Assessing the Popularity of Deontay Wilder: Is Race an Issue? Part I

Deontay WIlder
Deontay Wilder

Timing Within a Waning Division

In the last few months of 2017, Deontay Wilder has been outspoken about being an African American WBC World Heavyweight Champion that isn’t getting the recognition he is due as a champion because of his race. In this two part series, we will explore the legitimacy of his state of mind and provide opportunities for critical thinking on this issue.

A Waning Division

Throughout the history of the sport, the heavyweight division has always been one American boxing fans viewed under a microscope primarily because the probability of a brutal knockout is higher due to the size of the competitors. However, the early 2000's would be an era ruled by Klitschko brothers Vitali and Wladimir; dominance by two great champions that lasted nearly 15 years has many believing manifested a major hit to the popularity of the division resulting in a legion of die hard fans from older generations gearing their attention away from the division or removing themselves from the sport altogether. During that era there were three American world champions of color (where ironically two defeated a Klitschko brother to become champion) who seemed to be ignored in the same manner in which Wilder feels he is being discounted: Chris Byrd, Lamon Brewster and Shannon Briggs. Why didn’t each of them get their recognition as champions in similar fashion to how heavyweight champions of color in the era previously such as Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman and Riddick Bowe were able to get their just-do? Even Lennox Lewis who captured undisputed status in 1999 (and is still the last heavyweight to do so) took a hit to his popularity while campaigning in the division during the early 2000's. Is there a possibility the rise of the Klitschko brothers had already done irreparable damage in terms of the intrigue fans would have for the division? Perhaps an underlying reason could be the fact that dominating forces that excited the fans like Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield were no longer major players in the division during this time causing the fans to lose interest. Whatever reasoning you decide is the cause, we can agree that the recent state of the division is becoming more popular than it was at least a decade ago.

Timing? Maybe?

Based on the context of the section in this article titled "A Waning Division" it should be clear that Wilder started his career during a time where the heavyweight division was rapidly losing popularity. What is also clear is the same year he would knockout seven out of seven opponents (the most active year of his career), another division had captivated the fans on a global scale that housed a mega-fight between two future Hall of  Fame inductees: Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. For nearly 6 years boxing was fixated on when, where and how this mega-fight would take place which opened up the opportunity for casual fight fans to overlook up and coming talent during that time. If we use this as the only possible reason for Wilder's inability to capture the attention of fans while knocking out all 32 of his opponents leading up to a WBC title bout in 2015, then this should have happened to all fighters who were trying to vie for the attention of the fans right? Not so much.

There was another exciting fighter who debuted two years prior to Wilder out of the middleweight division while fighting primarily in Germany until his first fight on American soil came against Grezgorz Proksa in 2012 named Gennady Golovkin. When he dispatched of the unknown Proksa in five rounds live on HBO, the praise from the network and the media was almost instant which eventually led to praise from the average fan. In essence, during the same time Wilder was executing opponents in dramatic fashion at heavyweight, Gennady Golovkin was doing the same to arguably opponents of similar caliber at middleweight but was able to garner major support from American fans, American media and an American based major TV network despite being from Kazakhstan and the attention given to the Mayweather/Pacquiao drama. Furthermore his popularity has risen to the point where he has successfully landed endorsement deals with Apple and Nike's Jordan Brand; achievements that other very successful champions were unable to obtain. Why was the American media so eager to back a champion of Caucasian decent from Kazakhstan at a much faster rate than an American champion of color who was an equally (if not a more) exciting fighter? Is it possible it had nothing to do with race but more to do with the management of his career? Stay tuned for the second part of this series where we explore more into the latter question.

By: Bernard Mukes & EJ "2K" Williams

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