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Deontay Wilder’s New Nuances Almost as Startling as His Trademark Right Hand

Bernard Fernandez

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How much improvement can a fighter, any fighter, demonstrate in only 137 seconds? How many sandpaper-rough stylistic edges can be smoothed in that comparatively brief snippet of time?

Before WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder entered the ring at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Saturday night, the one thing everyone knew he had was a booming right hand that had accounted for virtually all of his previous 39 knockout victories, 19 of which were one-round quickies. At first glance it appeared another case of the same devastating stuff when Wilder (41-0-1, 40 KOs) landed his signature shot with less than a minute remaining in the opening round. Semi-conscious challenger Dominic Breazeale (20-2, 18 KOs) crashed onto his back, his arms and legs outstretched as if he were being spread-eagled, with referee Harvey Dock going through the formality of counting him out after an elapsed time of 2 minutes, 17 seconds.

But it was in those two-plus minutes prior to an ending that everyone in the live turnout of 13,181 and a Showtime audience should have expected that Wilder, at the relatively advanced age of 33, revealed that he might be more than a one-trick pony. This Wilder didn’t just use his boarding-house-reach of a jab as a range finder; he snapped it out with some authority. He threw and landed an early left hook to the body, notable because the Wilder with whom fight fans were familiar was almost exclusively a headhunter. And, most telling of all, the two big right hands that did find the mark – he got Breazeale’s attention prior to the putaway blow with one that didn’t quite land flush – weren’t his typical roundhouses.

“The quickest point from A to B is always that straight line, that right hand straight down the middle,” color analyst Paulie Malignaggi said of what would appear to be a new and improved version of Wilder’s weapon of choice.

“I’m an intelligent fighter. I’m very smart in the ring with the way I set these guys up,” Wilder said at the post-fight press conference. But if that were so, these additional wrinkles or nuances would have been unveiled earlier in a career that hasn’t always been as appreciated as it might have been. He is still trained by Jay Deas and Mark Breland, so the logical conclusion is that what they likely have been telling him all along in the gym must finally have sunk in. If that is indeed the case, then Wilder, whose startling power when unleashed in any form made him an omnipresent threat, had in those 137 seconds transformed himself into an even more dangerous dude.

They say history has a way of repeating itself. Another large heavyweight of considerable renown, Lennox Lewis, fought much like the unpolished Wilder in the formative stages of his Hall of Fame career. But after Lewis relinquished his WBC title to seemingly no-hope challenger Oliver McCall, who dropped and then stopped him in the second round on May 13, 1995, in London, he fired trainer Pepe Correa and replaced him with Emanuel Steward, who had worked McCall’s corner the night “The Lion” became an ex-champ. Steward, a brilliant tactician, radically retooled Lewis, especially his jab, which was upgraded from pawing range-finder to the instrument that made the big Briton’s overhand right even more effective. Following perfunctory TKOs of Lionel Butler and Justin Fortune in his next two bouts, the best of Lewis was revealed on Oct. 7, 1995, in Atlantic City, N.J., when he floored a bloodied Tommy Morrison four times en route to winning via a sixth-round stoppage.

“I really feel like I have one of the superior jabs in the heavyweight division right now,” a beaming Lewis said after that fight, in which he showcased not only his spiffy new jab but a left hook that the pre-Steward version seldom dared to employ. “I wanted to see how Tommy Morrison would contend with it. The first couple of rounds, he contended with it. But as the rounds went by, I found my jab started to get to him.”

Is Wilder going to continue to utilize more of the tools in what would appear to be an expanded tool box? Difficult to predict. As sample sizes go, 137 seconds isn’t much. Even his destruction of the limited Breazeale may not be conclusive proof that he has matched or supplanted Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) atop the heavyweight heap. The Englishman has three bejeweled championship belts (IBF, WBA, WBO) to Wilder’s one, and he is a wide favorite to retain them when he takes on late substitute challenger Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs) in Joshua’s U.S. debut June 1 in Madison Square Garden. There also are those who are convinced lineal champ Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) is superior to Wilder, despite the fact Wilder dropped him twice in their Dec. 1 bout last year that ended in a split draw.  Unless or until Wilder again faces Fury, or Joshua, he will be obliged to continue convincing however many doubters remain unswayed by his string of exclamation-point knockouts.

