Boxer Deontay Leshun Wilder (1985- ) is a native of Tuscaloosa who is the current World Boxing Council heavyweight boxing champion. He was a bronze medalist in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, a national amateur boxing heavyweight champion, and national Golden Gloves heavyweight champion.
Wilder was born on October 22, 1985, in Tuscaloosa, Tuscaloosa County, to Rev. Gary Wilder and Deborah Wilder. He has three sisters and one brother. He was a multi-sport athlete at Central High School, excelling in football, basketball, baseball, and track. After graduating in 2004, Wilder entered Shelton State Community College, intending to later transfer to the University of Alabama. In 2005, however, Wilder’s daughter with his girlfriend, Jessica Scales, Naieya, was born with spina bifida. To pay for her medical expenses, Wilder left school and began working at local restaurants and as a driver for Greene Beverage Company. That same year, Wilder started training as a boxer at Skyy Boxing Gym in Northport, Tuscaloosa County, which was owned by Jay Deas, who would become Wilder’s trainer and manager.
Standing 6-feet, 7-inches with an 84-inch reach and weighing approximately 217 pounds, Wilder proved to be a natural heavyweight. Soon after beginning his amateur career, he won the gold medal at the National Golden Gloves Tournament and the U.S. Amateur Championships in 2007. He then earned a spot on the U.S. National Team with a gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Trials. At the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China, Wilder won two matches but was defeated by Clemente Russo of Italy in the semi-final, thereby earning the bronze medal for heavyweight boxing. He was the only American boxer to win a medal at the games.
Following the Olympics, Wilder turned professional and adopted the moniker “The Bronze Bomber.” The nickname was a nod to his Olympic medal as well as honoring fellow Alabamian and heavyweight champion Joe Louis, who was known as the “Brown Bomber.” Wilder’s first professional bout was a knockout of Ethan Cox on November 15, 2008, in Nashville, Tennessee. The following year, Wilder married Jessica Scales, with whom he had two more children. The couple separated in 2017.
Wilder won his first professional title when he defeated Kelvin Price for the World Boxing Council (WBC) Continental Americas heavyweight title in a third-round knockout in December 2012. On January 17, 2015, Wilder defeated Haitian-Canadian boxer Bermane Stiverne by a unanimous decision in Las Vegas to become the WBC champion, earning $1 million for the victory. Prior to Wilder’s win, the United States had suffered its longest drought in claiming the heavyweight championship, at seven years and seven months. The previous American heavyweight champion was Shannon Briggs, who held the title from 2006 to 2007. Wilder is the third heavyweight boxing champion from Alabama, following Atmore native Evander Holyfield, who last held a major title in 2001, and Joe Louis.
During his heavyweight reign, Wilder has made a point of bringing fights to his home state. In his first defense of the title, Wilder defeated Eric Molina with a ninth-round knockout on June 13, 2015, at the Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Jefferson County, which was the first heavyweight title fight ever held in Alabama. Since that fight, Wilder has also defended his title at Birmingham’s Legacy Arena. He suffered his first loss in a February 2020 rematch with Tyson Fury and also lost his championship belt.
In July 2014, author Tony Bowers produced a children’s book, Deontay, the Future World Champ, inspired by Wilder’s life story, with a focus on healthy living and being determined about achieving goals. He was awarded the Knockout of the Year title in 2016 and 2017 by Premier Boxing Champions television program. In early 2018, he appeared on the television series WAGs Atlanta, which centers on “wives and girlfriends” of top professional athletes.
Over the course of his career, Wilder has provided charitable support to those in his home state. He began providing financial support to a gym for kids in Coffeeville, Clarke County, following the closure of the local high school. Wilder has also held promotional boxing matches and basketball games to support Tuscaloosa-area residents.