Heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder: “Outside of boxing I’m a homebody”

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Deontay Wilder has earned a fearful reputation for his power in the boxing ring, and he plans to use that reputation Saturday night in an electrifying title bout against Dominic Breazeale at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.

Wilder has proclaimed himself the baddest man on the planet.

“I’m the most excitin’… the hardest hittin’ puncher in boxing – period,” Wilder told “CBS This Morning: Saturday” co-host Dana Jacobson.

It’s an apt description. He’s landed an impressive 39 knockouts in 40 fights. And while he prides himself on that reputation and his “Bronze Bomber” nickname, boxing is just one part of Wilder.

The title he seems to relish most is Dad.

“Outside of boxing I’m a homebody,” Wilder said. “I’m a true homebody, and I love bein’ around my family. I love bein’ around my kids, and I tell ’em I love them all about six or seven times a day.”

He said that mix of peace and ruthless power has been with him all along.

“My mom would say, ‘He was a Tasmanian devil,'” he said, adding, “But I was quiet though. I was very to myself.”

Wilder was the second oldest of four kids raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, the place he still calls home. He dreamed about playing basketball or football for the Alabama Crimson Tide. And while he grew up poor, he was rich in family – and with that, came faith. He was the child and grandchild of pastors and his father, Gary, still preaches in Tuscaloosa.

When asked how he reconciles his son being a heavyweight boxing champ and his work as a pious man, Gary Wilder told Jacobson “there’s a connection, it’s a spiritual connection. And, you know, things that are spiritual are gonna be unseen.”

While his father was a “man of God,” Wilder said, “he didn’t believe in not defending yourself now. You wasn’t gonna let nobody bully you.”

Faith and strength are what Wilder relied upon when, at age 19, he found out he was going to be a father. His daughter Naieya would be born with spina bifida, meaning her spinal cord would not be developed properly.

“We all want a healthy child,” he said, adding “we all pray for that. But sometimes God throw[s] you tests in there. Because that’s what I look at it as. It was a test for me.”

“Did you think, at any point, of just walking away?” Jacobson asked.

“Never,” Wilder said, laughing. “Never. I mean, damn, when you said that that shook my – that stabbed my heart. Like, I could never imagine my daughter not being here. You know, that’s my world. That’s the foundation and the start to it all. You know what I mean?”

Naieya is now 14. Despite doctors’ fears, she has thrived. But at the time, Wilder had no way of knowing how much medical or physical help she would need – just that he would be the one to provide it.

“I brought up boxing for the single fact that, you know, I was lookin’ at the money aspect of it,” he said. “I was ignorant to the sport. I thought every fighter that stepped in the ring made a lotta money.”

When he first entered a gym and heard the speed bags being punched, he said he heard “heavenly sounds.”

“I’m in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. They ain’t seen no boxing here. You know, so just imagine, 20 years, all your focus is on the sports that surrounds your city: football–” he said.

“Football, basketball,” Jacobson added.

“You feel me?” Wilder said, adding, “And then when you walk into a whole ‘nother environment, it’s like, all these years, where [has] this been?”

Wilder admits he was like Bambi the first time he got between the ropes, trying to get his footing and teach his body how to be a fighter. But he was driven by a promise made to then-one-year-old Naieya.

“I had nobody else to watch her while I was in the gym,” he said.

“I said, ‘It’s okay, baby. Don’t worry. Daddy gonna be the heavyweight champion of the world one day, and he’s gonna be able to support you beyond your belief.’ She’s just lookin’ at me, not knowin’ a thing that I’m talkin’ about,” Wilder said.

From the moment he put on his first pair of boxing gloves, it would take him about a decade to get his first shot at the heavyweight title, but he never forgot that promise. On January 17, 2015, he was crowned WBC Heavyweight World Champion.

“It was an amazing moment, because I had so much weighin’ in on that,” he said. “It was like, ‘Man, I did it.’ You know, it was just that feeling of settin’ a goal and no matter what just goin’ through so much, you know.”

At age 29, Wilder became the first American heavyweight champ in nearly 10 years. Now, the big paydays he promised his daughter are a reality, but they still don’t define him as a person.

“I’m a nice guy that can whoop some ass,” he said. “Okay? That’s what I am. That’s what I am, every bit of it.”

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