The history books will be kind – very kind – when Deontay Wilder finally decides to hang up his gloves and await the countdown to his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
For much of his career we’ve heard about what he can’t do or that we shouldn’t believe what we see. People nagged his boxing skills and criticized his opponents, and even when he scored knockouts in record place, far too many pointed to fighters of the past and said he wouldn’t KO them.
It’s all nonsense.
Wilder isn’t just one of the biggest punchers in boxing history, he will be remembered as one of the greatest heavyweights, period. He’s one of the most exciting fighters of his time and has years ahead of him.
On Saturday, he ended Robert Helenius terribly scoring his 42nd knockout in 46 pro fights. Wilder landed his right hand on his nose, which he didn’t even step inside. It didn’t travel more than two feet.
Whatever he didn’t do, we saw the terrifying result the punch caused. Helenius fell to the ground as if hit by a cannonball and didn’t move for a long time.
Wilder is 0-2-1 against Tyson Fury and 43-0 with 42 KOs against everyone else. But in those three Fury fights, the third was an absolute classic and the first was outstanding. And Wilder knocked Fury down four times in the three fights.
It’s hard to rate punchers across generations, but Wilder has fought huge men, fast men, athletic men, and each of them has suffered the same fate: They’ve hit the canvas hard, and there have been many times, in where there was justifiable concern for their well-being.
Thinking back to some of the big punchers in heavyweight history, it’s hard to believe that Wilder doesn’t belong in their company. George Foreman was a massive man with immense physical strength, but he didn’t have the speed that Wilder has.
Mike Tyson has brutalized many opponents just now, but has he ever put anyone down like Wilder did with Helenius on Saturday?
Muhammad Ali once said that the late Earnie Shavers “hit me so hard it shook my relatives in Africa”.
There are others: Rocky Marciano rarely fought much higher than 190, but he was a brutally powerful puncher and brutalized guys to the body. But could he have flattened a 6-foot-9, 270-pound quality boxer like Fury like Wilder did? I’m not sure.
I’ve seen Shavers, Tyson, Foreman, Vitali Klitchko, Wladimir Klitschko, Joe Frazier, Evander Holyfield, David Tua, Ike Ibeabuchi and Lennox Lewis fight in my life. I can’t say any of them hit as hard as Wilder.
It’s impossible to prove, but seeing Wilder convinced me. He can put someone to sleep with a punch in each hand, which few fighters in any weight class in history could do, and when he landed a combination on the chin it was almost always time to call it a day.
Wilder’s technique was unusual and he’s not a classic boxer. But who cares? He makes the most of what he has, which is malevolent, frightening power.
Ali has fought Sonny Liston, Foreman, Shavers and Frazier and was never counted out, so one wonders if Wilder could have made it. Ali was an excellent boxer, but he was also far too brave for his own good.
Especially after returning from exile, Ali’s speed was reduced and his lateral movement was reduced. So he fought flat-footed, often taking punches to create openings and land his own. It’s hard to imagine Ali taking one of those shots that Wilder scored Fury with last year and still be able to keep fighting.
My opinion – and it’s clearly up for debate – is that while Sugar Ray Robinson, not Ali, is the greatest boxer who ever lived, the version of Ali who fought Zora Folley in 1967 is the most perfect fighting machine for one night of all time was stepping into the ring.
But had Wilder stepped into the ring instead of Folley to face this version of Ali in 1967, Wilder’s speed would have made him a problem for Ali.
He’s not the greatest heavyweight that ever lived, but he would never have gotten out of a fight against a heavyweight that ever lived. Lennox Lewis, who called Wilder’s fight from ringside, was a better boxer overall than Wilder, but if Lewis had a weakness it was his chin. If Hasim Rahman knocked Lewis out in one punch, I know damn well Wilder could have done it.
Before you spit out the Cheerios and yell at your computer, let me reiterate: Wilder isn’t the best heavyweight that ever lived.
However, he is the biggest puncher to ever step in a boxing ring and one of the most exciting.
If he’s inducted into the Hall of Fame, if he’s eligible, his plaque is guaranteed to have two words next to his first and last name: Incredible Power.