Sure, Deontay Wilder packs more power into his right hand than any other modern boxer. The blows that he delivers land like lightning bolts capable of splitting apart trees, leaving opponents sprawled out on the canvas, wishing they’d chosen another sport. And yet, for all his violence and all his fury, the so-called baddest man on the planet arrives at his knockout state through a practice that’s very new age not at all vicious. He meditates.
Wilder uses an app called Headspace to prepare himself mentally for fights. He particularly likes the visualization techniques the app teaches. “I use them depending on what I’m trying to accomplish,” he says. “I can visualize myself running an every day life, having a good interview, having a good day. How I want to approach things. Then when they happen, I’ve seen it before. I’ve put myself in the right mindset to react.”
He uses the same techniques, Wilder said, to prepare for championship bouts, like the one he has on Saturday at the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Wilder will face Luis Ortiz for the second time, having knocked out Ortiz in a close fight in March of 2018. He visualized that one, too, Wilder said, right down to the right hand that sent Ortiz spiraling to the canvas.
Same thing happened in Wilder’s last bout, a first-round KO of Dominic Breazeale in May. Wilder said he visualized how he wanted to position himself in the ring, the distance he wanted to create so he could land another right, the footwork and feints he would need to use to arrive there, stuff like that. As the fight drew closer, Wilder said he practiced his visualizations in more depth, starting with his warm-up, then his ring walk, then the introductions, then his initial fight plan. He also saw the knockout in his head, then delivered one earlier than expected, before the end of the first round. “I’m speaking things into the universe,” Wilder says. “I’m seeing them before they happen. I’m very specific with what I see and what I say.”
He adds: “It’s almost like cheating a bit.”
It might seem unusual that such a fierce boxer would rely so heavily on meditation. But that notion is more of a stereotype. Athletes across sports deploy the same visualization techniques as Wilder, and in increasingly large numbers, and the heavyweight champion says he wins 90 percent of his bouts not with just the right hand, but with the brain lodged between his ears.
Wilder said he first learned to meditate in advance of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where he won a bronze medal. Team officials brought in a meditation expert to teach their boxers various techniques. Some, Wilder said, blew off the session or laughed after about the methodology. Not him. “I took it in,” Wilder said. “I wanted to try something different and I found that it allowed me to come to peace.”
The boxer recognizes the contradiction there, that meditation helped a fighter become more peaceful and more violent all at once. But it’s true. The techniques helped him to cut down on distractions, focus on what mattered and see first what he later hoped to bring to life. The right mindset led to the right performances. Calm allowed for decisive actions within chaos. “Sometimes,” Wilder said, “reality is even better than what I planned for.” Creating that space allows him to create that possibility, gives him a chance to make what he visualized come true.
Wilder said that the biggest form of power that most people lack throughout the world is belief. They can’t see what they are capable of. They lose faith in themselves. Wilder won’t even consider that he himself might get knocked out, after registering 40 KOs in his 41 fights. He doesn’t want his body to prepare itself to endure that kind of damage. He doesn’t want that thought creeping around inside his brain.
“People don’t see the mental side of fighting,” Wilder said. “If you’re not mentally strong you become mentally weak.”
Before the bell rings on Saturday, Wilder will close his eyes inside his locker room in Vegas. He will picture the walk, the warm-up, then the fight. If all goes well, he will improve to 41-0-1, setting the stage for a rematch with Tyson Fury (they fought to a draw) and a potential blockbuster bout or bouts with Anthony Joshua. He has no doubt how those fights will end. In his mind, the world champion meditator has already seen them play out.