Preview: Wilder vs Breazeale

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Deontay Wilder defends his WBC heavyweight title against mandatory challenger Dominic Breazeale on Saturday.

This Saturday night, May 18, live on Showtime from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Deontay Wilder returns in the main event against Dominic Breazeale. Let’s take a look at the fight.

What’s at stake?

Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KO) holds the WBC heavyweight title, winning that belt in Jan. 2015 by outpointing Bermane Stiverne in Las Vegas. Since then, he’s won in seven defenses, all of them by stoppage, and also defended in a controversial draw against Tyson Fury in his last fight. Breazeale (20-1, 18 KO) is a former title challenger — his only loss, to Anthony Joshua in 2016 — and won a WBC eliminator against Eric Molina in Nov. 2017, which the WBC eventually decided to remember by ordering Wilder to face him this year, after Fury turned down an ordered rematch with Wilder.

How did Deontay Wilder get here?

Wilder, 33, took up boxing late, starting in 2005 at the age of 20. His height, athleticism, and raw power gave him a leg up from the start, and by 2007 he was already a standout American amateur, winning the National Golden Gloves at heavyweight that year, as well as the US Amateur Championship. He later earned a spot on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team headed to Beijing.

In Beijing, Wilder competed at heavyweight (201 pounds), beating Algeria’s Abdelaziz Toulbini in the first round and Morocco’s Mohamed Arjaoui in the quarterfinals. He would lose to Italy’s Clemente Russo, a true standout amateur, in the semifinals, but earned a bronze medal, an incredible feat for someone who had taken up boxing less than three years prior.

Just after his 23rd birthday, Wilder made his pro debut in Nov. 2008. His first four-and-a-half years in the pro ranks were, frankly, a series of pure tune-ups, with the still-raw Wilder learning on the job. For one thing, they wanted to get him to put on some weight — he weighed in at 207¼ for his pro debut in Nashville, which it was felt just wasn’t going to fly on a 6’7” frame in the modern heavyweight division.

And he was really still learning how to be a boxer, too. Fans criticized a lot of the matchups, but Wilder’s team ignored it all, knowing what they were trying to accomplish, and the sort of potential Wilder had if they handled him correctly — which, yes, meant handling his matchmaking with kid gloves.

By the time he went over to Sheffield, England, to fight former Olympic gold medalist and pro bust Audley Harrison in April 2013, Wilder was coming in around 225-230 on the scales. Harrison, who never met a puncher he couldn’t freeze up in front of, was out in 70 seconds, and Wilder rolled on.

Former titleholder Siarhei Liakhovich was next. Wilder knocked him out in 1:43. Malik Scott went down in 96 seconds in March 2014. And then, finally, a little over six years after his entry into the paid ranks, Deontay Wilder fought for a major title, taking on WBC titleholder Bermane Stiverne in a Showtime main event.

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For the first time, an opponent went the distance with Wilder. In fact, it was the first time anyone took him past the fourth round. Stiverne went 12 with Wilder, but was easily beaten on the cards, and Wilder now had a claim to being world heavyweight champion.

Wilder went on and made defenses against opponents everyone expected him to beat, and he beat them, stopping them all. Eric Molina and Johann Duhaupas in 2015, Artur Szpilka and Chris Arreola in 2016, Gerald Washington and Stiverne in 2017. And it has to be noted that Wilder lost fight dates that had been agreed to with both Alexander Povetkin and Luis Ortiz due to his opponents failing drug tests.

2018 was a step-up sort of year for Wilder. Calls for him to unify with Anthony Joshua were all over the place, and though that didn’t happen last year and won’t happen this year, Wilder fought quality opposition in 2018.

In March, he took on Ortiz in what amounted to a delayed battle that was meant to take place four months prior. In November, Wilder had instead taken out his frustrations on poor old Bermane Stiverne, who did not go 12 this time, as Wilder ferociously — almost unhinged in his attack — put Stiverne down three times and finished him in one round.

Ortiz started pretty well, giving Wilder some fits in the early going, but we’d seen Wilder start slow with the likes of Gerald Washington before turning on the power and finishing things. It looked like maybe that was going to happen again in the fifth round, as Wilder dropped Ortiz, but by the seventh, Ortiz had charged back into the fight, and had Wilder badly hurt.

The fight devolved into a messy, entertaining brawl, and in the 10th round, Wilder put Ortiz down for a second time. Ortiz got up, but Wilder went in for the finish, and got it, stopping Ortiz at 2:05 of round 10. It was a big, dramatic show of a heavyweight title fight, not the prettiest or most scientific, but bombs away from two big boys.

“Negotiations” for a fall fight with Joshua came and went, and instead Wilder signed to face Tyson Fury in December. Fury had famously dethroned Wladimir Klitschko in 2015, then was out of the sport for two-and-a-half years dealing with mental health and drug issues. He’d ballooned up in weight by the time he decided to return to action in 2018, and had to get down to 276 for his June fight with Sefer Seferi, 29 pounds over his weight against Klitschko.

Fury beat Seferi, who offered nothing, in a comeback showcase. Two months later, he beat the slightly better Francesco Pianeta, a journeyman who had been around a while. But Fury was still a ways off, it was figured, from being the fighter he was at his best. Then he signed to face Wilder, surprising a lot of people.

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Fury was written off by some. Hadn’t boxed anyone serious in three years, had gotten down into the 250s but still clearly wasn’t in the best shape.

