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Wilder is not a very good boxer … but he is good enough

By Michael Rosenthal

Some people I respect speak of Deontay Wilder as if he is breaking the holiness of the sport's traditional glamor division.

"Worst boxer in the history of heavy title owners" has been said about Wilder, who defends his WBC title against Dominic Breazeale on Saturday in Brooklyn. "Raw boxers at best", other more generous observers can say. "All he's got is his power," is a more common renunciation.

Like most opinions, there are at least small excesses. It is true that Wilder has limited skills, which is no surprise given that he started boxing at 20 years of age. And yes, his power is his not so secret weapon.

As confirmed, he is also a good athlete (especially for his 6-foot-7 frame) who uses whatever he does for the book, he has to set up the shots that have given him 39 knockouts in 40 wins. He must do something right. As former Wilder opponent Gerald Washington told me, "You can't argue with his resume."

And it's not as if he has been facing challenges as they are in the heavyweight division these days. Wilder last year took two of the most respected active big men Luis Ortiz and Tyson Fury. He stopped the former in an exciting battle that tested his resilience, his finest victory, and he was fortunate to appear in the later battle.

Wilder has also tried to make a fight with his most natural rival, Anthony Joshua. If there is a benevolent booking god, it will be one day soon.

The critics would quote their performance against Fury as an example of Wilders ineptitude. The WBC title holder could knock Fury down in the ninth and twelfth rounds – the second time in a brutal way – but otherwise he was outboxed by a more skilled hunter.

It would be difficult to defend Wilder. He fought against rage. I remember telling someone in disgust immediately after what I thought was a boring battle until knockdowns, "Man, Wilder just reinforced everything his critics say about him. It was a really bad look at him."

deontay-wilder (3) _18

One thing, though: Fury dominated the great (but aging) Wladimir Klitschko more thoroughly than he did Wilder. The point is that Fury, a remarkable athlete and superb boxer for his size, has the ability to make someone look bad as long as he stays on his feet. It can include Joshua one day.

And Wilder has an explanation, if you want, for his accomplishment: He was trying too hard to knock out Fury. Once he stopped pushing, knockdowns – and close knockout – came.

It was just like Eric Molina, another Wilder victim, saw it.

"One thing about Wilder, when he tries too hard to throw the right hand, you can see it coming," Molina said. "He was desperate to knock out the fury. Fury is too slick for the wide (Wilder) shots. He saw them coming. Landing against rage, you have to throw clean, precise shots set with another rhythm. who landed at the end.

"I think Wilder knows it now. In the rematch he knocks out the race for six to eight rounds."

The bottom for Wilder is that he can hurt any weight, even when he is struggling. It only takes one punch because of its power. That is the main reason why he has succeeded. It is also the reason why he is fun to watch, at least for most of us.

If you need your biggest punchers to be special boxers, then Wilder is not for you. I understand that. I preferred the memorable series between Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales to Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward for the Mexicans combined action with a higher level of skill.

But I, like a zillion second, enjoyed the Gatti-Ward fighting. I accepted the fact that neither had polished skills and focused on the compelling chaos they produced, which was something to see.

It's more or less how I approach Wilder. I accept the fact that he is not a particularly good boxer and focus on what he takes on the ring – crazy knockouts.

I always admire sublime techniques such as Floyd Mayweather, but a knockout artist like Wilder loses in a more primal desire for all-out war. In other words, fans want knockouts and Wilder delivers them. Simple as that.

Wilder will probably never be considered one of the best heavyweights in history because of his shortcomings but he does two things: He wins and he maintains. It's something.

Michael Rosenthal was the 2018 winner of the Boxing Writers Association of Americas Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism. He has covered boxing in Los Angeles and beyond for almost three decades. Follow him on @mrosenthal_box.

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