Last October, following the conclusion of his violent knockout loss to Tyson Fury in their all-action heavyweight championship trilogy bout, Deontay Wilder believed in his heart he was 85% ready to retire.
Wilder (42-2-1, 41 KOs), with a career knockout percentage just over 91% and a reputation as possibly the greatest right-handed knockout threat in boxing history, certainly had plenty to be prideful about over his 13-year pro career. Having not picked up the sport until age 19 when he needed money to support his newborn daughter’s spina bifida diagnosis, Wilder went on to win a bronze medal at the 2008 Olympics before making 10 defenses of his WBC title, good for fifth best in heavyweight history.
The one thing the 36-year-old slugger had largely lacked, however, was the feeling of love and respect by those inside the boxing community.
Despite his exciting style and 6-foot-7 tattooed frame, Wilder was never fully embraced by the American sporting public that often criticized his lack of fundamental boxing skills. The way he handled himself following his first pro defeat, a TKO loss to Fury in their 2020 rematch, also rubbed many the wrong way when Wilder accused Fury of cheating and later fired his co-trainer, Mark Breland, for throwing in the towel amid unsubstantiated accusations from Wilder that Breland had drugged him.
Something major seemed to change in Wilder’s heart, however, in late May when he attended the unveiling of a bronze statue in his honor, designed by local artist Caleb O’Connor, outside the Visitor Center in Wilder’s hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
“I’m almost 37 years young and I’m receiving my flowers,” Wilder told “Morning Kombat” last week. “I’m not old and I’m not dead. Most of the time, that’s when people receive their flowers, when they are out. That’s when people want to perceive their greatness and say how good and how great they were. For me, all of my accomplishments have been set in stone within a statue and it feels so amazing to be so young and to [still] have my mental [capacities] and have my health still in place.”
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Wilder, who was overcome with tears during the ceremony, went on to hug and even kiss the statue that was erected, according to Tuscaloosa mayor Walt Maddox, “to unveil a permanent reminder of what determination looks like, what fierceness looks like, what loyalty looks like, what conviction looks like and, most importantly, what inspiration looks like.” Maddox went on to say during the ceremony that Wilder’s image will stand as “a beacon of hope” for the thousands of people who will visit the statue each year.