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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Deontay Wilder

Deontay Wilder won a portion of the heavyweight boxing title Saturday night. I don't follow boxing much anymore but, watched his highlight reel out of curiosity. He's an extremely impressive athlete.

Wilder was playing small college basketball in Alabama when his daughter was born. She had spina bifida, so he dropped out of college to support her. He worked as a truck driver, but also took up boxing, eventually winning the bronze medal as a heavyweight at the 2008 London Olympics.

What I was struck by watching that highlight reel was just how ineffably black he is, in every way.

He expresses himself without inhibition. At the beginning of the Youtube video, he says, "Yo, I'm a fighter, man, I love to do this. I love to crush bones and spill blood, you know. I love to make your eyes swell and your lips gon' quiver, you know, so um, basically he just tried to come in, and um, just intimidate me, but you can't intimidate the bronze bomber, baby."

Granted, Wilder had just finished a fight and was all adrenalized, so his cockiness is partly due to that. And he probably figured that he was just telling the boxing fans what they wanted to hear, a la Mike Tyson, so he's probably not nearly as bloodthirsty as that quote made him sound.

But, you just don't hear whites or Asians talk like that, unless they're trying to sound black.

You also don't meet whites with the given name "Deontay."

After watching the highlight reel, I stumbled across this entertaining interview with Wilder. An excerpt from his monologue-ish interview:

"Boxing is a business. It's a business where you have to entertain, not only in the ring but outside the ring, and I do a damn good job, inside and outside of the ring. I'm natural with it. Some guys have it and some guys don't. I'm blessed to have it, you know, this is no act. Just 'cause the camera's in front of my face, this is nothing, I'm still the same silly dude, whether I'm in the camera, whether I'm not, you know. I have to tell people don't fall in love with me, because they love to be around me, if you're around me, you're gonna fall in love with me, like, I love this guy. Positive energy. [Wilder then makes a few negative comments about his opponent.] You know, I have the total package. I'm a friendly guy, a people person, a lovable guy, a loving father, you know what I mean. I got it all, man, and I just feel like I'm just made to do it, it's just my time, you know."

The thing is, Wilder's right: boxing is a business, he is entertaining, and he is a natural. He does exude a sort of positive energy when interviewed, and it probably is his time. Still, you just never hear a white guy be that uninhibitedly, unself-consciously self-confident.

Even at 6' 7", Wilder is lightning quick; you just never see a white guy that tall move with that kind of speed.

Then there's his build:

He has huge, convex deltoids, and skinny calf muscles; his deltoids actually look thicker than his calves, a ratio you'll never see on white guys.

Wilder is remarkably lean, far more so than just about any white athlete.

His arms are long: his wingspan is five inches longer than his height (whites generally have a wingspan equal to their height).

And, if you watched that highlight reel, you'll see that the way Wilder moves is also quintessentially black: The brief, semi-threatening crouch over his opponents after he knocks them down. The little stomping/dancing motion immediately after a couple of the fight stoppages. The showboating stutter steps. The bolo punch. The dramatic way he raises his right hand after scoring a knockdown.

These are all things you almost never see white boxers do.

There's no moral judgment here; only marvelment at our astonishing diversity.


Spychiatrist said...

Excellent sport commentary John.

Sounds like you'd make a great host on ESPN, until you said something un-PC and they kicked you to the

He is an amazing boxer for certain and quite entertaining as well.

Spychiatrist said...

After watching him box in some of those clips, I'd be inclined to say that he's not that technically great as a boxer really, but he's impossible to get close enough to hurt?

His arms are so long that he just winds up and pummels you long before you can even get close to the guy. And he's strong as an ox.

I think the lighter weight fighters are better boxers; the heavy weight fighters are just pummel each other.

John Craig said...

Thank you Spike.

Yeah, they wouldn't like me.

Wilder is an incredibly talented boxer, but a highlight reel can be misleading. (If you'd watched a highlight reel of Tommy Hearns before his first Leonard fight, you'd have thought he would knock Leonard out for sure.) But Wilder throws wide, looping punches that could be blocked by a really skilled, strong fighter, like one of the Klitschkos in their prime. Vitali has now retired, though, and Wladimir may be losing a step.

Spychiatrist said...

I love these rags to riches type stories.

