Wrestling & MMA

Boxer Deontay Wilder brings defense of WBC heavyweight title to Birmingham, hoping to excite Alabama

WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder works out at Skyy Boxing Gym on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Northport, Ala. Wilder prepares for the first defense of his WBC heavyweight title. Hell fight Eric Molina June 13 in Birmingham.
WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder works out at Skyy Boxing Gym on Thursday, May 28, 2015, in Northport, Ala. Wilder prepares for the first defense of his WBC heavyweight title. Hell fight Eric Molina June 13 in Birmingham. AP

College football likely will never face a threat for top sports attraction in Alabama.

Generations of Alabamans, spanning more than a century, have cast their die-hard allegiances to either the University of Alabama or Auburn University football teams. Attention to other sporting events lags miserably.

Deontay Wilder fully acknowledges the passion that football generates in the state. But the native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama is intent on providing boxing some recognition on the state’s attention meter.

In his first bout as world heavyweight champion, Wilder opted for Alabama instead of customary boxing sites Nevada, New York or California. Wilder will defend his World Boxing Council heavyweight belt against Eric Molina June 13 in Birmingham. The Showtime-televised bout will be the first heavyweight title fight in Alabama history.

“It’s definitely a blessing to be able to fight in my state,” Wilder said. “When we set the goal to be heavyweight champion of the world that was one of the goals we set – to bring it to Alabama. Just to change it up and give Alabama some spice besides football and to finally get the opportunity to have a major fight in the state of Alabama.”

The state currently lacks a major league professional sports franchise and Wilder, the first U.S.-born heavyweight champion since 2006, hopes to fill the void with repeated appearances.

With a successful and lengthy reign, Wilder could emulate Virgil Hill. A former light-heavyweight champion and fellow U.S. Olympian, Hill made eight title defenses in his home state North Dakota during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I want Alabama to be my home territory, it’s why I stay here,” Wilder said. “Some people still try to throw me out but my heart is here and I’ve got bigger and better plans. This is just the beginning.”

Despite his Olympic pedigree, Wilder, 29, took a longer than usual path to a title fight. While many Olympic fighters usually fight for a world championship within four years after turning professional, Wilder waited nearly seven years after his bronze-winning performance in the 2008 games.

For Wilder, the extended wait was validated by his Wilder scored a unanimous decision victory over Bermane Stiverne Jan. 17 in Las Vegas. Although he had won his first 32 bouts by knockout, Wilder adjusted to the 12-round distance, earning lopsided margins on all three judges’ scorecards.

“My last fight I proved to everyone what I was capable of,” Wilder said. “I can go 12 rounds and take a punch. I can be as fresh in the 12th as the first.”

Few in the fight game expect Wilder to go 12 rounds in his first title defense. Molina (23-2, 17 KOs) fought on the Wilder-Stiverne undercard and scored an eighth-round technical knockout over Raphael Zumbano Love. But in his one ring appearance against a top contender, Molina was stopped in one round by Chris Arreola three years ago.

“I want a great performance from him,” Wilder said. “I want a great performance for the crowd and people to say, ‘Hey, I want to come back for the next one’ and to be hungry for the next one.”

“We got a lot of fights we want to do in Alabama and this is just the start.”

Khan eyes Mayweather

If his bout against Chris Algieri served as an audition, Amir Khan hopes he convinced Floyd Mayweather Jr. as a possible next opponent. Khan won a unanimous decision against Algieri Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Khan (31-3) won the entertaining welterweight bout 117-111 on two judges’ scorecards and 115-113 on the third. For Algieri (20-2), the bout was his first since losing a lopsided decision against Manny Pacquiao last November.

“Everybody knows I want Floyd Mayweather next,” Khan said. “I’m the number one contender WBC, Mayweather is the champion. Let’s make it happen.”

Miami resident Luis Franco fought on the Khan-Algieri undercard and scored a fifth-round TKO win over Guillermo Sanchez in their featherweight bout. Franco is now 13-1-1 with nine KOs.

Coming up:

▪ Thursday (10 p.m., Fox Sports1): Jayson Velez vs. Daniel Ramirez, 10, junior-lightweights.

▪ Saturday (3 p.m., NBC-Ch. 6): Robert Guerrero vs. Aaron Martinez, 10, welterweights.

▪ Saturday (10:30 p.m., HBO): Miguel Cotto vs. Daniel Geale, 12, for Cotto’s WBC middleweight title.