The sun is sinking behind Kentuck Park and the hoots and cheers of parents watching their kids at a Little League game perforate the heat of the Alabama evening.
A red and black Dodge sports car decorated with the gold letters of religious slogans grumbles past and stops in front of one of the line of lock-up garages that squat in a low row across the road from the baseball diamond.
Deontay Wilder gets out and slings a bag over his shoulder. His face looks set and grim. He is getting into character. His mood is always better at the end of a training session or a spar than it is at the beginning.
Deontay Wilder has admitted he wouldn’t feel remorse for killing someone in the ring
He complains about something to his long-time trainer, Jay Deas, who knows as well as anyone how to defuse the self-appointed leader of the ‘Bomb Zquad’.
Wilder skips rope for a while in the car park outside the Skyy Gym and then sits on the ring apron as his hands are wrapped, his head bowed. He talks as if he is in a trance as he stares at the floor and embarks on a stream of consciousness.
‘You in trouble now,’ he says. ‘You in big trouble now. You going to be eating hospital food. I heard that’s terrible. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for you.
‘The only way you can hurt a man severely and get paid for it. I get paid for my work and I love it. Best job in the world. Some people say it is a sin to hit that hard. If this man goes down and he does not wake up, it will be you guys’ fault. You asked for it. I am not going to feel no remorse, no sympathy, no sorrow. Tick, tock. Another fight, another day, another time, another place.’
Wilder floored Fury with a devastating right-left combination in their fight back in December
Someone rolls up the garage door to let in the night air and the WBC world heavyweight champion climbs into the ring. From outside in the darkness the brightly lit gym looks an enchanted place.
Wilder stretches out on the canvas, doing some exercises with his conditioning coach. The man wears a T-shirt that says ‘Champ Camp Checkmate’.
The heavyweight division has become a game of chess moves again. The three kings that rule it — Wilder, Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury — have signed with three different broadcasting companies and agreed to fight three different opponents rather than continue the round of super-fights that seemed to have begun with Wilder’s dramatic draw with Fury last December.
Wilder is in the third week of training camp for his May 18 fight against Dominic Breazeale in New York — his first contest since he fought Fury in Los Angeles and retained his WBC crown — and the build-up is already awash with bad blood.
Wilder set the standard by suggesting Breazeale should bring his young son into the ring so he can behold the man about to cripple his daddy.
Like many fighters Wilder, 33, alternates between calm, intelligent, eloquent language and sudden explosions of extreme invective. After he has spent an hour in the ring, shadow-boxing and slamming punches into the thick pad Deas has strapped around his own chest and stomach, he sits on the apron again and his mood has lightened.
The Bronze Bomber says that the fight against Fury, which he was losing until he knocked the Englishman down in the final round, and for the second time in the contest, won him a legion of new fans and has left him in a more powerful position than either Joshua or Fury, who destroyed hopes of an immediate rematch with Wilder when he signed a multi-fight deal with ESPN.
The WBC champion believes it would be ‘a piece of cake’ for him to beat Fury in a rematch
He mentions as evidence the fact that when he went to Minneapolis last week to watch the climax of the men’s college basketball season, the Final Four, he was mobbed by fans shouting ‘Till This Day’, the catchphrase that punctuates much of Wilder’s speech.
‘The rematch with Fury would be a piece of cake for me,’ Wilder says. ‘At this point in my life and my career I have the world’s attention. I am on the rise. I don’t know about these other heavyweights. It seems like everybody else is standing still but Deontay Wilder is doing this. It’s amazing how the tables have turned.
‘I wanted to end that fight with Fury with a devastating knockout, something that I always do. I got too excited. Everything he did was slow to me. The man had some kind of gypsy magic on me, that’s for sure. It was very easy, the way I saw it in my head.
‘The second time around it would be a piece of cake. Fury and his people know that. That’s why they didn’t take the rematch. I gave Fury a concussion that night. He don’t even know how he got on the ground. And when a man don’t know how he got on the ground or got up, he’s in a bad place. How can a man win after being put on his ass twice? I have never seen a challenger beat the champion having been put on his ass twice. The referee helped him out big time. If he beat me so dramatically, if he outpointed me so much, then why not a rematch? Surely it would be easy for him, the way he’s talking. But that’s not the case.’
Wilder has been accused of ducking a fight with Joshua after he rejected a £100million multi-fight offer from sports streaming service DAZN, which would have led to an autumn showdown between the two champions and an immediate rematch next year.