Wonder what his lifetime earnings in the ring are so far? How long before he's raking in some big $?

Always love it when these guys from poor working class backgrounds achieve great success.

While I like Tennis, it seems to me that most Tennis players come from privileged backgrounds, while boxing is a much more blue collar sport. Wonder how many Tennis payers are regular Joes?

John Craig said...

Spike --
Exactly; I wrote the reply above before seeing your second comment. Technically, he actually sucks. But he makes those punches work for him just by being so fast, and that seven foot reach definitely works to his advantage too. I think a Mike Tyson would have been able to get inside and knock him out, but there aren't any Tysons around right now.

Yeah, the lighter weight guys are definitely better athletes. But for a heavyweight, Wilder has blinding speed.

John Craig said...

Spike --
Yes, rags to riches definitely makes for a more affecting story. And Wilder's daughter adds another poignant element. I'm sure we'll see lots of pictures of him with her in the future.

My guess, his next fight will be big bucks (the champion always gets paid more), and if he fights Klitschko, it will be megabucks. Plus, he is an entertainer, as he points out, so that should eventually help the gate. Recently the UFC has been eating into boxing's audience in a big way, but Wilder could help staunch that flow a bit.

Steven said...

I'm curious to what extent Africans are inclined to talk like this.

Africans have a vibrant, uninhibited, confident thing going on. I haven't really seen them talking like American blacks though but that might just be lack of exposure.

As I was reading, I thought of some examples of super confident, bragging white fighters. Tyson Fury, one of the main heavyweight contenders, takes confidence, bragging and belligerence to an extreme. I think he actually calls Deontay Wilder a little girl in this video of a press conference:

Then there's Conor Mcgregor, who displays extreme confidence too and is very articulate and amusing with it:

They probably don't do it in the same style or the same way as Wilder but they sure do it.

I've seen more shamelessly flashy and self-confident, uninhibited African Americans than any other group, and Asians seem to be at the other end of the spectrum, so I'm not really disagreeing with you, but there are some notable examples of remarkably confident white fighters.

At the least, its fun to watch. Those type of guys are always the most entertaining in press conferences. The Klitschkos are very mature, honourable gentlemen, quietly confident and dignified, but they are boring.

John Craig said...

Steven --
Just watched both those tapes, yes, both men are full of swagger and self-promoting hyperbole. And in fact I'd add Chael Sonnen to that list, he did a lot of trash-talking too. But somehow when whites do it, it's either done with an undercurrent of bitterness, or it comes across as if they're trying to imitate black culture somehow.

I hadn't even been aware of Tyson Fury until you just pointed him out. He's an Irish Traveler, a whole different kettle of fish, and his father actually named him after mine Tyson (Fury was born in 1988). Not sure exactly what's going on there, but yes, he's quite a talker.

Steven said...

I don't think either of these are particularly trying to imitate blacks, especially Mcgregor. Maybe Tyson Fury has been influenced by the likes of Ali as some of his proclamations sound Ali-esque.

Again, your 'black culture' is black American culture. Do Africans have the same culture? I do think its related to their black genetics (some underlying black cognitive traits are involved) but I don't think that means that this cultural expression is inevitable. I can just see too much difference with African cultures and attitudes, the tribal, the religious, the middle class.

I also think fighters are particularly prone to egotism and brash dispalys of confidence. Its an individual sport and its fighting. I never hear black or white soccer players showing any sign of this type of thing in interviews.

Irish travellers have a bare knuckle boxing culture and they are known for being rough and ready and somewhat wild and unruly. They have a reputation for thieving and for being a law unto themselves. Fury didn't live an itinerant life; he was like a settled Irish traveller but he comes from that culture. He's not very educated but he's fairly bright and he's just wild, belligerent and very confident. In quieter interviews, he's very real, wears his heart on his sleeve but can be very scathing of opponents. I find him likeable overall.

John Craig said...

Steven --
You're right, McGregor is definitely not a wigger, that's hot what I was trying to say. But a lot of white guys do come across as if they're doing pale imitation of Ali; with blacks, somehow that sort of stuff comes more naturally.

No question, there are different black cultures; Africans who come here actually often look down on American blacks. But there's an underlying lack of inhibition, at least compared to whites and Asians, which permeates them all.

