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.
Yet as Wilder prepares for the eighth defense of a title he has held since 2015, he remains a virtual unknown.
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.
Victory for Wilder or Fury will thrust them to the front of the queue to face Britain’s Anthony Joshua, holder of the IBF, IBO, WBA, WBO 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.
For Joshua’s eventual challenger to be Wilder, he must overcome the imposing 6ft 9in frame of Fury, a man on a mission who returned to the ring in April after a two-year absence following a battle with depression, drink and drug abuse.
Three years ago, Fury stunned the boxing world after defeating champion Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBA, IBF, WBO and IBO and lineal titles.
The high of that victory however was to be followed by a descent into despair. Fury, who was subsequently stripped of those belts amid two failed drug tests, recently revealed he had tried to commit suicide.
But with his demons overcome, and his licence restored, Fury returned earlier this year, stopping Albanian journeyman Sefer Seferi after four rounds in April before outpointing little-known Francesco Pianeta in August.
Whether those two fights are adequate preparation for the challenge of Wilder remains to be seen.
“I’m going to box his face off,” Fury said. “On Saturday night, Deontay Wilder is going to be known as the guy who got knocked out by Tyson Fury,” added the Briton, gleefully mocking Wilder for his relatively low profile amongst US sports fans.
“He needs me. He’s made seven defences but he’s still unknown in this country. I went down the street yesterday and asked 50 people if they knew who Deontay Wilder was and only two said they did, and they were boxing fans.”