Deontay Wilder circles and strikes in shark-like fashion in Birmingham victory

Deontay Wilder circles and strikes in shark-like fashion in Birmingham victory
Deontay Wilder defended his WBC heavyweight championship against challenger Gerald Washington in a fifth-round knockout in Birmingham. (Nik Layman / Alabama NewsCenter)

Deontay Wilder did more than retain his World Boxing Council heavyweight championship Saturday night. He also merited an Academy Award.

For best portrayal of the shark from the movie “Jaws.”

The Tuscaloosa native circled the ring through the first four rounds as challenger Gerald Washington scored points. Wilder measured his blows as 12,346 – the largest crowd to see a heavyweight fight in Alabama – watched in anxious anticipation.

The score of “Jaws,” simple yet terrifying, could have been imagined under the chants of De-on-tay! De-on-tay! In their minds, they could hear the familiar tune building to a crescendo that yielded the climactic scene in the fifth round.

Wilder delivered a right to move his opponent into position. He produced the left hook and powerful right hand that sent Washington into the ropes and to the canvas.

The former USC Trojan would rise, but only briefly. The home state favorite unleashed a flurry of lefts and rights that left referee Mike Griffin little choice but to stop the fight with 1:45 left in the round for Wilder’s 38th straight pro victory without a defeat and his 37th knockout win.

“This fight,” Wilder said, “I was just looking for the knockout punch.”

The Tuscaloosa native landed nine power shots in the fifth round. He had only connected on 11 in the prior four rounds.

The script of this production was rewritten in the dressing room. The new plan: Cut Washington off with the right hand, figuring the challenger couldn’t’ go to his right.

Trainer Jay Deas said the vision became clear in the dressing room, watching his fighter turn his hips with the hook and then quickly coming back with a powerful right.

“He felt it and I saw it,” Deas said. “That’s the move. That was something we thought we could be successful at.”

Added Wilder: “I was just waiting on that big moment. When it presented itself, I knew it.”

So too did some of the Alabama faithful who had been waiting for their champion to strike. Before the fifth round, Wilder made his intentions clear.

“I even looked at my girl (in the crowd) and told her, ‘I’m about to kill him,” Wilder said after the fight.

Before the eruption, Washington had been the aggressor. Through three rounds, Wilder trailed 29-28 on the cards of two judges; he was even at 38-38 on two cards after four rounds and led 39-37 on the card of the third judge.

“I don’t care about being down on the cards,” the champ said. “I’ve got God-given power. At any given time, I’m gonna get ’em out of there. That’s the approach that I have.”

It is an approach that has given Wilder the greatest knockout rate of any heavyweight in the history of boxing. Promoter Lou DiBella said Wilder wins via knockout 97.4 percent of the time.

“The power is real,” Wilder said.

It wasn’t just Fight Night in the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Legacy Arena. It was also Champ Night with three former champs – Larry Holmes and Alabama natives Evander Holifield, and Earnie Shavers – in the house.

Also present was WBO heavyweight champion Joseph Parker, who Wilder would like to face on his way to unifying the four heavyweight titles.

Washington said he felt good in the fight. Maybe too good.

“I got a little anxious,” the challenger said. “I felt the action was going good. He was just a little more patient than I was. I got a little anxious and I thought I had something. All credit to Deontay Wilder.”

Saturday’s fight marked Wilder’s return to the ring following a seven-month layoff. He broke his right hand and tore his bicep in his technical knockout of Chris Arreola.

After the latest title defense, the champ declared himself to be in good health.

“My hand felt wonderful,” he said. “It lived up to what (the doctors) said. And as you can see, I still have power. I’ve been blessed with Alabama country power.  Whether it’s in the first round or the 12th round, nobody’s safe with me in the ring.”

Deontay Wilder and Gerald Washington talk after the fight in Birmingham from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

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