LAS VEGAS — The best way to judge a man is not by what he says but by what he does.
Deontay Wilder follows in the long tradition of boxers who freely speak their minds, and he often does so while using loud and colorful language. He startled a group of reporters surrounding him Wednesday following a news conference at the MGM Grand to promote his WBC heavyweight title defense Saturday against Luis Ortiz when he leaned into a microphone and without warning shrieked his tagline, “Booooooomb Squaaaaaaaaad!”
Wilder is at the stage in his boxing career where he can pick and choose the fights he wants, and he willingly chose to fight Ortiz in a rematch of a 2018 fight in which Ortiz nearly stopped him.
Wilder won that bout at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn by 10th-round TKO after surviving having been buzzed by the hard-hitting Ortiz in the seventh. Wilder was on unsteady legs and Ortiz was on the attack.
But Wilder managed to make it to the end of the round and finished the fight not long after. Had he opted to never cross paths with Ortiz again, few could have blamed him. Not only is Ortiz one of the sport’s most powerful punchers — hence his nickname, “King Kong” — but he’s left-handed and he knows how to box. That is the style of opponent every fighter dreads.
Wilder, though, chose to put the fight with Fury at risk, one that could pay him upward of $35 million with pay-per-view proceeds included, in order to give Ortiz another shot at the belt.
The reason, though, had little to do with boxing and all to do with Wilder’s heart.
Luis Ortiz, Deontay Wilder formed a bond in first fight
Ortiz’s daughter, Lismercedes, was born in Cuba with a rare skin condition called epidermolysis bullosa, in which the skin tears or blisters at the slightest touch. A serious form of the disease is life-threatening.
That hit a nerve with Wilder, because his daughter, Naieya, was born with spina bifida. He first began to box in his native Alabama as a teenager because he was trying to find a way to make good money quickly to be able to support Naieya and provide her with the best medical care.
Having fought that battle, Wilder sympathized with Ortiz’s plight. Ortiz is a large, muscular hulk of a man who doesn’t speak much in public. But in discussing Lismercedes’ situation with Yahoo Sports in 2018, he became visibly emotional and his voice cracked repeatedly.
“Nothing in boxing means much when one of your kids is in trouble and needs your help,” Ortiz said at the time. “The only important thing right now is [Lismercedes]. Nothing else really matters besides that.”
After Wilder knocked out Dominic Breazeale, he pondered who to fight next. He could have gone straight to the Fury fight and few would have complained. And though he’d developed a strong professional rivalry with Ortiz over the previous two years, his heart also went out to Ortiz when he learned of Lismercedes’ condition.
So Wilder took the step of offering Ortiz a rematch.
“Why Luis Ortiz?” Wilder said, repeating the question he was asked. “That’s definitely the question that’s been lingering around. A lot of people don’t understand. They’re calling me crazy. ‘He’s crazy for giving him this [shot]. He got out of it the first time, and now he’s giving one of the most dangerous guys in the heavyweight division another opportunity.’ [They do that a lot] especially after looking at different segments of Ortiz’ training. He looks in good shape and I appreciate them for getting him in such tremendous shape. But I am definitely not going to have mercy on him.
“But to give him the opportunity again, it was a no-brainer. You have a fight like we did the first time, it sets up for a rematch. … I blessed his family. I blessed him. I grew a bond with him that first fight because of the relationship between him and his daughter and the relationship between me and my daughter. That meant a lot to me because no one understands what he’s going through raising a child with a disability, [but] I know first-hand. My daughter was born with spina bifida and I know first-hand it takes a lot of money, a lot of patience and it takes a lot to deal with those situations like that. I wanted to bless him with another opportunity.”
Because of Wilder’s thoughtfulness, Ortiz will earn a guarantee of $1.5 million for the fight on Saturday. Wilder is guaranteed $3 million and will get a cut of the PPV proceeds.
Deontay Wilder: Boxing’s elder statesman
At 34 and at the peak of his powers, Wilder has developed into an ambassador for boxing who sees the bigger picture. He understands his place in the sport and is not only accessible with his time, but an always compelling interview.
As reporters surrounded him, one went a bit longer than he was supposed to go, and a PR person attempted to intervene. Wilder gently scolded his publicist to let the reporter finish.
He has a presence about him that wasn’t always there at the beginning.
“He’s a guy from Alabama who didn’t know a thing about boxing or about the business of boxing,” his long-time co-manager, Hall of Famer Shelly Finkel, said. “He’s learned and grown tremendously, both as a boxer and as a man.”
He’s been criticized for much of his career for ducking the big fights as well as for a crude style of boxing. He’s never wavered, though, and has always been an entertaining and engaging performer, in the ring and in front of a microphone.
He’s not always been perfect — Talking about killing Breazeale and sending him home in a body bag prior to their fight in May was tasteless, particularly in a year in which boxers have lost their lives in competition — but he’s increasingly become the man who has taken on the elder statesman’s role within the sport and has said what’s needed to be said.
“I’m very open about what I say and I’m very passionate about what I say, which is why you get me as who I am,” Wilder said. “This is not for games or for show. I don’t care about gaining likes and fans and stuff like that because with my work, either you’re going to like what I do or you’re not. It’s going to speak for itself, and it always does.
“I’m just happy to be up in a sport where I can show my greatness. I tell everyone, ‘We all have greatness in us, but greatness is only determined by service.’ I apply a lot of service to my greatness and it shines and it shows. … It’s a great time to be a heavyweight, to be up in here, and to be able to be in a position to bless people. I’m all about blessing, and it’s refreshing to see that the tables have turned with people in terms of how they think about me and how they feel about me.”
The ‘Bronze Bomber’ takes over in the ring
Wilder’s gained the respect and trust of even his rivals, which is rare in the business. Ortiz praised him several times and noted his respect for Wilder not only as a boxer but also as a man and a father.
Wilder has navigated a very difficult scene with aplomb and managed to avoid making enemies while en route to becoming one of the biggest stars in the game. He’s done it with his power, with his charisma and with his eyes wide open.
“We know that boxing is snake business, as well,” Wilder said. “You’ve got to keep the grass cut because you never know where the next snake is slithering around.”
He’s done it well enough that he’s already a rich man, and with a couple more wins in succession, he’ll have the kind of generational wealth where his children’s children will be set for life.
None of that, though, changes the manic personality he becomes once the bell rings. The “Bronze Bomber” is Wilder’s alter ego and attacks with a frightening ferocity. And though he’s gone out of his way to help Ortiz and enable him to make a better life for his family, that won’t change one simple fact on Saturday: He’s going to be out to do as much damage as he can as quickly as he can.
“No friends once you go up them steps and get into that ring,” he said. “He knows what is coming and I know what is coming. Let’s just see who can do their thing.”
Then, laughing heartily, he adds, “I think we all know. Booooooomb Squaaaaaaaaad!”
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