I rolled into Birmingham Alabama, my hometown, for a couple of days of Board meetings, to hang out with some friends and to visit with my 90 year-old Dad, when, bam… a heavyweight championship fight broke out on the University Of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) campus, Don King and all.
Deontay Wilder, never heard of him? I hadn’t either. But now you know. He’s the recently crowned WBC (World Boxing Council) Heavyweight Champion and he lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. That’s right Tuscaloosa! He stands 6’7” has an undefeated record of 34-0 and the man throws bombs! Whew!! I could feel the challenger’s pain from my third row seat.
Here’s some background. Deontay won the title last January at the boxing mecca of the world, the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. He defeated Bermane Stiverne for the WBC crown, making Wilder the first Heavyweight Champion from Alabama, since the Brown Bomber, Joe Louis.
For his first title defense, Deontay wanted to do things differently. He wanted to defend his crown in his home state of Alabama. That’s right. He turned down the MGM and Vegas for Alabama. Specifically, he wanted to fight in his hometown of Tuscaloosa and on the campus of the University Of Alabama. They said no! Who knows why?
Birmingham raised its hand and grabbed its first Heavyweight Championship fight in the City’s history. It was quite an event!
City dwellers, suburbanites, and out-of-towners, some from as far away as Russia crammed the UAB Bartow Arena. Ring card girls in skimpy, short shorts stood on high heels, sashaying back and forth ready to announce the upcoming round. The ShowTime Network was visible all over the place with its cameras telling the Birmingham story to an international audience.
In the less-than-VIP quality VIP room, recognizable names and faces, drank chatted and ate with some of the celebrities. My friend Big Charles Barkley gave me his customary “thank you” as he wooed a small group of admirers. He always gives me a thank you, telling me “You know I always say thank you to you.”
“I appreciate you Charles,” I told him.
“Thank you,” he again repeated to me. I smiled and moved on as others fell over themselves to get his autograph and a picture. Charles obliged them all.
“The Real Deal,” former heavyweight champion, Evander Holyfield strode in looking all fit and ready to kick some a__. He looked great! I kept trying to get a good look at his ear. You know the one Mike Tyson bit a plug out of in one of their Heavyweight Championship fights. I couldn’t find it. The ear looked whole to me. I wonder if someone bites a chunk out of your ear, does it grow back?
With his security guard standing nearby, “The Real Deal” conducted a thirty-minute tutorial to a small crowd on heavyweight boxing championships. Evander calmly explained how Deontay could beat that night’s opponent, and with improvement, “He could beat the Big Russian,” Wladimer Klitschko, the king of today’s heavyweights. That was saying something! But if Evander says it, hey, you have to listen. The man has a heart as big as any that ever set foot in the ring.
The biggest celebrity of them all was Don King. That’s right, Don King! He was a gentleman, which threw many of the VIP’ers for a loop. They wanted to dislike him based on his media characterization. While trying to wolf down his food, he was constantly bombarded with autograph and photo requests. “Mr. King would you mind if I take a picture with you?” He obliged every person, gave everyone a smile and never did get to eat his food.
“Get him Deontay,” the young woman screamed in her shrill and annoying-as-hell high-pitched voice. “Get him.”
She sat right behind my friend O.T. and me. From the opening bell of a round to the closing bell of that round, she screamed in a piercing scream, “You better knock him out. Knock him out Deontay! Git him.”
While screaming she would jump, throw punches and scream some more. “That’s my brother,” she announced. “Git him, bro. Git him Deontay. You better knock him out.” O. T. caught several of her punches with his head. “Excuse me.” She screamed at O.T. when he rubbed his head. “Git him,” she continued screaming at her brother. “You better knock him out.”
“You better duck,” I told O.T.
She only caught me once, an elbow to the head. “Sit down,” I wanted to say. But I didn’t. She would not have heard me anyway. She was in a zone. “Git him. Knock him out Deontay,” she continued. I let it go.
The place got really loud! The crowd blew the roof off of the noise meter.
The ring card girls did their slow sultry walk between rounds.
Deontay finally connected on a couple of bombs in the 9th round and the challenger, Eric Molina, who wasn’t a bad fighter, had had enough. He gave in to the pummeling he had been taking the last few rounds. Enough was enough! He went down and didn’t make it up before the count of ten. The night was over.
My friends, and I poured out of the arena with the still enthusiastic crowd. It had been a great night.
Birmingham had done itself proud. “Git him Deontay!”