“I display greatness when I step in the ring,” Wilder said. “I put fear in any man. I know I have tremendous power. That’s no secret. At this point I think I’ve proved myself, with the record that I have and many a body that done hit the canvas.”

Truth be told, it is becoming more and more difficult to dismiss Wilder as a crude, wild-swinging brawler who was absent the day fundamental boxing skills were being taught. You want to say that some of the nine title defenses he’s made were against fringe contenders that didn’t exactly constitute a Murderer’s Row? Fine, but he went toe-to-toe with Luis Ortiz and weathered a few sticky moments before winning on a 10th-round stoppage, and he came ever so close to knocking out Fury in the 12th round, a rare late bolt of lightning that likely preserved his undefeated record. Oh, and don’t forget that he was willing to go to Moscow to defend his title against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin, a bout which was scrapped when Povetkin tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

“Deontay will fight anyone,” said his co-manager, Shelly Finkel, who previously worked with, among others, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. “He was willing to fight Joshua for very little comparative to what he was worth. When someone wants to make a fight, they make it. When we wanted to get Fury, we overpaid him. We gave him anything he wanted in order to make the fight.”

There almost certainly will be more concessions made by Team Wilder to procure a date with Joshua, not the least of which will be the requirement to travel to the United Kingdom, where Joshua sells out soccer stadiums. Joshua, who had handed Breazeale his only previous defeat, by seventh-round TKO on June 26, 2016, had publicly stated that he hoped Breazeale would last at least until the eighth round against Wilder, if only to keep up appearances.

Maybe he isn’t the least flawed of heavyweights, but with his ninth consecutive heavyweight title defense – matching the number for sixth place all time shared by Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Vitali Klitschko, Lewis and Tyson – he has entered the conversation for being one of the hardest-punching of big men. It is not yet where he wants to be, but as a launching pad for bigger and better things, it ain’t half-bad.

The Real Godzilla is 5-foot-5 and 118 pounds

As impressive as the bomb Wilder detonated on Breazeale’s jaw, the top performance of the day came half a world away, in Glasgow, Scotland, where Japan’s Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KOs), whose nickname is “The Monster,” looked like the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world with his second-round knockout of Puerto Rico’s Emmanuel Rodriguez (19-1, 12 KOs), the IBF bantamweight champion, in the semifinals of the World Boxing Super Series. Until Inoue floored him three times with left hooks Joe Frazier would have been proud of, Rodriguez, his face contorted in agony on each trip to the canvas, had never been knocked down as a professional.

Inoue’s victory moves him into the WBSS 118-pound final against veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KOs), the WBA and WBC Diamond titlist who also has a pretty good left hook.

So dominant has the 26-year-old Inoue been that there were immediate suggestions he move up – way up – in the pound-for-pound ratings, maybe far enough up to supplant Vasiliy Lomachenko or Terence Crawford at No. 1, depending on which list you choose to believe. It’s a reason for legitimate discussion, because Inoue really is that good. Maybe he already has done enough to rise above the great Hall of Famer Fighting Harada as the best ever from the Land of the Rising Sun.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Introducing Top Prospect Raeese Aleem, the Pride of Muskegon

Arne K. Lang

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At age 29, Raeese Aleem has yet to appear in a 10-round fight, but that will almost assuredly happen this year. The undefeated (15-0, 9 KOs) super bantamweight from Muskegon, Michigan, takes another step in that direction on Friday, Feb. 14, when he opposes San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (16-3-2) at Philadelphia in a bout that will air on “ShoBox,” the long-running SHOWTIME series that’s been a springboard for 81 fighters who went on to win world titles.

