By Michael Rosenthal
Some people I respect speak of Deontay Wilder as if he violates the sanctity of the traditional sports division of the Zohar.
"The worst boxer in history among heavyweight title holders," says Wilder, who is defending his title against Dominic Breisel on Saturday in Brooklyn. "A rough boxer at best," say other observers, more generous. "All he has is his punching power," he says, is a more common tendency.
Like most opinions, these are at least minor exaggerations. It is true that Wilder has limited skills, which is not surprising considering that he started boxing at the age of 20. And yes, his power is his non-secret weapon.
He admitted, he is also a good athlete (especially for his 6 foot 7 frame) who uses every dark fist to have him set the shots that gave him 39 knockouts in 40 wins. He must do something right. As the former rival of Wilder Gerald Washington told me, "You can not argue with his resume."
And it's not as if he is facing challenges, as they are in the heavy brigade these days. Wilder last year took on two of the biggest active players, Luis Ortiz and Tyson Puri. He stopped the first with a fascinating fight that examined his durability, his best victory, and he was lucky to emerge in the final struggle.
Wilder also tried to fight with his most natural opponent, Anthony Joshua. If there is a generous boxing God, this battle will happen someday soon.
Critics would quote his appearance against anger as an example of Wilder's lack of talent. The WBC title holder was able to knock the wrath in the ninth and 12th round – the second time cruelly – but otherwise he was out by a more skilled fighter.
It would be difficult to protect Wilder. He fought furiously. I remember saying to someone in disgust right after what I thought was a boring struggle to the beatings, "Adam, Wilder just reinforced everything his critics say about him, it was really bad to look for him."
One thing, though: rage dominated the large (but aging) Vladimir Klitschko more thoroughly than did the Wilder. The point is that fake, an exceptional athlete and a great boxer of his size, can make someone look bad as long as he stays on his feet. It could include Joshua one day.
And Wilder has an explanation, if you like, for his appearance; he tried hard to eliminate the rage. Once he stopped clicking, the blows – and close – knockout – came.
That's exactly how Eric Molina, another victim of Wilder, saw it.
"One thing about Wilder, when he tries too hard to throw the right hand, you can see it coming," said Molina. "He was desperate to knock Furry up and the rage was too slippery for wide shots (Wilder) was throwing in. He saw them come in. To land against the fury you have to throw clean, accurate shots that are set up with a different pace. Nothing.
"I think Wilder knows it now," he says, "and in the letter he goes back, knocking Puri in six to eight rounds."
Wilder's bottom line is that he can hit any liver, even when he's struggling. It only takes one hit because of its power. This is the main reason he succeeded. This is also why it is fun to see, at least for most of us.
If you require your biggest punchers to be also special boxers, then Wilder is not for you. I get it. I preferred the unforgettable series between Marco Antonio Barrera and Eric Morales to that of Arturo Gatti and Mickey Ward because the Mexicans combined action with a higher level of skill.
But I, like millions of others, enjoyed the Gatti-Ward struggles. I accepted that neither of them had polished skills and focused on the persuasive clamor they had created, and that was something.
It's more or less how I approach Wilder. I accept the fact that he is not a very good boxer and focus on what he brings to the ring – a crazy knockout.
I will always be a fan of sublime technicians like Floyd Maywater, but a knockout artist like Wilder clashes with a more primal desire for total war. In other words, fans want a knockout and Wilder provides them. Just like that.
Wilder probably will never be considered one of the finest in history because of his faults but he does two things: he wins and is entertaining. this is something.
Michael Rosenthal was the winner in the 2018 Writers Association of America's Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Press. He had covered a fist in Los Angeles and beyond for nearly three decades. Follow @mrosenthal_box.