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Welcome to Alabama: Deontay Wilder defends WBC heavy weight title

Sean Landry

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BIRMINGHAM — Welcome to Alabama.

For one night only, the biggest sporting event in the state so famed for college football wasn’t the Iron Bowl. There was no ‘Roll Tide,’ or ‘War Eagle’ or even ‘Go Blazers’ in the sold out crowd in UAB’s Bartow Arena on Saturday night.

There was only ‘BombZquad’ and ‘DE-ON-TAY’ and the WBC Heavyweight Champion of the World standing over knocked-down challenger Eric Molina shouting “Welcome to Alabama” as Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder retained his crown.

Before the fight, Wilder promised an exciting third round, and the fight delivered, if not in the way the Bronze Bomber hoped. While Wilder pressed an advantage, the challenger from Raymondville, Texas caught the defending champion with a powerful right hand, sending Wilder stumbling. For the rest of the round, Wilder fought cautiously. On one judge’s scorecard, it was the only round Wilder lost.

“It was a couple-second buzz and then I came back to the fight,” Wilder said. “It was a great shot. I definitely wasn’t hurt at any time in the fight.”

Wilder also promised he would stand over Molina and welcome him to his home state. That one, he delivered on without a doubt.

“I said when I knocked him down, I was going to stand over him and yell ‘Welcome to Alabama,” Wilder said. “I did.”

Wilder knocked Molina down a total of four times. The first time, the referee sent Wilder to the opposite corner as Molina barely survived the 10 count in the fourth round. The next round, Wilder got his chance, knocking him down in a neutral corner, leaning over his opponent and shouting.

Molina weathered three knockdowns, coming back to force a longer fight after being knocked to the canvas twice in the fifth round. More often than not, Molina was fighting off balance, swinging at his opponent and catching a few powerful shots.

“I was really surprised he kept coming and hanging in there,” Wilder said. “A lot of people said he wouldn’t even be around [in the late rounds]. There were a lot of doubters. But he showed a lot of heart, and I needed that kind of guy to fight here in Alabama. A lot of people at the fight tonight were first timers, so I wanted to put on a good show with a good guy. When you get a guy with a lot of heart in front of you, that’s what you’re going to get.”

With 1:57 left in the ninth round, Molina could weather no more. Wilder caught him with an overhand right, the special education teacher was sent to the mat and the referee stopped the fight. Wilder went to the side of the ring, pointed to the crowd and told them; “This is for you Alabama. For y’all.” In his postgame interview, as the sound went up, he shouted to the crowd: ‘Alabama what’s up y’all.’

“This is the reason why I am still here, guys,” Wilder said. “I get so much love and support in the state of Alabama that I can’t see myself no place else. I told you guys I wasn’t gonna go nowhere, I’m here, and we’re looking forward to doing it again and again and again.”

The crowd in Bartow Arena certainly did show Wilder love – deafening and unrelenting love – and Wilder said he plans to fight in Alabama again, in bigger arenas, possibly as soon as Sept. 26, when the defending champion is aiming to face his first mandatory challenger, Alexander Povetkin (29-1, 21 KO).

“It was no doubt in my mind that the people were going answer to where I was from,” Wilder said. “It was no doubt. Just to see the atmosphere, just to hear the thunder of the crowd and all the voices cheering and stuff like that. That was a wonderful feeling. That allowed me to say ‘Hey, alright, let’s go to the next step. Let’s go to bigger arenas. Like I said, this is going to be my home territory. Let’s bring many fights to the state of Alabama, and bring the money and the revenue, and bring the world to our culture, to see what we have to offer.”

There aren’t many bigger arenas in Alabama than Bartow’s capacity crowd 9,347. Wilder’s first choice for this fight was one of those few – Coleman Coliseum. According to The Tuscaloosa News, with The University’s permission, the fight would have happened there. For the next fight in Alabama, whenever it is, it remains to be seen whether Coleman is an option, or if the Tuscaloosa native could fight in Birmingham’s BJCC or Mobile’s Mitchell Center, for example.

“I get a lot of love from Tuscaloosa,” The WBC heavyweight champion of the world said. “That’s where I’m from, that’s where I represent. But I tell people all the time: Not only do I represent my city, I represent the state of Alabama. I can’t go nowhere without saying Alabama because I represent the whole state.”

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Welcome to Alabama: Deontay Wilder defends WBC heavy weight title