I’d say that Deontay Wilder has the look of the Next Big Thing in sports, except that one look is all it takes to realize he’s already a very big thing. The 6-foot-7 boxer, who won the WBC heavyweight world championship in January, told me over the phone that he weighs about 235 pounds, and he’d like to get to 245.
That weight is distributed in striking fashion — Wilder looks like Hollywood’s idea of a champ, with broad shoulders and rippling pecs over a lean torso (though with, um, startlingly skinny legs). He is a more chiseled specimen than most in his weight class, but the “Bronze Bomber” has also delivered the goods; the only U.S. boxer to medal at the 2008 Olympics, he has a 34-0 record, with a Tyson-esque 33 knockouts.
In his past two fights, including the one that made him the first U.S. heavyweight to hold a title belt since 2007, Wilder showed he could go the distance against tougher foes, this after never previously having had to fight past the fourth round. The recent performances supported the notion that the 29-year-old Alabama native not only has one of the best physiques, but is among the best-conditioned athletes in his class, and he gave me some insights into his grueling, seemingly nonstop training regimen.
As Wilder said, “I’d rather be the part than look the part.”
It quickly became evident that Wilder’s road to the top has involved very few actual roads, as in the classic notion of boxers starting their days with a few miles of jogging. “That’s old school; I stay away from road running,” he said, “because it tears up your knees over time.”
Instead, Wilder regaled me with his enthusiasm for a regime that is — literally — all wet.
“I love the water because it builds all your muscles in your body,” Wilder said. “After I get finished with a water workout . . . I can’t even tell you the name of the muscles, that’s for sure, but I feel it.”
For Wilder, the pool provides a low-impact medium for workouts, plus it adds crucial resistance during all of his movements. He wears a device called an Aquajogger, which keeps his head above water in enough depth so that his feet never touch the bottom. Then he jogs and sprints in place, or moves from side to side, while also working on boxing techniques; Wilder also swims traditional laps.
His longtime trainer, Peter Khoury, has him wear flotation devices around his ankles, which provide extra resistance, as do swim gloves. “When we get in the water, we do a lot of stuff that keeps him long and flexible,” Khoury said, “with shoulder and joint mobility, which allows him to be able to snap a punch.”
Although Wilder does his share of standard weight training, he said, “too much shoulder development, too much strength and size, what’s happening is, you’re pushing the punches, as opposed to snapping your punches.”
Wilder offered another benefit of getting into the pool. “When you’re sore from all the weights and running, when you’re feeling any kind of fatigue, it takes all that soreness out of your body, as well, so you’ll be ready for the next session.”
In fact, the boxer said, “Even when I’m not training, at home, I’m in the water.”
He enjoys kayaking near his Tuscaloosa residence, and mentioned an island that requires a lot of paddling to reach, calling that “a beast of a workout.” He added, “I like it when the wind blows, because it gives the water resistance to me, and I love resistance.”
If he’s partying at a nearby lake and someone offers a beer, he said, sometimes he’ll have that person throw the can into the water, so he has to swim out and retrieve it. Or riding on a motorboat, sometimes he’ll hang off the back, then pull himself in as the watercraft picks up speed.
Back in the gym, Wilder gets on a treadmill — another “soft surface” for running, as is sand — for some high-intensity cardio. One workout involves 30 reps of 30 seconds of running, followed by 30 seconds of rest, at a “grade 9” incline, according to Khoury.
Wilder said that “a lot of fighters don’t train for balance, but that’s one of the most important things.” One of his go-to balance workouts is to wear a weighted vest while standing on a Bosu ball, sometimes on just one leg, while catching medicine balls thrown at him from a variety of angles.
His toughest routine? Putting on a 25-pound vest and grabbing a pair of 45- or 50-pound dumbbells, then going up and down the 21 steps at his gym. He does this for three minutes at a time, with a minute of rest in between — akin to how boxing matches unfold — and varies his movements from one “round” to the next.
“Oh my goodness, that right there . . . that’s why I know my legs are strong enough,” Wilder said with a chuckle. “That’s my least favorite workout. I hate that one.”
Wilder prides himself on exercising regularly, even when not specifically training for a fight. “I’m never out of shape, man,” he said. “Never, ever, ever out of shape.”
Years ago he promised his young daughter, who was born with spina bifida, that he would one day become a world champion. He has achieved that goal, but on the horizon looms a greater challenge: a matchup with Wladimir Klitschko, who holds several title belts and has dominated the heavyweight ranks for a decade.
Win that fight, which Wilder hopes will take place next year, and he would not only become the undisputed heavyweight champion but would probably succeed Floyd Mayweather as the biggest draw in boxing. Wilder said he’s “ready now” to beat Klitschko, but first he must get past at least two more foes, the first being France’s Johann Duhaupas on Sept. 26.
One certainty is that, even with the historic WBC belt to his name, Wilder is not about to rest on his laurels.
“Sometimes when guys become champions, they start to slack on a lot of things, they start partying more, they start exploring the world a bit more and skip training,” he said. “But I’m the opposite of that — I love training.”
@desbieler on Twitter
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