Deontay Wilder is just over 24 hours from returning to the ring in Brooklyn, and ahead of that fight, it perhaps goes without saying that Wilder has carved out a near — if not solidified — Hall of Fame-worthy career.
His knockout percentage is historic, his title defenses are multitudinous, and his box-office appeal has been nothing short of spectacular in the modern era. One need not harp on his accolades, as they speak for themselves.
Reality, however, shows that Tyson Fury has exposed Wilder’s many deficiencies on offense and defense. Two of “The Bronze Bomber’s” last three fights have come against the “Gypsy King,” and all three fights against the reigning lineal champion sung the same song. They harmonized about a supremely gifted puncher who has work to do on his fundamentals.
Take Fury vs Wilder 3, for example. After seeing the British stalwart twice, and losing in the latter matchup, boxing fans might’ve expected — or hoped at the very best — that Wilder would come out with a more varied attack. Au contraire, mon frère.
CompuBox recorded an abysmal 8.8 percent of Wilder’s jabs connecting on Fury, as he landed 9 of 102 jabs thrown. On the opposite end, Fury threw 117, landing 36, for a 30.8 percent conversion.
The good news is, Wilder can at the very least throw to match his opponents. The bad news is, he doesn’t throw relentlessly the way he should. Why should he do so?
Because he has a reach advantage over most every opponent he faces. Outside of Fury and Dominic Breazeale, he’s the tallest man in the ring every fight night, even if it’s only by a small margin.
Why should he throw more coordinated combinations? Because he is bereft of doing so. A mighty combination from Wilder is a right-handed haymaker, followed by a left-handed one, and you might find a straight right in there as well. That’s his prototypical 1-2-3. His combinations are very predictable, mechanical in a way that leads him to not score much in tactical fashion.
Which brings the topic of conversation to his defense. We have seen a bevy of Wilder’s fights at this point. You’d be hard-pressed to find a better example that ushers to the forefront the questionability of his stance and head movement, than his first fight against Luis Ortiz.
In round one of that bout, Deontay came out with an extremely wide stance; so wide, he looked like if he got hit with a hard enough punch, he’d break into a split or fall backwards.
By round seven, his stance closed up. It became smaller than Ortiz’s. In the same round, he showed obvious signs his trainer should have picked up on. Not once did he slip, or weave a punch — not once. His greatest defensive mechanism was retreating by jumping backwards. Ortiz was able to capitalize off of this by throwing solid jabs upstairs, before unleashing a barrage of combinations that hurt the Alabama native.
Once hurt, Wilder did not move his head to evade further damage. A closed stance and lack of head movement could point to two things. Either the fighter is unaccustomed to, or not savvy with such fundamentals; that, or fatigue was playing a major role.
Let’s not forget, prior to his first championship fight against Bermane Stiverne (Wilder’s lone win that went the distance), he had never been past round four. Also, in every title defense leading up to the first Ortiz fight, he had only made it to the championship rounds one time, against Johann Duhaupas.
For context, Wilder holds the fifth highest knockout percentage in world heavyweight title fights of all time, at 69.23 percent. The other four fighters above him — Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Tommy Burns, and Vitali Klitschko — had all been further than round four prior to their first shot at a world title belt. And by fight number 33, all had seen the championship rounds at least once.
We saw obvious signs of enervation from Wilder in his second fight against Fury. It was blamed on a heavy costume he wore during his ring walk, but in actuality, could have simply been his lack of repetitions going the distance.
Which brings us to his upcoming fight against Robert Helenius. The veteran proves to be a match for the former WBC heavyweight champion, especially when it comes to size. Dating back to 2015, the 6’7” “Nordic Nightmare” will be only the third opponent to be Wilder’s height or greater.
Helenius has his strengths and weaknesses. He keeps his hands loose, evident in the appearance of his gloves throughout his fights. Additionally, he throws a lightning quick 1-2 jab and straight right, and is comfortable throwing a slew of punches, including a pretty impressive uppercut.
His range of punches got the better of Lamon Brewster, a former titleholder who famously once upset Wladimir Klitschko. In the second round of their bout back in 2010, Helenius caught Brewster with a mean right hand that dropped him in round two.
Helenius is mobile, although his footwork looks awkward at times. Against shorter fighters like Brewster or Dillian Whyte, he is adept at throwing counter punches. But he also gets tagged a lot upstairs, something Wilder’s camp must gather through watching film.
Ultimately, Wilder should be able to get the victory, more likely than not by knockout. A taller fighter with such explosion will be a matchup problem for Helenius, although he brings skills to the table offensively that may bother Wilder, especially early on. He is to be respected.
Nonetheless, the American star already has his sights set on Anthony Joshua. This is indeed a fight that fans have been salivating over for years now. This tune-up fight with Helenius, in a perfect world, will be an opportunity for Wilder to put some skills he’s worked on to the test.
He can be likened unto one Giannis Antetokoumnpo in basketball. Both took up their respective sports late in life. Both, while athletic marvels with unstoppable traits, had glaring weaknesses in their repertoires that opponents could easily expose.
The difference is, Giannis utilized his offseasons to get better, and has since become un-guardable, and that hard work was rewarded with an NBA Championship.
Deontay Wilder has the chance to take the next step, albeit late in his career. Will he? Saturday will give us clarity into the matter.