Knockout Kings: Why It's Smart to Wait Before Going All in on Deontay Wilder

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Knockout Kings: Why It's Smart to Wait Before Going All in on Deontay Wilder
Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press

Deontay Wilder has the kind of power that doesn't come along too often. Against part-time fighters, has-beens and never-wills, Wilder is particularly impressive. He's stepped into the ring as a professional 31 times. And, like an especially brutal version of Groundhog Day, each time his opponent has hit the mat.

"Every guy I touch, it's the same result," Wilder told Bleacher Report last year. "When I land it's like seeing one of those preachers on TV. When I touch them they fall out. God definitely blessed me with power. I still don't know the limits of my own power. Working with one of the best strength trainers in the world, I'm getting more dangerous. I'm getting stronger and stronger."

Malik Scott thought he was going to be different. He, unlike the tomato cans Wilder had fought in the past, would make Wilder work. He would take the the 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist into deep waters, past the fourth round, where Wilder has never been before.

Ricardo Arduengo/Associated Press

It was a good plan—until Scott got hit. A glancing left to his temple scrambled Scott's brain, and a right hand up the middle, one that appeared to hit glove before hitting chin, finished the job. It was two hits—as Wilder likes to say—he hit his opponent and his foe hit the mat.

"I got power, I got natural power," Wilder said after the match. "It's all-natural Alabama power. I'm blessed. My power is crazy."

With the win, Wilder becomes the mandatory challenger for the next World Boxing Council heavyweight champion. Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola will fight for that prize, vacated by the great Vitali Klitschko, who has chosen to focus on his political career in the turbulent Ukraine

With his record, Wilder would have to be favored over either Arreola or Stiverne. But fans, especially those considering betting on the fights, would be wise to wait before going all-in on Wilder. Many serious flaws can be masked by absurd power, deficits that come to the fore when pushed by a really good fighter for the first time.

Longtime fans have seen it before—Deontay Wilder, in short, isn't the first Deontay Wilder in boxing history. 

The last time we saw a true Wilder analogue was 40 years ago, when a Basque wood-chopper and rock-lifter emerged from the mountains of Spain to wow the European boxing world, winning his first 30 fights by knockout, even spitting a 1970s version of Wilder's impressive patter.

"Let me find the mark," he said. "And my opponent is done."

At first glance Jose Manuel Ibar would seemingly have little in common with Wilder. The Basque, called "Urtain" in honor of the town he lived in, stood just 5'11" and weighed a scant 190 pounds, a full eight inches short of Wilder's whopping 79-inch height. 

But there was a lot of muscle packed onto that small frame—and no small amount of hype, according to boxing.com:

(Urtain was) hailed as the strongest man in boxing. It was mischievously suggested that he might even be a superman. He was pictured lifting up cars, holding enormous rocks over his head and casually draping goats around his shoulders. 

Of course, there was at least some flame to go along with the smoke. Urtain was a champion rock-lifter, a sport practiced only in rural Spain. He was known to lift rocks of up to 400 pounds with both arms. A natural athlete, he could high jump 5'6" with bare feet.

The Spanish public was head over heels for its new strongman. More than 13,000 fans packed Madrid's Palacio de los Deportes to watch him knock out out an overmatched and overweight German for the European championship. A lover of fast cars and fast women, Urtain demanded no less an opponent than champion Joe Frazier for his American debut.

In New York there was cautious optimism in the press for the matchup. The Ring's founder Nat Fleischer praised him as the strongest boxer of all time and wrote:

He is a strong man with a solid right which could wreak havoc on a slow target. He knows little about footwork, he has little or no classic style. He is the arch disciple of the Knockout, and today the Knockout is the big thing.

Madison Square Garden's famed matchmaker Teddy Brenner was more succinct and less enamored. He had traveled to Spain to watch Urtain fight and came back with this analysis: "I saw a physically capable stone lifter."

Not, in other words, a boxer. The Frazier fight did not come to pass. Instead, Urtain would face his first real test at the hands of Britain's Henry Cooper. Then 36, Cooper was at the end of an impressive career highlighted by knocking down Muhammad Ali in a 1963 fight and a long run as British champion. Twice he had been the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year, and in 2000 he was knighted by the queen for his service to boxing.

Balding and ancient, he wasn't, however, thought to pose much of a threat to Urtain in 1970, at least among Spanish fans. Professional oddsmakers thought otherwise, making Cooper a 7-2 favorite. As it tends to do, science prevailed over mere strength. As they tend to do, the oddsmakers had it right.

Spanish fans yelled "toro, toro, toro" for their bull, but the veteran avoided his charges with relative ease. Cooper, a left-handed fighter who fought out of an orthodox stance, battered the Spaniard with stiff jabs instead of his vaunted left hook, winning the first eight rounds against the helpless novice. 

"I fed him a few lefts," was how Cooper recalled it, a droll and self-effacing way to describe the massacre he made of his opponent's face. In the ninth, referee Bernard Mascot mercifully stopped the fight due to a cut over Urtain's right eye. Blooded poured, too, from his nose and left eye.

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It was a demoralizing beating, the kind, it turns out, that can change a man. His mystique shattered, fights with American stars out the window, Urtain would lose 10 more times in the next seven years, becoming forgotten to history, his 30-knockout streak a mere statistic dragged up when discussing the likes of Wilder.

Is there a similar future in store for Wilder? He's already defied the odds once, rising from obscurity to win the national Golden Gloves title with just 14 bouts under his belt. A year later he claimed an Olympic bronze medal. Wilder is used to looking naysayers in the face and proving them wrong.

There are echoes of Urtain there as well, in the string of fallen foes who could look a lot less impressive the first time Wilder meets his match. Will the winner of Stiverne-Arreola be Wilder's version of Henry Cooper, stopping the hype train on its tracks?

There is no right answer. But the question alone is now burning in the boxing community, making Wilder an increasingly valuable commodity.

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