Dan RafaelESPN Senior WriterClose
- 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism
- ESPN.com boxing writer since 2005
- Five years at USA Today
NEW YORK — In the acrimonious lead-up to heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder’s defense against mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale, Wilder spent a lot of time talking about how much he wanted to hurt him.
Wilder even accentuated that he could legally kill his opponent in the ring, saying a few days before their Saturday night fight that boxing “is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It’s legal. So why not use my right to do so?”
While Wilder didn’t cause that kind of damage, he nonetheless obliterated Breazeale with a massive right hand for a violent first-round knockout victory before an announced crowd of 13,181 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Wilder, one of the great punchers of all time, retained his world title for the ninth time as he scored one of the most spectacular knockouts in a career filled with them. It will undoubtedly be a candidate for knockout of the year.
“Everything just came out of me tonight,” Wilder said. “I know it’s been a big buildup. There’s been a lot of animosity and a lot of words that were said, and it just came out of me tonight. That’s what makes boxing so great.”
In retaining his title for the ninth consecutive time, Wilder tied Muhammad Ali (during his first title reign), Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson (in his first reign) and Lennox Lewis (in his second reign) on the all-time heavyweight list. The all-time record for any division is 25 by Joe Louis. Other heavyweights who are still ahead of Wilder are Larry Holmes (20), Wladimir Klitschko (18 in his second reign), Vitali Klitschko (11 in his second reign), Tommy Burns (11) and Ali (10 in his second reign).
The fight started with a bang and ended quickly after that.
A Wilder right hand hurt fellow 6-foot-7 giant Breazeale early, and then he got another through that sent Breazeale toward the ropes. Breazeale shook his head and smiled as if the punch did not hurt him, but it was clear it had. Wilder was all over him and landing punches.
“I saw him slow up a little bit. When I hit him with the right hand the first time, his body language changed,” Wilder said. “When you’ve been in with so many guys, you can recognize body language.”
Breazeale mounted a short rally in which he also landed a couple of right hands — the only two punches he landed of his 10 attempts in the fight, according to CompuBox — one of which knocked Wilder off balance, but Wilder was undeterred. He kept swinging in what was turning into a slugfest.
It is not wise for anyone to bang with a man as powerful as Wilder, who then unleashed a monstrous right hand that connected clean on the chin and dropped Breazeale hard on his back spread-eagle. Breazeale attempted to get to his feet, but referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 2 minutes, 17 seconds.
Wilder connected with nine of 35 shots (26 percent), but there was only one that really counted.
“I think the ref stopped it a little early because I could hear him saying seven and eight, but that’s boxing,” said Breazeale, whose three-fight winning streak came to a thudding end. “He did his job and kept us safe for our next fight. I got on my feet and had my legs under me. It’s the heavyweight division, so there’s going to be big shots from guys with power.
“This was a situation where he landed the big right hand before I did. I thought I was going to come on in the later rounds. I’ll be back and go for the heavyweight title again.”
The intense animosity between Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs), 33, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Breazeale (20-2, 18 KOs), 33, of Eastvale, California, stemmed from an incident in February 2017, when Wilder retained his title and Breazeale won on the undercard in Birmingham, Alabama. Later that night, there was a confrontation between the fighters and their teams at the fight hotel, and Breazeale alleged that Wilder’s younger brother, Marsellos, had punched him in the head from behind.
After the fight on Saturday, however, the 223¼-pound Wilder, who was outweighed by 32 pounds against the 255¼-pound Breazeale, said the bad blood had been laid to rest.
“I just told Breazeale I love him, and, of course, I want to see him go home to his family,” Wilder said. “I know we say some things, but when you can fight a man and then you can hug him and kiss him, I wish the world was like that. We shake hands, and we live to see another day, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Then attention turned to the future. The biggest fight in the sport would be Wilder against three-belt titleholder Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs), the British star who is due to make his United States debut against Andy Ruiz Jr. on June 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York. In June 2016, Breazeale got his first shot at a world title against Joshua, who dominated but needed seven rounds to knock him out.
There have been various attempts to make a Wilder-Joshua fight, but they have failed with the boxers ending on different television platforms and arguing about various aspects of a deal.
There is also the matter of a rematch with lineal champion Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs), of England, whom Wilder knocked down twice in a split draw in their classic fight in December. The rematch was agreed to and about to be signed when Fury changed course and took a co-promotional deal with Top Rank to move to ESPN, where he will debut on ESPN+ against Tom Schwarz on June 15 in Las Vegas.
Wilder would have liked that rematch but said he understood Fury’s decision and insisted fans will eventually get to see those fights even if Wilder’s next bout is likely to be either a rematch with Luis “King Kong” Ortiz — whom he knocked out in the 10th round 14 months ago in a sensational slugfest, also at Barclays Center — or a fight with New York-based Polish contender Adam Kownacki.
“I understand what Tyson Fury did,” Wilder said. “When you get dropped on the canvas like that, I understand you have to get yourself back together. But the rematch will happen, like all these other fights will happen. The great thing is all these fights are in discussion. The big fights will happen. I just want you to have patience.
“You know what the saying is — good things come to those who wait.”