of the 70s, greats like Ali, Frazier, Foreman, Norton, Lyle, Quarry and Shavers rarely had a problem finding each other. Today, it’s a different world, but Wilder seems to be navigating it just fine for now.

“Sometimes it gets frustrating, but we’ve been through it so much that we know how to handle these situations,” he said. “We’re not chasing after anyone. We have our own networks, we have our own money and we have our own stable of fighters as well. So it’s not like we’re hurting. It’s just the point that I want to prove myself to the world that I am the best and the one and only. And it gets disappointing and frustrating when you try to make the fights with the other guys that are supposed to be the best and people want to see, and these guys don’t want to cooperate. They manoeuvre around and they don’t want to fight you until they really, really have to. But I’m the heavyweight champion of the world and I’m in a great position in my career and I’m happy. There will be one champion and one face and one name – Deontay Wilder. I promise you that.”