Deontay Wilder is a big believer in the saying “Home is where the heart is.” And for the WBC heavyweight champion, both his home and heart remain in Alabama.
As Wilder prepares for his ninth title defense, a May 18 matchup against Dominic Breazeale, the undefeated champion is still operating out of the same Northport gym where he started his career in 2005.
“I like being in Alabama,” Wilder said. “I was raised here and have been here all my life, though I have homes in other states. I love doing my camp here, I started out here as far as boxing is concerned and my career is concerned, and we’re going to live that out until the end of my career.”
While numerous big-name fighters sneak into seclusion for training camp, Wilder has remained at New Era Boxing and Fitness (formerly Skyy Boxing) in Northport. The gym is secluded in its own way, sitting on a small side street separated from the busyness of Tuscaloosa, but the small gym on any given afternoon will feature 15-plus local children training to improve their skills as well.
It’s those children – and other Alabama locals – that keep Wilder in the area.
“I love the people that are here,” Wilder said. “A lot of people may leave here, but they always find a way to come back to old sweet home Alabama.”
There have been a lot of successful athletes in the Tuscaloosa area, especially with the talent-loaded University of Alabama football team, but most don’t stay or return during their career – as opposed to Wilder.
“And I’m very touchable and reachable,” he said. “I’m accessible to the people, especially with the kids. I want to show people that you can actually make it out of your surroundings and you can actually make it out of your city and do amazing things. I’m living witness.”
Wilder thrives on being in the community while being one of only two heavyweight boxing champions in the world. He finds fault in how successful people could give hope and motivation to a community if they aren’t visible in the area. That’s why Wilder thrives on being in Alabama – at the mall, in the streets, driving, at the gas station, as he says it.
“That’s what I am. I’m motivation,” Wilder said. “That’s why I like to bring my cars here and do different things. It’s not to boast or brag, I’m not that type of person, but when I do drive things people would least expect to be here, like a Lamborghini, it gives people motivation. Like, ‘Dang, if you work hard you can really do it, you can really get out, you can really explore.’ The world is a big place. It’s more than a city, it’s more than a state.”
Away from the ring, the 2008 heavyweight bronze medalist is a lot like you or me, with Wilder describing himself as a “homebody.”
“I like to spend time with my children. They’re the biggest joy in my life. I have many jobs, but my No. 1 job is being a father. I love being a father. There’s nothing like it. As I came up, it wasn’t like my children coming up. That’s how it should be. You should be able to provide more for your child. I just thank God I’m in a position to do that for them.”
When Wilder faces Breazeale on May 18, it will be his 1,582th consecutive day as WBC heavyweight champion. That streak is longer than Mike Tyson, Lennox Lewis, Joe Frazier and a host of other legendary heavyweight fighters. Wilder’s streak is behind only Muhammad Ali (1,841) and Larry Holmes (2,011) for American fighters.
Wilder’s career is still in full swing, but his dedication to the state and Tuscaloosa community don’t appear to slow down even when he hangs up his gloves.
“We’re looking to establish a new gym and get a new brand of gyms going,” he said. “I want to get a state-of-the-art gym right here in Tuscaloosa. I’m starting everything here in Tuscaloosa that I want to do. So that’s the reason why I chose to stay here.
“I want everyone to do great. I’m the type of person that I love when people do great, even if it’s better than me. I love to see it.”
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