He defends title against Dominic Breazeale next – the build-up is already awash with bad blood
Wilder turned the deal down and chose to remain with Showtime, where he says it will be easier for him to control his own destiny.
‘It won’t be difficult for me to make those fights with Fury and Joshua,’ says Wilder. ‘I’m betting on myself. I move as I please. Those guys, they have to do as they are told. I make commands and demands. They take them. That’s the difference between me and them. I’m like the wild card in all this. I move where I want. I can move freely.
‘Soon I will be the highest paid athlete in the world. If no one believes it, just watch. You’ll see. The DAZN deal wasn’t right. You can’t do a deal if you don’t know the other parts of the deal. If information is withheld from you, how can you proceed further?
‘I am not in the business of just trying to take some money because you see a number. That’s not me. That’s never been me. I look at the bigger picture. You sell me a number and I know there’s going to be a bigger number than that. They saw a guy they thought they could throw some money at and that would be it but they found out the hard way. We came in serious and we were looking for serious answers and we didn’t get them and for that reason we had to leave until a further time.
‘But boxing’s like the weather: it can change instantly. Although everybody is split up going different ways, the greatest thing about this situation with all three of us is that the doors are still open. Talks are still being talked. Negotiations are still in session.
‘After the three of us fight these fights, it’s time for real serious negotiations. Real serious talks. No playing around. I don’t have time to play around. I have got a lot of things going on in my life, the correct way. What’s owed to me will come to me.
Wilder believes he is the A-side in every fight and was mobbed in Minneapolis this week
‘I want to fight those guys. I want to see one champion, one face, one name. I want to see it done the right way, the fair way. We can go away and say we did it, we can hug it out, and we can go back and support our families.’
Wilder is an actor as well as a fighter. He knows how to promote a fight. He is no stranger to making macabre claims about his bad intentions. A year ago, he told a radio show in the States that it was his ambition to kill someone in the ring. ‘I want a body on my record,’ he said.
Even in a sport that is brutal and unforgiving, this caused consternation.
WHY CHAMPS ARE KEPT APART
This was supposed to be a golden age of heavyweight boxing: Anthony Joshua, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder slugging it out to reach the top.
Joshua holds three of the four major belts, Wilder holds the other. Fury remains the undefeated lineal champion, having never lost in the ring.
Thanks to television, they are unlikely to fight each other any time soon. All three are signed to different networks who would be unwilling to split the profits. That’s why they are facing other boxers instead.
So, now it is quiet in the gym and everyone else has melted away, he listens to a question about where the acting begins and ends, about whether he can really mean what he says about wanting to kill someone in the ring, about how he can claim he would feel no remorse if Breazeale, who played his own part in the trading of insults by mocking Wilder’s disabled daughter, does not recover from the beating Wilder intends to inflict upon him.
Wilder does not back down. He does not recant. His eyes widen and his gaze is intense and for the first time in the conversation the gentle lilt of his speech is replaced by a kind of righteous anger that rises in a shout.
‘Not one bit of remorse,’ Wilder says. ‘Because this is boxing. This is what we do. This is what we sign up for.
‘People on the outside will never understand this sport. They will never understand what we have to go through, break our body down. We are fighting for our lives in the ring anyway. Anything can happen. Your head is not meant to be hit in the first place. One little tap can end it all.
Wilder also hasn’t ruled out a super fight with Anthony Joshua despite rejecting DAZN deal
‘You talk about me killing the guy? If it happens, it happens. When you are dealing with a situation like this and it’s personal, I don’t mean well for him, nor do he mean well for me. So I speak truth. That’s why people love me till this day. Because I speak facts, I speak truth. I’m a realist and I speak how it is. I’m going to handle my business in the ring accordingly, I promise you that.
‘I’m not taking Breazeale easy. I’m taking him as if he were a champion. That’s how serious I’m taking this. He’s going to be the guinea pig in this experiment. I don’t like him. At all. What he’s done is unacceptable and I can’t wait for this fight. I mean business. Trust me.’
Wilder gets ready to leave. It is quiet outside now. The Little League game is over. Wilder says to be sure to try the banana pudding at Dreamland, the rib shack on the banks of the Black Warrior River. And he says, as a parting shot, that his glory is only going to grow.
‘There have been so many things I’ve done in boxing that made it go viral,’ he says. ‘Now I’m where I want to be. I have got the world’s attention. They all look up to me. They are all depending on me. They are all looking to see what is happening next.
‘Of course, I still have haters but I need those guys, too, because it’s a balance. I am the chosen one. If you didn’t know me before, you know me now.’