BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Deontay Wilder is a knockout artist, Olympic medalist and world heavyweight titleholder. He might also still be a work in progress.
Tonight, Wilder improved to 35-0 (34 KOs) with an 11th-round stoppage of Johann Duhaupas (31-3, 19 KOs) in front of a raucous, hometown crowd at the Legacy Arena. It was the first time the French challenger had ever been stopped in his career, and it was easy to see why; he was a relative unknown, but he also is incredibly durable.
Duhaupas backed up Wilder from the opening bell, showing a high, closed guard that thwarted Wilder’s explosive right hand through much of the fight. While the challenger kept the champ moving around the ring, he did so without mustering much offense, instead absorbing jabs and hooks as Wilder flashed a polished range of boxing skills we haven’t consistently seen from him.
Wilder mounted major assaults in the 3rd and 5th rounds, brutalizing his opponent with hooks and uppercuts on the inside (another attribute we haven’t oft seen from the “Bronze Bomber”) while continuing his attempts to blast openings through Duhaupas’s forearms with his straight right.
At times, the WBC titleholder seemed to be tired and bothered by swelling under his left eye. Wilder also alternated rounds of clean, effective onslaughts with sloppier outbursts that gave the appearance of fatigue. His legs would appear to be failing him, but would just as quickly come back for a renewed charge at Duhaupas.
While there were semblances of perceived adversity, the sum body of Wilder’s work was to thoroughly-albeit-steadily beat up Duhaupas into the championship rounds. In round 7, Wilder had Duhaupas pinned on the ropes and in trouble, but couldn’t put him away. From that round forward, Duhaupas’s corner always had a towel in hand, simultaneously ready to save their fighter while not quite able to completely give up on the granite-chinned warrior’s puncher’s chance.
In the 11th, Wilder stunned Duhaupus with a right hand and again pounced, flurrying against the ropes. Referee Jack Reiss mercifully stepped in, stopping the fight 0:55 into the round.
Wilder has a shiny record, a growing highlight reel, and an undeniably charismatic personality and backstory – all of which makes it crazy to ask how much tonight’s defense helped with his development. A less-than-stellar showing against fringe contender Eric Molina in his first title defense enhanced the questions about Wilder’s “Klitschko-readiness” (as much as that’s possible) rather than answered them. Some might feel that tonight went the same way, but I would disagree.
Wilder’s entire career has been an experiment in slow-cooking raw physical attributes and re-shaping them into world-class boxing ability. The 29 year-old didn’t begin boxing until the age of 19. He relied on his physical gifts alone for a large stretch of his undefeated career.
Now, a decade later, we’re able to say with confidence that Wilder is a class above fighters like Duhapaus, Malik Scott and Bermane Stiverne, all of whom the Alabama native dispatched.
Take a look at the heavyweight rankings. Sadly, there’s not a lot of legitimate, proven heavyweight talent left above Wilder. The only two boxers he wouldn’t be favored against are Wladimir Klitschko (and who would be?) and Alexander Povetkin – with whom a mandatory challenge looms sometime in 2016.
Johann Duhaupas might have been hand-selected because of his solid defense and lack of single-shot power. If so, he was selected well. He gave Wilder quality rounds, weathering the champion’s power for 10+ rounds and forcing the hometown hero to dig deeper into his bag of skills than he ever has had to before.
Rarely is a prospect’s development this long, calculated and showcased. Tonight, Wilder showed that he has been improving along the way. A collision with the consensus top-two heavyweights is inevitable, and it will be violent.
In the meantime, we should all be glad that the Education of Deontay Wilder has had such a wildly entertaining syllabus.
On The Undercard
The PBC telecast opened with 2012 U.S. Olympian Dominic Breazeale taking on Fred Kassi. Kassi entered the ring sporting an Alabama Crimson Tide t-shirt. While the gesture helped him win over the crowd, it did him no favors at the judge’s table, as the Cameroonian journeyman fell on the short end of an awful unanimous decision.
Breazeale moved forward the entire fight. The pressure worked against him, though, as he smothered his punches and neglected his jab, essentially throwing away his 7” reach advantage.
As the fight progressed, Kassi’s defense became tighter while Breazeale’s onslaught settled into a pace that was plodding, predictable and awkwardly unrefined given his Olympic pedigree. (At times his jab alternated between a hammer fist and a stiff arm.)
In the middle rounds, Kassi began to time Breazeale, landing counterpunches and getting the better of exchanges. He caught and parried Breazeale’s lazy ones and twos, slipped under lackluster hooks, and fired back (and upwards) on his taller opponent with solid power shots. Chants of “let’s go Fred!” broke out between action. Soon it became clear that while Breazeale pressed forward, Kassi was in complete control.
Entering the 10th round, Queensberry Rules had the fight scored 86-85 in favor of Kassi. Breazeale’s corner seemingly instilled a sense of urgency in their fighter, as the fighter dubbed “Trouble” fought busy and desperate to the final bell. Ultimately, we had the fight a 95-95 draw.
The judges at ringside disagreed – and how. The official scores ready 97-93, 98-92, and 100-90, all in favor of Breazeale. Frankly, the 98-92 and 100-90 scores are inexcusable. At best, Breazeale scored a draw. On our unofficial scorecard, we noted how the 3rd and 9th rounds were both difficult to judge, but gave the nod to Breazeale in each case. Even with both of these generously in hand, Breazeale still did not even win the fight, nevermind win every round of it.
In his post-fight interview, Breazeale noted that this was “the most frustrated I’ve ever been in the ring” and that “I still have a lot to learn.” Apparently the Alabama judges do, too.
(Wilder punches Duhaupas, via)