Aleem earned a black belt in karate before taking up boxing and becoming a four-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion. As an amateur, he and his coach Terry Markowski did a considerable amount of traveling between meets to find good sparring. Grand Rapids, an amateur boxing hotbed, was just down the road, but Detroit and Chicago were a good three hours away and on occasion they went on an even longer excursion into Ohio.

Aleem turned pro in 2011 and had his first 10 fights on the Midwest circuit, venturing as far north as Green Bay and as far south as Cincinnati. At the time, he worked in the produce department of Meijer’s, a regional rival of Walmart. His bosses, he notes, were generous in letting him juggle his work schedule around his boxing assignments.

For a boxer with designs on winning a world title, the Midwest circuit is like a bicycle with training wheels. Aleem had to shake free of it to see how far he could go. Besides, getting fights was getting tougher and tougher. There’s a 28-month gap in his pro timeline that includes all of 2013. He had several fights fall out during this frustrating quiescence.

If you’re an aspiring film actor, you go to Hollywood. If you’re an aspiring boxing champion, you go to Las Vegas. Not a week goes by without a young fellow turning up here to test his mettle in one of the many local gyms with the hope of attracting the eye of one of the major promotional firms.

“When I came to Las Vegas,” says Aleem who has a daughter back in Michigan, “I had no family here, no friends.” He was directed to Barry’s boxing gym, run by ex-boxer Pat Barry and his wife Dawn, retired Las Vegas police officers, and started training under their son-in-law Augie Sanchez. But Sanchez, the last man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr (accomplished when they were amateurs), had other priorities. He is an assistant coach with Team USA which obligates him to spend a good deal of his time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Things started looking up for Aleem when he joined the Prince Ranch stable under the management of Greg Hannley. At the Prince Ranch Gym, where the head trainer is Bones Adams, he has sparred with such notables as Nonito Donaire and former WBO 122-pound champion Jessie Magdaleno.

Aleem doesn’t miss the weather in Muskegon, a lakefront city where sub-freezing temperatures are the norm in the dead of winter and snow is forecast for all of next week. But he still has one foot in his hometown, as evident by his unbroken bond with Terry Markowski. In an era when some boxers appear to change trainers as often as they change their underwear, Aleem has remained loyal to Markowski who has been in his corner for all of his pro fights and will be there again on Feb. 14.

Markowski, who teaches boxing at the Muskegon Rec Center, is a protégé of Muskegon’s most esteemed boxer, the late Kenny Lane. The epitome of a crafty southpaw, Lane, a lightweight and junior welterweight, was a three-time world title challenger during a 100-fight career that began in 1953.

The relationship between Raeese Aleem and Terry Markowski dates back to 2003 when Aleem resided in the nearby village of Ravenna, where Aleem’s father, the patriarch of a large blended family, planted Raeese and his siblings to get them away from the temptations of Muskegon which has several blighted areas. “It was a culture shock for me when I started going to school in Ravenna,” says Aleem, looking back, as none of his schoolmates looked like him.

This will be Aleem’s fifth fight in Pennsylvania where he has made four of his last five starts. The connecting thread is Reading, Pennsylvania gym operator-turned-promoter Marshall Kauffman who has been credited with keeping boxing vibrant in the Keystone State.

This being Aleem’s national television debut, it’s important that he make a good showing. His Las Vegas trainer Bones Adams, a former world champion in Aleem’s weight division, expects nothing less. “I’m confident he will be a world champion someday,” says Adams.

Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Prince Ranch Boxing

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A Bouquet for Danny Garcia in This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Two-division champion Danny Garcia had the spotlight all to himself over the weekend in a stay-busy fight against Ivan Redkach on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the main event of a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that had the odd privilege these days of not being counterprogrammed by a Top Rank show on ESPN or any other kind of boxing card on DAZN.

So Garcia, 31, from Philadelphia, had the chance to remind people how excellent a fighter he is in full force, which would help him greatly in his effort to secure an unlikely bout against WBA champ Manny Pacquiao or remain first in line to face WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence whenever the Texan recovers from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in October.

