Seven years ago today, I found myself in Sheffield, at The Motorpoint Arena (almost full but not quite), watching emerging heavyweight contender/puncher/star Deontay Wilder live for the very first time. My fellow writers and I had seen Wilder on TV before, and we were well aware of his reputation as being a savage if raw and somewhat uneducated puncher, but seeing a fighter in the flesh is something else.
Wilder, then aged 27 and sporting a 27-0(27) record, had not faced anyone of real significance. This would not change on the night of April 27, 2013, yet many of us went home somewhat impressed by what we saw from “The Bronze Bomber” all the same. The main event was the Amir Khan-Julio Diaz fight (it turned out to be another nail-biting night from Khan, who was dropped, wobbled and hurt yet managed to get the close decision win), but there was much interest in Wilder.
His fall guy (sorry, opponent) was the one and only Audley Harrison, arguably the most maligned fighter in the country at the time. Harrison, a talented southpaw who had won Olympic gold in 2000, was a household name in the UK. For the wrong reasons. It’s said we Brits “love a good loser,” but Harrison, who had lost in good company six times prior to meeting Wilder, usually going home with a quick KO defeat attached to his record, was seemingly loved by nobody.
Harrison, then aged 41 and having been drinking heavily from the bar at center of The Last Chance Saloon for some time, nevertheless talked a great fight – as in a truly great and convincing fight. If you were suckered in by Harrison’s conviction, by his eloquence, you’d have thought Wilder had no chance. But those that were able to resist Audley’s considerable charm (and still had fresh in their minds his recent quick defeats at the hands of David Haye and David Price) were wondering how long it would take Wilder to get “A-Force” out of there.
Anything longer than a few rounds at the most and Wilder would have failed; his UK debut doing nothing to win over his many critics. As it turned out, Wilder needed just over a minute to end Harrison and end his career. Wilder, as we would grow accustomed to seeing in future fights of his, was composed until hurting his man. Then all hell broke loose. Looking for all the world like an out of control windmill, one that had been juiced by a few thousand volts, Wilder went berserk as he hurt Harrison with a right hand to the head.
Upon seeing Harrison’s legs dip, Wilder went, well, wild. Swinging with all his might and almost going over himself at one point, the visiting banger put everything he had into trying to rip Harrison’s head off. Audley bravely got back up after having been hammered to the floor by the few shots that did connect, but the ref deemed him unfit to carry on. Nobody but Harrison questioned the call.
But the questions about Wilder remained. How good was he? Could he take a shot himself? When would he meet a genuine contender? We got our answers in time. Interestingly, Wilder called out Tyson Fury in the post-fight interview. As we all know, these two would meet some years later, twice.
But on the evening of April 27 in 2013, Deontay Wilder was a wild, raw, violent, and ruthless puncher that fans wanted to see more of. Here in 2020, has anything much changed?