No question, Fury is his own man. I'm sure you've seen the movie "Snatch," which captured some of that culture.

Steven said...

yeah I was going to mention snatch and yeah I agree with what you said about the underlying lack of inhibition, which fits with what I said perfectly.

Blacks, Africans as well as African Americans in different ways, have the most flamboyant, colourful, flashy dress sense. They carry off a level of flashiness and swagger you don't really see from whites. And somehow they have the natural swagger to pull it off, so it seems authentic. Whites wearing some of those clothes would look ridiculous.

When they don't take it too far, they are often very good dressers actually. I have much admired some of the relatively reserved black styles.

I guess we are pretty much in agreement.

Steven said...

Check this out, so true:

John Craig said...

Steven --

Jokah Macpherson said...

Regarding armspan, mine is three inches less than my height. I've yet to find any advantage to having a short armspan.

John Craig said...

Jokah --
There is none, except for when it comes to lifting weights. Otherwise, athletically, long arms are almost always an advantage.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dude, I've heard plenty of white guys talk like that.

Mark Caplan said...

The National Science Foundation supported research showing that blacks and whites on average have different centers of gravity, which makes blacks faster sprinters and whites faster swimmers:

According to Slate, the scientists got away with this subversive and insensitive research by emphasizing that the black-white biological differences were caused by a difference of "phenotype," not a difference of "race." And the scientists themselves were racially integrated.

John Craig said...

Mark --
Just read the report, it's a bunch of garbage. First of all, the way they try to say its not a matter of race is ridiculous. Take a look at this self-contradictory excerpt:

"It all comes down to body makeup, not race, Jones and Bejan said.

'Blacks tend to have longer limbs with smaller circumferences, meaning that their centers of gravity are higher compared to whites of the same height,” Bejan said. “Asians and whites tend to have longer torsos, so their centers of gravity are lower'."

That IS precisely a racial difference he's describing, right after saying it doesn't come down to race. How ridiculous.

And secondly the reason blacks are faster sprinters on the track is due to a number of factors, not "higher center of gravity." Also, while that is one of the factors, that is a matter of longer leg length for their height; the higher center of gravity is incidental. It also has to do with the preponderance of fat twitch muscle fine, the amount of testosterone, the larger butt muscles, and the narrower hips.

Also, blacks tend to be disproportionately successful in the swimming sprints. In London, in 2012, two out of two of the US men 50 meter freestylers were black, although one of them was very light-skinned. There, while a lower center of gravity, or longer torso, is an advantage for swimming, blacks do better because they tend to be stronger, have longer arms, wider shoulders, and narrower hips. Their disadvantage in the water is that they have more body density, so don't float as high. Also, blacks of West African descent tend to have less lung capacity for their body size, which is a disadvantage in the longer events. Anyway, it's complicated.

Mark Caplan said...

I think the scientists were making a distinction between "blacks" (the broad racial category) and West African (the phenotype). The fastest sprinters come from only a subset of the black race.

John Craig said...

Mark --
But aren't phenotypes just expressions of genotypes?

I agree that West Africans are distinct from East Africans, who can't sprint but are great at distance running, and much less muscular.

Douglas Carkuff said...

I got to meet Deontay Wilder a few years ago during a visit to the boxing hall of fame in Canastoda. Had never really heard of him before. He was signing autographs and talking with a big line of old, fat white people like myself and was clearly enjoying himself doing it. Very friendly fellow and a natural at receiving attention. I think, though, that qualities that you attribute to race are really cultural and personal. I was struck at the time by how thin his calves were - almost comically thin. Made me think of a thoroughbred horse.

John Craig said...

Mr. Carkuff --
Agreed, although I've never met him, Deontay Wilder does come across as very affable. And I think if he beats Tyson Fury he'll become a huge star, I'm actually a little surprised he hasn't gotten more publicity to date; I guess mixed martial arts has something to do with that.

I just took another look at the post, and I'm still convinced that almost all of those differences are racial in nature; I've been following boxing a long time, since the 70's, and all of the differences I describe have always fallen along racial lines. As to the "cultural" differences, yes, some of it is black culture as opposed to genetics, but keep in mind that culture comes from genetics to some extent. (A group with naturally fewer inhibitions is going to develop a culture which doesn't value restraint to the same degree.)