Looking back on Deontay Wilder’s WBC title defenses in Birmingham

Alabama native and world-renowned heavyweight boxer Deontay Wilder is undoubtedly ready for his next shot at current WBC heavyweight champion Tyson Fury. Fury defeated Wilder to hand the latter his first career loss in February 2020 and end his five-plus year championship reign. Said reign was an extremely impressive one, featuring ten successful defenses and four stops in the Magic City. Those four trips to Birmingham in many ways showcased the best of what both the great Magic City sports fans and the Bronze Bomber have to offer. 

After defeating Canadian Bermane Stiverne for the heavyweight championship by unanimous decision in January 2015, Deontay Wilder was slated to face Eric Molina in Bartow Arena, home of the UAB Blazers’ basketball programs. Having Wilder’s first title defense take place in front of his home state fans was sure to be a big draw. The fight took place on June 13, 2015 in front of 9,347 fight fans. Wilder, who entered the bout at 33-0, took down Molina (23-3 after the fight) by way of a ninth-round knockout. The new champion scored several knockdowns before the final blow, with one coming in round four and two in round five. Although Molina proved to be a worthy challenger and a fighting underdog, Wilder’s legendary right hook proved to be just as devastating as fans know it to be. 

French-born challenger Johann Duhaupas was the next man to step up to Alabama’s favorite fighter. He was set to take on Wilder on September 26, 2015. Although he had lost earlier in the year, Duhaupas (32-2 entering fight night) was fresh off a victory. Legacy Arena hosted the fight this time around, and 8,471 packed the venue for Wilder’s second straight title defense in Alabama. As a matter of fact, that crowd did not disappoint. According to one fan in attendance, “[They were] super loud. Anything that was close to a hit, they went ecstatic.” They had a good reason to go ecstatic, as Deontay dominated on this go-around. He improved his record to 35-0 with an eleventh-round TKO victory. Wilder blasted Duhaupas with a right hook in round three to stifle the Frenchman’s early offense. The crowd went crazy as the Bronze Bomber continued his onslaught. The challenger did show tremendous mettle; according to the fan quoted earlier in this paragraph, he “kept taking so much punishment and not dropping.”  However, the following statement has proven true for many boxers, and it was true for Johann Duhaupas on this night: Deontay Wilder was just too much. The champ once again got to celebrate a win with the home crowd. 

After fighting and defeating Artur Szpilka in New York, the champion of the world returned to Birmingham in the summer of 2016 to do battle with Chris Arreola. Legacy Arena once again played host. The attendance outnumbered that of the Duhaupas fight by over 3,500 spectators; the total attendance was 11,974. As one fan in attendance for the bout put it, “It was one of the best sporting events I’ve attended in Birmingham. The crowd was energized. The fighting was fantastic.” It was indeed a magical night in the Magic City as the heavyweight king held on to his crown. Wilder won this one via eighth-round stoppage; Arreola’s corner had the bout stopped after a series of punches left him with his left eye swollen shut. This night saw Deontay land 52% of his power punches and land 152 total punches compared to Arreola’s 52. The biggest hometown crowd yet for Wilder got to witness another exhibition of his total domination. 

2017 was Wilder’s second full year as WBC heavyweight champion and it began with his second consecutive stop at Legacy Arena, and his final stop in Birmingham to date. The announced attendance for the February 25 match was 12,346, and that number set the record for biggest crowd for a heavyweight contest in the state. The record crowd was treated to a fifth-round TKO win that saw the champion improve his record to 38-0. Gerald Washington had not suffered a loss coming into the title challenge (he was 18-0-1 coming in), but he got his first taste of defeat after stepping into the ring with the Bronze Bomber. Wilder changed the game in round five when he knocked his opponent down and did not relent until the fight was over. 

The tremendous heart and spirit of Deontay Wilder was on display during each of these four title defenses. As one of the great heavyweights of this generation, he packs tremendous power and can end a fight on one punch with the best of them. While he awaits his next challenge, it is especially memorable to think back to the truly electrifying times in which that spirit and power were brought before a Magic City audience.  

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