Deontay Wilder can surpass his idol Muhammad Ali for consecutive world heavyweight title defences this weekend but, five years after first clinching the belt, the Alabama man still feels under-appreciated in his own country.
The so-called Bronze Bomber puts his WBC belt on the line at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night against Tyson Fury in an eagerly awaited rematch of their genuinely stunning 2018 draw at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
And, although menacing pictures of him and Fury have dominated this famous strip in the Nevada desert this week, the truth is, Wilder is still a niche celebrity in the eyes of the wider American public. It is a fact not lost on the champion.
“Do I feel under-appreciated here? Of course.” Wilder says. “This country is supposed to be so diverse, but this is not one nation. They say we’re one nation under God with liberty and justice, it’s not true.
“Even some of the Americans can be lured into supporting a foreigner rather than their own. That’s how America is built. It will always be difficult, it will always be hard.
“Boxing in this country is nowhere near first, second, third, we are four, five, six, maybe seventh most popular sport here. The things that are going on now are elevating it and everybody is getting into boxing now, whether it is a workout or they feel like they have this illusion of a career.
“We all have to start somewhere. It was tough just getting to a point where people could have insight, have knowledge about it, just coming to fights and realising, damn, we have a heavyweight champion of the world.
“People say I’m going to be the next Muhammad Ali, I don’t want to be the next no-one. I am Deontay Wilder.”
He can, however, surpass the 10 straight world title defences which Ali racked up during his second reign as champion, which began on one famous 1974 night in Kinshasa when The Greatest dethroned the fearsome George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.
He held that belt for a three-and-a-half-year stint and the run included victories over greats like Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Ron Lyle. Wilder’s reign, so far, pales in comparison to that but he has quietly transformed himself in the eyes of many from a crude swinger to one of the most devastating punchers in history.
“In boxing I found my way,” he added. “Nobody gave me any opportunities, I had to do it myself. I betted on myself. I’m here, I’m enjoying every minute of it and there’s more to come.
“I believe if people pay their money, they should see great things. I remember that life. I know how hard that it is. I am one of the best in world boxing and I want to display that to people.”
Wilder’s initial encounter with Fury, which included a pair of heavy knockdowns, was described as an instant classic and the 12th round, where the Morecambe visitor somehow beat the count after appearing to momentarily lose consciousness altogether, immediately entered boxing folklore.
That night Fury moved and danced his way to what many people thought was victory, only for the judges to score it a draw. Determined not to leave the decision up to the judges again, Fury insists he will turn his back on his trademark style and pursue a knockout win as early as possible instead. A 60/1 second round KO is the bet he has advised.
But it has been suggested that Fury’s has talked up a gameplan so wildly at odds with his usual modus operandi simply as a method of getting inside his opponent’s head during fightweek.
“I don’t believe anything he says but that’s going to be up to him,” Wilder added “He said it. I’m a man of my word and when I say things I mean it. I mean what I say and I say what I mean. So with that being said I will hold him to his word.
“If he don’t back it up he’s going to look like a liar. At the end of the day there are a lot of things he could say. Fighters do it all the time. They can be friendly, say ‘how you doing’, ‘how was your day’, shake hands and be friendly on social media but then you get in the fight and you want blood.
“All those things take place, especially in a big fight like this, but you have to break out all the secrets and all the tools to get the victory. People will do anything for victory just as they will do anything for money.”