Wilder ‘had to regain’ his love for boxing, and now is time for business

Deontay Wilder strolled into a small meeting room at London’s Marriott Hotel back in April, with manager Shelly Finkel right behind him to promote his upcoming fight versus Zhilei Zhang. His confidence radiated, but he also appeared to understand the pressure that comes with it. Depending on the outcome, the Zhang fight could be his “last dance,” Wilder said.

His heavyweight clash against Zhang on Saturday is arguably the most intriguing fight on a stacked card billed as “5 vs. 5: Matchroom vs. Queensberry” in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

After three loses in his last four fights — two of those by KO against Tyson Fury — the bout offers the 38-year-old Wilder a chance to redeem himself, after being dominated in a one-sided unanimous decision defeat to Joseph Parker in December.

But does the former WBC champion have what it takes to get back to the top? Does he still have the fighting spirit that helped him to 13 world title fights?

“Either you have [fighting spirit] or you don’t and I’m the type of person, I have it,” Wilder said. “I don’t have to be mad at you, I don’t have to dig up anything that you said. It will never go anywhere, it’s just tamed.”

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That untamed side of him, the aggressive, knockout artist that scored 42 KOs in his 43 pro wins, isn’t lost on Wilder.

“Everybody wants to see that monster come out. But when he was here, [people said] ‘oh my god, he’s too messy for boxing, he talks too violently, he wants a body on his record’… everyone criticized me, everybody dragged my name through the dirt. Everybody thought I was bad for business.”

But business — for the heavyweight division — is now booming.

Wilder wants a piece of the action in Saudi Arabia, where the biggest fights in the division are now being staged.

If Wilder wins, a fight with fellow countryman Jared Anderson is on the cards for Aug. 3 in Los Angeles, the first boxing card staged by Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority in the U.S. A defeat on Saturday would spell disaster for Wilder at a time when the division is going from strength to strength.

“I fell out of love [with boxing] at one point in time, and I’ve had to regain it,” Wilder said.

The powerbrokers in the division seem to still believe in Wilder. Not only are rival promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren pulling in the same direction and working together for the show on Saturday, but who would have ever thought that Hearn, who never saw eye to eye with Wilder or Finkel, would call on Wilder, sign him on a one-fight deal to represent him and offer him the opportunity to get back to the big time?

“Im a very mature, intelligent man so when it comes to certain things… this is business,” Wilder said. “I can smile with my enemies, I can laugh with my enemies, I can eat, I can hunt my enemies. I got mouths to feed.

“We’re all businessmen. …Each time it gets to the point where ‘alright, I don’t like you, you don’t like me, but business is good,’ you understand me?”

A mega fight between Wilder and fellow former champion Anthony Joshua has been rumored for years, and could also be in the future.

One thing we know: The big fights are being made at heavyweight. It’s up to Wilder to show on Saturday he still belongs in them.

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