Wilder toiled at IHOP as a server and Red Lobster as a cook after quitting school to raise money for his ill daughter. All has turned out beautifully.
His daughter is healthy and while boxing’s heavyweight division has not been so healthy for the last several years, it has a champion in Wilder whose story is inspiring after he dominated Haiti’s Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.
“Deontay is a promoter’s dream,” Stiverne promoter, none other than Don King, said of Wilder. “He goes out and talks to the people and gets them addicted to him. I thought that guy did a terrific job.”
Wilder got a chance at the title when Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir Klitschko’s older brother, retired and relinquished his WBC belt at the end of 2012; Stiverne took the vacant title by knocking out Chris Arreola in the sixth round in May. Next up was Wilder, who had knocked out everyone he fought in 32 fights.
Wilder of Tuscaloosa, Ala. talked brashly of becoming the first American heavyweight champion since Shannon Briggs in 2006. He won the judges’ cards 120-107, 119-108 and 118-109. It was his first fight that lasted beyond four rounds.
“I’m so excited. I’m excited to bring this belt back to America, officially,” Wilder said. “It’s going to mean a lot.”
Despite his unblemished record, Wilder’s endurance was questioned and his toughness as well because he fought so many unheralded players going into last night. But the former $400-a-week worker at Red Lobster dominated, even without scoring a knockout.
“I think I answered a lot of questions tonight,” said Wilder, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist. “We knew we could go 12 rounds. We knew we could take a punch. All the hard work was done in camp. I had fun. I’m just excited.”
“He proved everyone wrong,” said Jay Deas, who co-trains Wilder with Mark Breland. “Can he go 12 rounds? Yes, he can. Does he have a power punch? Yes, he does. Can he beat adversity? Yes, he can. Can he be the next heavyweight champion of the world? And, yes, he is.”
Now, can he transform a beleaguered weight class, the class that once was the heart of boxing? That’s a big task, considering how shallow the talent pool has been. But Wilder has his shot, something he hardly considered when he was serving pancakes.