But did Garcia pull it off? Here’s the latest edition of HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Danny Garcia’s Pristine and Precise Technique 

The best parts about Garcia were on full display against Redkach. That was made easier by Redkach’s lack of anything that might have given Garcia any real problems, but nonetheless Garcia was able to show the lovely footwork and balanced countering ability that made him so formidable at junior welterweight. There’s just something special about seeing Garcia fight. The economy of his movement inside a boxing ring is something that is just plain different than just about any other world-class fighter in the world today. In a fight that most people probably would have preferred he just skipped, and one that didn’t turn out to be any different than everyone expected, at least Garcia’s beautiful boxing was on display.

MISS – Showtime Sparring Sessions

In addition to Garcia-Redkach, Showtime rounded out its tripleheader with undefeated junior featherweight Stephen Fulton taking on former Muay Thai fighter Arnold Khegai and former unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd taking on career welterweight Francisco Santana. While Fulton’s fight against Khegai seemed like a legitimate prizefight, there was something about the other two bouts that screamed sparring sessions. That was especially the case for Hurd’s bout. Not only was Hurd in there with a middling welterweight, but he also used the rounds of the fight to work on vastly different boxing techniques than what made him so popular in the first place. Showtime might not have the pull they once had with the people over at the PBC offices, but they for sure need to get more involved in vetting matchups if they hope to remain afloat within the competitive boxing landscape of today.

HIT – Stephon Fulton’s Title Chances at 122 Pounds

Fulton is a very solid boxer who digs to the body and has a fast, clean jab. Khegai was the perfect kind of opponent for the 25-year-old. He was very game and never stopped trying to win. Additionally, his background in Muay Thai offered some different looks to Fulton that should help him on his way toward world title contention. In the end, Fulton outworked Khegai to hand the tough 27-year-old the first loss of his career. Now let’s hope Fulton is off to bigger and better things such as challenging for a world title. He’s ready right now.

MISS – Andy Ruiz’s Continued Soap Opera

The best thing former unified champion Andy Ruiz could have done after blowing the rematch against Anthony Joshua in December is getting right back to work in the gym. What better way to show trainer Manny Robles that he was taking responsibility for his actions than to get right back to work with the same team he had just let down so badly? Instead, Ruiz fired Robles and is considering other trainers. That would make more sense if there had been some sort of tactical error in the fight. But Ruiz already admitted he simply didn’t train for arguably the biggest fight of his life, and that’s not anyone’s fault but his own.

HIT – Former Middleweight Titleholder Andy Lee’s Second Act

It appears former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee found his second act in life as a trainer, which makes a ton of sense if you followed Lee’s career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Lee, 39, left Ireland after his amateur days to live with Steward in Detroit and train at Kronk. The two had a very close personal relationship and that experience ultimately helped Lee win the world title in 2014 two years after Steward’s passing. Now, Lee is passing on what he knows in the same way Steward did with him to other fighters. He trains and manages Irish upstart Paddy Donovan, is guiding Jason Quigley back to contention and even helped orchestrate distant cousin Tyson Fury bringing on Javan “SugarHill” Steward for the heavyweight’s upcoming rematch against Deontay Wilder.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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The Hauser Report: Garcia-Redkach and More

Thomas Hauser

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Boxing made its debut at Barclays Center on October 20, 2012, with a fight card headlined by four world title bouts. Danny Garcia, Erik Morales, Paulie Malignaggi, Peter Quillin, Devon Alexander, Danny Jacobs, and Luis Collazo were in the ring that night. The franchise grew nicely. Fans who went to Barclays saw good featured fights with solid undercard bouts. But as of late, the arena’s fistic offerings have faded.

Barclays cast its lot with Premier Boxing Champions. And PBC has moved its prime content to greener pastures (green being the color of money). There were five fight cards at Barclays Center in 2019. Each one struggled to sell tickets.

