'I always pictured myself as a goalkeeper' – How Deontay Wilder took up boxing to look after his daughter
The WBC heavyweight champion played a variety of sports as a teenager but was forced to turn to the fight game in a bid to provide for his family
For a man renowned for stopping opponents, perhaps it shouldn’t come as much as a surprise to learn that Deontay Wilder was once just as drawn to the idea of stopping shots.
As a multi-talented teenager blessed with both an imposing physique and amazing agility, the American tried his hand at a variety of sports.
“I played football, basketball, baseball, ran track and if I had had time for soccer, I would have done that as well,” Wilder explained on iNews.
“I always pictured myself as a goalkeeper. In the end, I couldn’t play soccer because it always interfered with basketball but yeah, I always thought about becoming a goalkeeper.”
Wilder instead focused on basketball at the behest of his father, who had played the game in his younger days. However, he also excelled as a wide receiver for Tuscaloosa Central High and dreamed of playing college football for Alabama Crimson Tide.
However, in 2005, the then 19-year-old saw his whole world was turned upside down when he learned his partner Helen was pregnant.
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Not only that, doctors informed the couple that their daughter would be born with spina bifida, a condition which affects that backbone and membranes around the spinal cord and, in severe cases, severely impacts a person’s ability to walk.
“I remember being in the doctor’s office: 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,” Wilder is quoted as saying by the Daily Mail.
“Then, he gave us option B: We could terminate the pregnancy. 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]. I felt like, ‘Give her life.’ You never know what she can become.”
Wilder had no idea what he would become either. He dropped out of community college to provide for his family, taking a variety of jobs – including waiting tables at IHOP and working in a kitchen at Red Lobster – in a desperate bid to make ends meet.
It was that desire to make money that pushed him towards boxing, with Wilder naively thinking that it was easy to make money fast in the fight game.
He had easily won every single street fight he had been involved in as a kid and figured victories would come just as easily in the ring.
“I was ignorant to the sport,” he confessed. “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.
“On the street, you get your man, you put a good move on him, he falls… Get on and pound.
“But when I started boxing, even one minute tortured me. I remember sparring, and I was like Bambi. My legs were shaking like Bambi!”
Pretty soon, though, Wilder would have his opponents shaking with fear, as it quickly became evident that he was blessed with the most precious of gifts in boxing: knockout power.
He destroyed one opponent after another as he embarked on his quest to fulfill the promise he had made to his baby daughter – Naieya to become a world champion.
The dream was realised in 2015 when the Alabama native defeated Bermane Stiverne via unanimous decision to claim the WBC heavyweight title.
Now, ahead of Saturday’s eagerly awaited bout with Tyson Fury, Wilder is determined to secure a victory that would set up a lucrative unification fight with WBA, WBO and IBF champion Anthony Joshua next year.
The money he has earned from boxing played a significant role in him being able to look after not only Naieya, who was forced to endure five operations on her spine as a child, but also his three other children: Ava, Dereon and Deontay Jr.
Thus, the one remaining goal is to ensure that they are set up for life.
“I love my children to death and that is why I am building for them,” Wilder, who boasts a remarkable undefeated record of 40-0, with 39 knockouts, told ESPN. “Everything I do is for them. My career, it is for them.
“I am going to make sure that I get everything I deserve. I am going to make sure I get the best of the best, no matter what, because I want to make sure they have the best of the best.
“That is why no matter who gets in the ring with Deontay Wilder, they will be in for the fight of their lives.”
Fury has been warned. And he could well end up wishing that Wilder had become a goalkeeper rather than a knockout machine!