Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Hometown Hero Deontay Wilder Ready for the Fight of His Life

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

Hometown Hero Deontay Wilder Ready for the Fight of His Life

Article excerpt

It has been eight years since an American lifted a world heavyweight boxing title. About that time, Deontay Wilder was probably wrapping up a cooking shift at Red Lobster, where the smoke and heat from searing seafood on a bustling Saturday night was enough to turn his eyes bloodshot.

In 2006, life, not Wilder, was delivering the blows.

Wilder had already dropped out of Shelton State Community College to support his 1-year-old daughter, Naieya, who was diagnosed with spina bifida, a congenital spinal disorder. He wasn't sure if she would ever be able to walk.

At 21, Wilder heard about Skyy Boxing Gym from a friend, so he showed up with two jobs, zero experience and an intentionally short- sighted plan: Turn pro right away, fight in barns, backyards, wherever, to make some extra cash.

Wilder didn't know where any of this was going, but perseverance and a positive outlook turned humble beginnings into a huge and unlikely opportunity.

"I remember times coming home and saying to myself, "This is my life?'" Wilder said. "Well, I chose this life, I went out and had a child so I've got to make the best of it. I remember just sitting back and I was happy with my life. I had money in the bank, I promised myself I would never suffer, I would never sit around here and worry about where I'm going to get money. I told myself I would never be that type of person.

"As long as I'm alive, I'm OK."

Thanks to tireless work and Wilder's unrelenting will to succeed, his life and career have never been as alive as they will be tonight.

The Tuscaloosa native and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist will fight for history and the World Boxing Council heavyweight title as he takes on champion Bermane Stiverne at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

Dictating his terms

In boxing years, Wilder, just 29, hasn't reached his prime. When it comes to grinding for goals, he's a veteran.

In 2005, when Wilder's daughter was born and he left Shelton State, he began bussing tables at IHOP on Skyland Blvd. The manager quickly saw he was social, worked hard and liked to talk to customers. He was promoted to server.

"She thought I was handsome, too," Wilder joked.

Wilder kept striving for bigger and better. For Wilder, an alpha male prototype, this was normal. As a kid when his father wasn't home, Wilder would take charge of the house over his brothers and sisters - whether control was needed or not. When there was a play at church - his family went twice a week throughout Wilder's childhood - he always liked to play Jesus.

"He used to always try to stand out," said Rev. Gary Wilder, Deontay's father. "He always wanted to be doing something."

By 2006, he was working at Red Lobster on the weekends, boxing in the evening and delivering beer for Greene Beverage during the week: all with the goal of supporting his daughter. He fondly remembers truck No. 51, his bar and restaurant route. Wilder, the heavy lifter, was the assistant to Robbie Hallman, the driver, and they'd deliver between 300 and 1,000 cases of beer a day.

Delivery routes could take as long as 12 hours, depending on the time of year.

"I'd be lifting kegs, lifting beer, my body's tired, but when I got to the gym it's like, this is what I love to do,'" Wilder said. "So I just sucked it up and took care of my body when I got home. It was a struggle."

The day he got on the truck he told Hallman he wanted to become a pro boxer.

Sure, sounds good, Hallman said.

"I'm thinking the whole time it's not gonna pan out," Hallman said. "But he followed through with everything he said he was going to do."

He always did. He became a valuable employee. Hearing drivers could make more money, he went and got his commercial driver's license.

Sometimes Wilder would push himself to the point of overdoing it. A dolly holds 12 cases of beer, but Wilder would roll in 12 plus three more between his chest and arms. …

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