My first sustained visit to Birmingham, Alabama started off rocky. Though the airport is clean, convenient, and filled with friendly folk, many of the employees are unfamiliar with Uber. Sometimes as a California kid, I forget that not all parts of the country move at the same pace. Uber is relatively new to the Yellowhammer State, and apparently a significant portion of their drivers are new to the concept, as well. Eventually, I arrived at the Westin. It’s a beautiful hotel, located in a wonderful area. The staff displayed southern hospitality and were eager to accommodate any request I might have. But I wasn’t in Bama for sightseeing and being pampered; I was there for one thing: BOXING.
A few fans, who were standing outside of the hotel, asked what my perspective was on Saturday’s main event, Deontay Wilder vs. Gerald Washington for the WBC heavyweight championship. I shared my honest assessment with the four gentlemen, who were pulling for Washington to score the upset. I liked the match-up for the 18-0-1 fighter out of Vallejo, California. He is athletic, defense-oriented, and intelligent. But I did have my concerns, which I also shared. I felt Washington could tire before 12 rounds, and wasn’t great at fighting on the inside. He preferred combat from a distance, which is also strength of the champion’s. I also mentioned that I didn’t consider Deontay Wilder an “elite” champion. His record is elite. His power is elite. But in my opinion, his boxing skills are not as high as most of the previous and even current heavyweight titlists.
Little did I know that an Alabama native would overhear the conversation and not take too kindly to my breakdown. Specifically, my statement that Deontay Wilder was not elite. “What do you mean he’s not elite?” barked a man who was waiting at the valet. Suddenly, that southern hospitality turned to southern tension. “I’m tired of you non-fighters talking shit about my brother. You ain’t even been in the ring. You don’t know shit!” I calmly replied: “I do know about boxing, if ANYTHING, I know boxing.” Now, visibly irate and making a spectacle of himself in front of the two young valet workers, he threatened: “If you say something else about Deontay, I will fuck you up!” I looked at the two attendants as if to ask with my eyes: ‘Is this guy serious?’ He opened the door to his car that was in the front, and continued to make threats, even claiming he would run me over. After a long flight and Uber adventures, I did not have the adrenaline to further engage the hothead, who was sapping all of my positive energy. I walked back into the hotel lobby and attempted to erase the incident from my mind. Tomorrow would bring an exciting fight card at the Legacy Arena, and that’s what I focused my thoughts on. I took my chances on another Uber and ventured out for tasty BBQ (Saw’s Soul Kitchen) and a sports bar that would show my favorite basketball team, the Oklahoma City Thunder. Eventually, I found both and concluded the evening on a high note.
The February 25 fight card featured three bouts, beginning with Dominic Breazeale vs. Izuagbe Ugonoh, two exciting heavyweights. In my estimation, this slugfest took the early lead for 2017 Fight of the Year honors. After lots of back and forth action including knockdowns by both men, Manny Robles’ (2016 Trainer of the Year) pupil, Dominic Breazeale delivered a sensational 5th-round knockout and restored his standing as a title contender. Breazeale is now 18-1. Ugonoh is 17-1. If the thoroughly exhausting battle wasn’t enough for Dominic Breazeale, he would face even more adversity later on that night. The next fight at Legacy Arena was for the vacant IBF super welterweight title. Jarrett Hurd squared off with Tony Harrison. Harrison took control early, displaying a variety of skills that seemed to confuse Hurd. However, in the mid-rounds of the scheduled 12-round bout, Harrison began slowing down. He was caught with big shots in round 7, and finally succumbed to the new champion, Jarrett Hurd, in the 9th. Hurd ran his record to 20-0 while scoring his 14th KO. Harrison fell to 24-2.
In the main event, Gerald Washington dictated the bout with his strong left jab, oftentimes pushing Wilder back with it. He appeared to not only be the better boxer through 4 rounds, but the more confident, more poised one. In the 5th round, Deontay trapped Washington against the ropes. He then threw a left to temporarily freeze Washington’s left hand in a low position, and quickly threw his powerful right hand over the top of it. Just like that, the fight turned within a split-second. Deontay Wilder stopped Gerald Washington to earn his 37th knockout and 38th victory against no defeats. Washington fell to 18-1-1.
Fans were treated to a great night of boxing (those who came early could see a total of eleven bouts), surely enough to satisfy all appetites for viewing competitive violence. But the evening’s most dramatic confrontation was still to come. Walking distance from the Legacy Arena is the Westin Hotel, and its lobby would provide the venue for the night’s final scrap. Wilder’s brother would reappear, this time his target was the performer of the night, Dominic Breazeale. After the younger Wilder sucker-punched Breazeale, the social scene transformed into a mini-melee. The saddest part was that Breazeale was flanked by his wife and young children, not tag-team partners like the Wilders seemed to be, let alone the additional crew they had with them. Dominic Breazeale and his trainer were attacked, which brought the night to a frightening, disgraceful close. Birmingham, Alabama has a surreal history, but no evening will be quite like February 25, 2017.