The Showtime pay-per-view main event from Los Angeles wound up being one of the most talked-about fights of the year. Fury flustered Wilder with his slippery defense and awkwardness, and the fact that at 6’9”, he’s one of the very few people in the sport that is actually a bit taller than Wilder, something he’s not used to facing.

But when Wilder connected, he did damage. He dropped Fury in the ninth round, but Fury managed to get out of the round. In the 12th, Wilder absolutely destroyed Fury with a huge right hand, and everyone — everyone — thought the fight was over, that Fury had been knocked clean out in the final round.

Then Fury got up, which went viral in various forms, and came back to stun Wilder with a left hook. They went to the cards, and with some controversy, it came back a draw. Wilder retained his WBC belt, but his perfect record was no more.

As previously mentioned, a rematch was ordered and expected to happen, but instead Fury signed with Top Rank and withdrew from the fight, leading the WBC to order Wilder to face Breazeale instead.

How did Dominic Breazeale get here?

Like Wilder, Breazeale came to boxing late. After playing quarterback for Northern Colorado, an FCS (1-AA if you’re old) football program, Breazeale was convinced to give boxing a shot at the age of 23. Early on, he was funded by Michael King, a TV guy who had made massive money syndicating “Wheel of Fortune,” “Jeopardy!,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and “Dr. Phil,” and had decided to invest a good chunk of that money into his lifelong passion for boxing.

King, who passed away in 2015 at 67, felt that the American boxing scene was, frankly, a mess, especially heavyweights and the amateur program. (He wasn’t wrong, by the way.) So he began scouting out college football and basketball players who weren’t going to make it as pros in their chosen sports, seeing if you could build a successful heavyweight fighter.

Breazeale took to it, and would go on to qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London as a super heavyweight. At London 2012, he was routed in the opening round by Russia’s Magomed Omarov. He fell short of King’s vision of creating an Olympic gold medalist, but had the tools to turn pro — like Wilder, a pretty remarkable short amateur career. Not as accomplished, no Olympic medal, but still impressive.

Breazeale made his pro debut a few months after the Olympics in late 2012, and like Wilder had, he started slow. His first nine pro fights were basically gimmes, then he faced journeyman Nagy Aguilera in April 2014 and went the distance for the first time, winning an eight-round decision.

Wins over more journeyman types followed, and then he was matched with unbeaten Cuban Yasmany Consuegra in June 2015. Breazeale stopped Consuegra in three, then beat Fred Kassi a few months later.

Amir Mansour wound up the first real test for Breazeale in the pro ranks, as Mansour dropped the big prospect in the third round, but was finished off after five.

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The Mansour fight led to a shot at IBF titleholder Anthony Joshua in London in June 2016. Joshua, who had won gold at the 2012 Olympics, was the big favorite, and he dominated Breazeale, dropping the American twice in the seventh round, stopping him there.

It was a setback for Breazeale, but not unexpected or anything. He got back to work in Feb. 2017, coming off the canvas again to knock out unbeaten Izuagbe Ugonoh, and then beat veteran Eric Molina in a WBC eliminator in Nov. 2017.

Since the win over Molina, Breazeale has fought just once, taking out Carlos Negron on Dec. 22 of last year via ninth round knockout. He’s basically sat on the mandatory, waiting his chance to get the title shot, and now it’s here.

How do the fighters match up?

Both fighters are 6’7”, but very different body types. Wilder did put on weight in those early years after turning pro, and was weighing in just under 230 for his fights in 2015-16. But since then, he’s actually gotten a little leaner again — in his last four fights, he’s weighed in at 222, 220¾, 214¾, and 212½.

That means he’ll be, as usual, giving up a pretty substantial amount of weight to Breazeale, who comes in around 255 or so generally.

Breazeale’s reach is 81½”, Wilder’s is 83”. Both can punch, but Wilder is certainly the more celebrated in that regard. Breazeale has a strong right hand, but Wilder’s power can be truly shocking for opponents. If this is a case of who can land the biggest bomb the quickest, Wilder has to be favored. Breazeale is no Tyson Fury, he’s not going to be out there slipping shots or making Wilder think much.

Who’s the favorite?

As of this writing, Wilder is, as you would expect, the clear and heavy favorite, listed between -833 and -1000 on various sports books. Breazeale is between +475 and +705. In a different division, these odds might be even wider, but the old saying is that with the heavyweights, it just takes one punch, and Breazeale can punch. Wilder is no defensive wizard himself, either.

Who will win?

Check back on Saturday at 5:00 pm ET for our staff picks!

Undercard

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  • We’ll get our yearly look at WBC featherweight titleholder Gary Russell Jr (29-1, 17 KO) as he returns to defend his belt against veteran Kiko Martinez (39-8-2, 28 KO). Martinez, the current European featherweight champion, is a solid fighter still, but after winning a super bantamweight belt in 2013 and losing it in 2014, he’s been repeatedly beaten in bigger fights on the world level. Russell is a huge favorite.
  • Probably the main show’s most evenly matched bout is the opener, a matchup between Juan Heraldez (16-0, 10 KO) and Argenis Mendez (25-5-2, 12 KO), set for 10 rounds at 135. Heraldez, 28, is still a bit untested, and the 32-year-old Mendez is a step up on paper. Mendez is coming off of a draw with Anthony Peterson in March.

Bad Left Hook will have full live coverage for Wilder vs Breazeale at 9:00 pm ET on Saturday

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