I will never begrudge a fighter self-confidence. If you plan to climb into the ring with another man who aims to bludgeon you with his fists, you damned sure better believe in yourself.
But there is a fine line between confidence and unearned arrogance. Deontay Wilder lives on that line.
Wilder has stirred up fans on social media this year with his bold claims, asserting that he could have defeated a prime Mike Tyson, or anybody else past or present.
Wilder is entitled to this opinion. But he hasn’t earned it. It’s opinion built on nothing but hot air.
In the tenth year of his professional career, Wilder has compiled a record of 39-0 with 38 KOs. That looks very impressive at a glance. Under closer inspection, however, it falls far short of elite all-time company.
In all this time, Wilder has fought a single top-10 opponent, Bermane Stiverne. And Stiverne was borderline top 10.
For Wilder to have gone this deep into his career without any significant tests is frankly embarrassing. England’s Anthony Joshua was ready for Wladimir Klitschko in half that time.
Wilder is athletic and his power is absolutely dangerous. But his footwork is sloppy and his punches tend to be wild and flailing. I see no way in hell that he would have defeated a 1988 version of Mike Tyson. That version of Tyson would have had Wilder hopelessly off-balance and he bobbed and weaved inside and then would have battered the slender Wilder’s torso like a three-dollar steak.
The historical precedent for a fantasy match up between Wilder and Tyson would be Tyson vs. Tony Tucker, who he defeated by punishing decision in August 1988, to unify the WBA and WBA belts with Tucker’s IBF strap.
I can hear younger fans laughing and asking “Tony who?” But at the time he faced Tyson, Tucker was a more accomplished professional heavyweight than Wilder is right now. Similar in size to Wilder, he came in against Tyson sporting a 34-0 record.
Don’t even get me started on Wilder vs. Muhammad Ali. It’s an insult to the intelligence to even speculate over this. But if you’re curious, go look up Ali vs. Ernie Terrell on Youtube. And the truth is, Wilder has yet to earn the right to be mentioned in the company of a contender like Terrell. At the time Terrell fought Ali, he was coming off wins over the likes of Cleveland Williams, Zora Folley, George Chuvalo and Eddie Machen–Wilder has yet to defeat anybody as good as those contenders.
I would love for Wilder to end up being as good as he thinks he is. The sport needs a heavyweight superstar. But at this point he is way overdue for proving what he can do in the ring, where it matters.