I was born on October 22, 1985, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. I’m still here.
I was raised by both parents up to 17. We had a good family. We had a middle class family, good teaching and good surroundings, raised by the church, where I went every week whether I wanted to or not. I have three sisters and one brother. I’m next to the oldest.
My neighborhood was normal. I had a neighborhood where everyone knew everyone. Typical American upbringing. Sometimes we got into trouble, but everyone watched after each other, so if my parents didn’t see me making trouble, another family would tell them. My neighborhood was very small, maybe about 12 houses. Local school up the street, church down the street.
There were drug dealers around, but in certain areas. Not in my exact neighborhood. My father always told me don’t ever bring jokers — bad people were “jokers” — into the house. He told me, “Be yourself and [to] not let everyone know about you.” My father was a strong presence in my life.
I was born a leader, never a follower. I never felt peer pressure. If the group goes left, I go right. When I went to college, I went to a junior college. I wanted to go to the University of Alabama, but had to go to junior college first to get my GPA up. I did a half-year of junior college, then dropped out and had my daughter. College was always an opportunity to go back. But she, my daughter, was my support. I gave up everything for her.
Boxing wasn’t always my thing. I loved it on TV. But if people wanted to be a pro athlete in Alabama, they loved football and basketball, especially football. We don’t have a local pro team, so football was everything. Central High School was a powerhouse near me. I didn’t even think about boxing. I didn’t know a boxing gym was here.
I first walked into a gym when I was 20. My best friend and I always talked about what we wanted to do in life. And I had no idea it would be boxing until I first tried it.
People used to pick on me, and I never ran. I was taught to defend myself. People knew I had nice hands on the street. So I went to the gym. I walked in, and I was in the right place and the right time. It was like a calling. The sound of the gym was like a soundtrack for me.
I remember the sound of the speed bag, the heavy bag, the squeak of the sneakers on the canvas. People then realized Deontay wasn’t the guy you messed with. At first I hated fighting. One time I came home crying after I beat up a kid. I prayed to God for help. But I knew I could make a living out of it.
I planned to be a journeyman, just to hang around long enough to take care of my family, my daughter. She has spina bifida. Most kids are in wheelchairs from that condition. But you can’t even tell she has it. I told her God has ideas for her, no matter what the doctors say. She runs and walks, she does gymnastics. She’s 10 now.
My first thought when I beat [Bermane] Stiverne to win the heavyweight title was my daughter. I promised her at one year old that I would take care of her beyond the minimum, the basics. That moment took me back to her. I saw a one-year-old in that 10-year-old girl.
We get promises from many different people, and they don’t come through. To be able to do that for her, it really touched me. Not only did I win the belt for her, but it was Muhammad Ali’s birthday and Martin Luther King’s birthday. And it made me think of Emmanuel Steward, who believed in me. He said I was the one to bring the belt back to America. He said that first.
God is very important in my life. I had to go to church as a child. I didn’t understand then, but I understand now. Some don’t believe, but if you don’t believe in something, you’ll fall for anything. My Christianity helps me everywhere. People ask why I believe in something you can’t see. But we believe in all kinds of things we can’t hold or see: air or light or love.
I’m the guy to bring the belt back to America. I’ve got the charisma and excitement. I’m motivated. I’m the guy who wants world peace. I want to bring that to the sport and the world. I want my word to spread throughout the planet. I think I have the tools to do that. I’m the man for the job. That’s why I thank God for this.
I want to fight Wladimir Klitschko on American soil. He fights in Germany and other places. I have the WBC belt, I have leverage. Next year would be probably more appropriate, because he has mandatories. He’s getting older, so the sooner the better.
I was in Klitschko’s camp three years ago. I learned a lot from him. I sparred over 50 rounds with him.
He said, “Deontay is the best sparring partner I ever had.” I came out with a bonus. You gotta do a helluva job to get a bonus out of training camp. It was like a preview. We got standing ovations. There were times when he said he had enough. I put in the work. I can’t wait for the world to see it. When the time comes, you will see the heavyweight champion.
Every day I’m learning. I want to learn every time I’m in the gym. When I stop learning, that’s when I leave the sport. When I’m learning, it keeps me interested and focused. I want to go from good to great, and then to excellence and magnificence.
All the men in the Wilder family have been confident. You may find someone who’s cocky, but cocky is just a kind of confidence. If you don’t believe in yourself, how can you convince someone to believe in you? I speak as if these things have already happened.
I’d say it’s all for my kids. I do this 100 percent for them. They’re my boss. Everything about Deontay went out the window. It became about them. There will come a time when I can’t do this, so I build the foundation for them, now, so they can be independent.
I want to retire and have my kids taken care of. I don’t care about the fame, as long as my children are taken care of. When you fight me, you’re trying to take food out of my children’s mouth. But out of the ring, I’m just Deontay.
I stayed in Alabama because I see an opportunity. I’m about to defend my title on June 13. Tickets are selling like crazy. I want to be the official home sport of Alabama. Most guys as fighters can’t go home. Only a few can make home their home base. Deontay Wilder will be ahead of Alabama football. Football is American. Boxing is worldwide. A lot of the greats came from Alabama: Joe Louis, Earnie Shavers, Evander Holyfield. I’m the latest.
I tell myself I have 10 years of boxing left. I have other plans in life. My passion is acting, after boxing. I’d like to end my career in acting.
I come from the west side of town, not the best side of town. But to see those young men see me, knowing I am one of them… So I can inspire and motivate them. It’s not like I come from another area. They say, “He’s right here.” I treat people like I’ve known them for years. People feel good when they’re done talking to me. They say, “champ shook my hand.”
When I was young, my grandma wouldn’t let my parents whup me. She said I was anointed. It feels great to be 33-0 with 32 KOs and proving people wrong. I have the highest KO ratio in the sport.
I am the chosen one.
Deontay Wilder is the WBC world heavyweight champion. He will defend his title against Eric Molina at Bartow Arena in Birmingham, Alabama on June 13, 2015. The fight will air on Showtime.
Photo Credits: Deontay Wilder/Jay Daes; Esther Lin/SHOWTIME