World heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder reveals the truly touching reason he took up boxing
On Saturday night, Deontay Wilder basically committed a crime in the boxing ring. Defending his WBC heavyweight title against Bermane Stiverne, Wilder embarrassed his opponent, knocking him out in the first round of the fight.
Not only was the knockout quick, but it was also absolutely brutal. Wilder floored Stiverne three times before the ref called the fight. The first time, he hit Stiverne with a quick one-two that left him in a heap, then the following two attacks just involved a flurry of fists and plenty of showmanship from the Alabama native.
However, while Wilder may be a savage animal in the ring, he showed his soft side in the build-up to the fight. Ahead of his defense against Bermane Stiverne, Wilder described the heartwarming reason he joined the sport.
Wilder had initially enrolled into a community college with the aim of going on to study at the University of Alabama to play basketball or football, but he says an unexpected pregnancy led to him considering other options.
"Naieya came and it was a blessing in disguise because I probably wouldn't be boxing if it weren't for her," said Wilder. "As a parent, you never want to hear your child is going to be born with a disability. We all want a healthy child. All that was just circling through my mind."
Wilder and his girlfriend Helen learned that they were expecting. But even more, they were informed that their daughter would be born with spina bifida, a birth defect in which there is an incomplete closing of the backbone and membranes around the spine.
"I remember being in the doctor's office," Wilder said.
"Dim lights, her mother was right beside me and [the doctor was] going over instructions, little things about how to take care of a child with spina bifida and different organizations that help."
"Then," Wilder said, "he gave us 'option B.'… We could terminate the pregnancy." Wilder reacted immediately.
"Instantly, I looked at her and I looked back at him, and I was like, 'I can't do that'."
"I felt like at this point, she's developed, we know [she's a girl],'"he continued. "I felt like, 'give her life.' You never know what she can become."
Helen agreed and gave birth to Naieya. The first few years of her life would involve a lot of surgery of which there was a heavy emotional and financial burden. Wilder worked at Red Lobster and IHOP, as well as driving a truck for Budweiser in order to help the family. Unfortunately, due to his workload, the teenager had to drop out of school and give up his dream of playing football or basketball.
Wilder needed a release, and he found boxing. Although Tuscaloosa only has one gym dedicated to the sport, Wilder said he had his reasons for wanting to pursue the sport. Firstly, he had never lost a fight as a youngster. Secondly, boxers didn't need to attend college. And most importantly, he thought boxers made money.
"I was ignorant to the sport," he said. "I thought every fighter that stepped into the sport made a lot of money. I didn't know there was levels. It's a process to get to that point."
Wilder had promised his young daughter that he would become world champion and that he would "support her beyond belief" and he stuck with the sport.
It turned out he timed it perfectly. In 2007, the young boxer had won enough fights in order to compete and ultimately win a place on the US Olympic team. The rest, as they say, is history.
Wilder went on to win a bronze at the Beijing Olympics, turned pro and has now won 39 career fights, recording 38 knockouts along the way.
His success in boxing has lad to Wilder being able to afford multiple surgeries for his child, and Naieya is able to walk without crutches, do cartwheels and live the life her parents never thought she would be able to.
"We never shield our child," said the proud father. "We let her crawl around, run around"
"Even as a little girl, she didn't want you to put on clothes for her. 'I can do it.' As a father, it made me proud. She's definitely like me, she gets everything from me: the strength, the mindset, the ability to not give up."
It's an incredible story of self-belief from Wilder, who has more than delivered for his young family. The fighter collects an easy seven figures each time he boxes, and should he get to fight Anthony Joshua in 2018, it's rumoured he could pick up around £20million. Fair play to Deontay, who is an animal in the ring and an amazing father out of it.