Deontay Wilder: The Max Baer of Our Time
Great size, rudimentary skills. Crude technique, often wild. A tendency to showboat with overmatched opponents. Horrible balance, worse footwork. But goodness, that right hand. That right hand could knock down a building. If you think I am describing Deontay Wilder, I could be, but I’m not. The description is of Max Baer, “The Livermore Larupper.” Heavyweight champion from 1934-35.
Max Baer, as Deontay Wilder is today, was, for his era, an uncommonly big, rangy heavyweight with TNT in his right glove. Over 6’2 and a solid 220-plus pounds, with extremely broad shoulders and a long reach, he had all the physical ability and natural talent in the world. Probably the most of any of the pre-Joe Louis, late-1920s to mid-1930s heavyweight champions, but he never really refined his professional skill-set. Most of the time with Baer, his physical advantages and that thunderbolt disguised as a right hand made that unnecessary. Against the best fighters, and in certain situations, he could be made to pay for it. Like Wilder, Baer was gregarious and charming outside of the ring, and inside the ring, often showboated or played to the crowd when he was in control. Famously a prankster, a world-class kidder and an irrepressible ham. A genuine character, “Madcap Maxie” was an icon of the 1930’s.
Watching Wilder defend his WBC belt against Gerald Washington last night, I couldn’t help but think of Max Baer. For four rounds, Gerald Washington pushed Wilder all over the ring, out-jabbed him. Washington showed better form, a more refined game plan, superior quickness, and greater energy. This writer gave Washington the first four rounds with only the third being debatable. For his part, Wilder’s footwork was terrible, his balance atrocious. He flailed with his punches, appeared confused by Washington’s basic ability to fight, and looked lethargic. Washington’s jab was like a puzzle Wilder couldn’t solve. Many times he just stood there waiting to get popped and knocked back by it. By the end of round three, the sensation of upset was in the air.
Then Wilder touched Washington on his left temple with his right glove and it was, essentially, over. Just like that. Sure, Washington got up and Wilder pursued, flailing, swinging from the hip–and yes the referee may have been in a hurry to stop the fight. But, it was over the minute Wilder’s right glove short-circuited Washington’s brain synapses.
It’s easy, following the Washington affair, to imagine a Joseph Parker or an Andy Ruiz making Wilder look amateurish. Or a Luis Ortiz, an Anthony Joshua having their way with him. But it’s just as easy to imagine Wilder, at some point, in a fight that he may even be losing badly, touching any of them on the left temple with that right glove, and it being over. Just like that. Which is why, for exactly now, Deontay Wilder may well be both the best heavyweight on the planet, and the most vulnerable of the belt holders. He absolutely appears to be the least skilled of the top big men.
Baer and Wilder were not identical twins, more fraternal historically. Wilder, by all reports, is devoted to training and wants to learn his craft. Baer remained right-hand happy his whole career, was famously hard to coach, and often didn’t take his training as seriously as he could have. Max never had serious issues with his hands. Wilder, however, is probably one errant power punch to a forehead or elbow away from his time at the top ending. He has fractured his right hand several times; another severe break might be it for him. Without that right hand, well, it wouldn’t be pretty.
It’s worth mentioning that “Madcap Maxie” ended up losing his title to a fundamentally solid prizefighter, Jim Braddock, who possessed less than 33% of Baer’s physical ability. Deontay Wilder has the look of a boxer that could suffer the same fate on the right night.