Deontay Wilder will aim to rekindle America’s love affair with heavyweight boxing on Saturday when he faces Britain’s Tyson Fury in a high-stakes showdown of undefeated fighters.
As the reigning World Boxing Council champion, Wilder is the latest custodian of a belt which has been worn by some of the heavyweight division’s most iconic names stretching back over more than 50 years.
Sonny Liston, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson head the who’s who of Wilder’s predecessors, evoking an era when heavyweight boxing was an integral part of the US sporting landscape.
Yet as Wilder prepares for the eighth defense of a title he has held since 2015, he remains a virtual unknown.
At the age of 33, Wilder has compiled an impressive record which includes 40 victories, no defeats, with 39 knockouts.
But his unblemished record and undeniable punching power have yet to capture the imagination of American sports fans.
Even now, three years into his reign as champion, he is sometimes mistaken for NBA superstar LeBron James.
That could change on Saturday when the 6ft 7in Wilder faces off against Fury, the trash-talking “Gypsy King” who is also unbeaten, with 27 wins from 27 fights, 19 inside the distance.
For Wilder, Saturday’s fight at the Staples Center is an opportunity to announce himself to a significant audience.
It is the first time he is the feature attraction on a pay-per-view television card. An explosive display against Fury will burnish his box-office appeal.
“America has a mighty man in me,” Wilder boasted at an ill-tempered press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. “America has the baddest man on the planet.
“I put in the hard work to make it here. I’ve grinded and worked. There’s no way I’m going to let a man come from another country and take what I’ve been building.”
Victory for Wilder or Fury will thrust them to the front of the queue to face Britain’s Anthony Joshua, holder of the International Boxing Federation, World Boxing Association and World Boxing Organization heavyweight belts.
While several obstacles would need to be overcome before a money-spinning Joshua fight can happen, the clamour for a unification bout could become irresistible