- Deontay Wilder did what he was supposed to and made slight work of Dominic Breazeale with a first-round knockout Saturday night. But to prove he's the best heavyweight, Wilder needs to defeat a more formidable opponent.
NEW YORK—Dominic Breazeale’s guard opened up, Deontay Wilder’s right hand zipped through and within seconds Breazeale’s 6’7”, 255-pound body crashed to the powder blue canvas. Deontay Wilder won’t go down as the most skilled heavyweight champion in boxing history, but after Saturday night’s one-sided, one-round destruction of Breazeale, it’s a reminder that he has a case to be called one of its most powerful.
The hype for Wilder’s title defense crescendoed earlier this month, when Wilder declared that he not only wanted to beat Breazeale—the lumbering ex-Olympian who had worked his way into a mandatory challenger position—he wanted to kill him. The comments spread quickly, with mainstream outlets picking them up—and Wilder refusing to back down.
The fight didn’t match the hype, but did anyone expect it to? The rankings were manipulated to make Breazeale the No. 1 contender—Dillian Whyte, a once-beaten heavyweight with a far stronger resume, had a better case to be positioned in the top spot—but Breazeale was never a serious threat. He’s an ex-Olympian with a decent resume and his history with Wilder (The two had an altercation at an Alabama hotel after a Wilder fight in 2017.) made for good copy. But Wilder entered the ring a heavy favorite. He got a title shot against Anthony Joshua, in 2017, and absorbed a pair of seventh round knockdowns before the fight was stopped. He didn’t get out of the first round in this one, without landing anything of consequence.
Wilder got Breazeale’s attention early in the first, landing a clean right hand through Breazeale’s guard. Breazeale shook his head and kept moving, but seconds later Wilder connected with another right, sending Breazeale staggering back to a corner. The two exchanged punches, with Breazeale catching Wilder with a shot behind the back of the head, momentarily slowing his charge. In the final minute, Wilder delivered the final, devastating blow, sending Breazeale careening to the canvas.
The crowd roared, the 13,181 mostly pro-Wilder fans who filed into Barclays Center on Saturday night, and Wilder raced to the top of the ring ropes, another title defense—his fourth in this building—in the books.
Will there be another?
Luis Ortiz—the aging heavyweight contender Wilder stopped 14 months ago—climbed into the ring after the fight, and if you didn’t let out a groan seeing that, you probably should have. Ortiz, looking well off his fighting weight, has rebounded nicely from the Wilder loss, winning three fights in a row against largely lower competition. But his chances of beating Wilder are only slightly better than Breazeale’s. Wilder is a monster in his prime, and it will take a monster to beat him.
Enter Anthony Joshua, the unified heavyweight titleholder who will likely have a spectacular knockout of his own next month, when he takes on Andy Ruiz. Joshua and Wilder have spent the last year engaged in very tense, very public negotiations for a unification fight, with the last round ending when Wilder turned down a four-fight deal from streaming service DAZN that would have guaranteed him two fights with Joshua—and $120 million for his trouble.
(This is where I point out that I am part of DAZN’s boxing broadcast team. It’s also where I say that they could put that fight on the Food Network, as long as it happens.)
Joshua-Wilder isn’t just the biggest fight that can be made in boxing today, it’s the biggest heavyweight fight this century. Two supremely powerful yet equally vulnerable heavyweights with styles guaranteed to lead to a compelling matchup. It’s the kind of fight that could push boxing back into the mainstream, to the cover of magazines (Hi, Sports Illustrated) and sweeping coverage on talk shows.
“I understand what Tyson Fury did,” Wilder said, referring to Fury’s decision to pass on an immediate rematch in favor of a lucrative deal with ESPN. “When you get dropped on the canvas like that I understand you have to get yourself back together. But the rematch will happen, like all these other fights will happen. The great thing is all these fights are in discussion. The big fights will happen. I just want you to have patience.”
When pressed by Showtime’s Jim Gray—who correctly pointed out the tepid interest fans have for fights like Wilder-Breazeale and Joshua-Ruiz—Wilder could only smile.
Said Wilder, “You know what the saying is Jim, ‘Good things come to those who wait.’ ”
But do they? Boxing fans waited six years for Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao, and while event was a commercial success, the fight was a dud. Wilder could squeeze more money out of a Joshua fight—DAZN’s last offer guaranteed Wilder $40 million for the first and another $40 million for the rematch—but at 33, every fight he takes is a risk. If Wilder or Joshua get clipped, if their occasionally shaky chins fail them, that money is gone, a legacy defining fight potentially with it.
For every Mayweather-Pacquiao success, there is a Lennox Lewis-Riddick Bowe level failure.
Wilder did what he was supposed to do on Saturday, crushing Breazeale, ending what always felt like something of a manufactured feud. He has a case to be called the best heavyweight in the world. And a clear path to how he can prove it.