January 25 marked the thirty-ninth fight card at Barclays. The arena was half empty. The announced attendance was 8,217 but that included a lot of freebies. There were six fights on the card. As expected, fighters coming out of the blue corner won all of them. That’s what happens when 6-0 squares off against 2-10-1.

Three of the fights were televised by Showtime Championship Boxing, which has also been diminished as a consequence of a multi-year output deal with PBC.

In the first of these bouts, Stephen Fulton (17-0, 8 KOs) and Ukrainian-born Arnold Khegai (16-0, 10 KOs) met in a junior-featherweight bout. Each had fought the usual suspects en route to their confrontation. There was a lot of holding and rabbit-punching which referee Steve Willis ignored. Eventually, Fulton pulled away for a unanimous-decision triumph.

Next up, Jarrett Hurd (23-1, 16 KOs) took on Francisco Santana (25-7, 12 KOs).

Hurd is a big junior-middleweight who held the WBA and IBF 154-pound titles until losing to Julian Williams last year. Santana is a career welterweight who had lost three of his most recent four fights and had won only three times in the last five years.

Hurd was expected to walk through Santana. But he was strangely passive for much of the fight, which led to the strange spectacle of Santana (the noticeably smaller, lighter-punching man) walking Jarrett down for long stretches of time. Francisco is a one-dimensional fighter and was there to be hit. When Jarrett let his hands go, he hit him. But he fought like a man who didn’t want to fight and didn’t let his hands go often enough.

By round seven, the boos and jeers were raining down. Hurd won a unanimous decision but looked mediocre. That’s the most honest way to put it. One wonders what tricks losing to Julian Williams last year played with his mind.

Also, it should be noted that, when the winning fighter thanks God in a post-fight interview and the crowd (which supported Jarrett at the start of the bout) boos at the mention of The Almighty, there’s a problem.

“The crowd didn’t love it,” Hurd acknowledged afterward. “But you gotta understand; I got the unanimous decision and I did what I wanted to do.”

The main event matched Danny Garcia (35-2, 21 KOs) against Ivan Redkach (23-4-1, 18 KOs).

Garcia had a nice run early in his career, winning belts at 140 and 147 pounds. But later, he came out on the losing end of decisions against Keith Thurman and Shawn Porter. Other than that, he has gone in soft for the past five years.

Redkach is a junior-welterweight who had won 5 of 10 fights during the same five-year time frame.

There was the usual pre-fight nonsense with Garcia telling reporters, “We picked Redkach because he’s dangerous and we knew he’d be tough.” But in truth, Redkach had been whitewashed by Tevin Farmer at 135 pounds and was knocked out at the same weight by John Molina Jr (who never won again).

Garcia, like Hurd, was a 30-to-1 betting favorite.

Redkach fought a safety-first fight. Also, safety second and third. There wasn’t one second when it looked as though he had a realistic chance of winning the fight or fought like he did.

One of the few proactive things that Ivan did do was stick out his tongue from time to time when Garcia hit him. Then, at the end of round eight, he bit Danny on the shoulder while they were in a clinch. At that point, one might have expected referee Benjy Esteves to disqualify Redkach. But Esteves seemed to not notice.

Rather than go for the kill after the bite, Garcia eased up and cruised to a unanimous decision. Meanwhile, by round eleven, the crowd was streaming for the exits. Most of the fans were gone by the time the decision was announced.

Garcia and Hurd had set-up showcase fights scheduled for them. And neither man delivered the way he should have.

Meanwhile, a final thought . . . Sunday, January 26, would have been Harold Lederman’s eightieth birthday.

Harold was the quintessential boxing fan and loved the sport more than anyone I’ve known. He never missed a fight at Barclays Center unless his health prevented him from coming or he was on the road for HBO. He died eight months ago.

As Saturday night’s fight card unfolded, I imagined Harold sitting beside me. He would have had a kind word for everyone who came over to say hello and loved every minute of it. Harold Lederman at the fights was a happy man.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book — A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing — was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. On June 14, 2020, he will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

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