NEW YORK – Deontay Wilder puts his WBC heavyweight crown on the line against Dominic Breazeale on Saturday, unfazed by a storm of criticism following his vows to cause a death in the ring.
Even by boxing's lurid standards, where threats of violence are a stock-in-trade, Wilder's gruesome pre-fight comments have been condemned by many in the sport as beyond the pale.
"His life is on the line for this fight and I do mean his life," Wilder said this week as he prepares for Saturday's bout at Brooklyn's Barclays Center. "I am still trying to get me a body on my record.
"Dominic Breazeale asked for this. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It's legal. So why not use my right to do so...if he dies, he dies."
As ever, there is more than a suspicion of pantomime in Wilder's remarks, born out of a hucksterish instinct to drum up interest in a fight that, tellingly, has not been deemed worthy of pay-per-view status in the United States.
There is, however, undeniable bad blood between Wilder (40-0-1, 39 knockouts) and Breazeale (20-1, 18 knockouts), which can be traced back to a confrontation between the two fighters in early 2017.
After featuring on the the same card in Birmingham, Alabama, Wilder claims that Breazeale made threatening remarks to his brother at a hotel in the city later that night. A furious Wilder tracked down Breazeale, leading to a brawl involving the fighters' entourages.
"I just put my hand in Breazeale's face and I told him, ‘Never come to my city threatening my family ever. Don't ever do that," said Wilder, who has promised to inflict fatal damage on Breazeale more than once this week.
"If it happens, I'm not going to apologise," he told reporters. "He's been asking for this all along."
Yet Wilder's grim trash-talking has appalled many in a sport which has seen an estimated 500 deaths since the Marquis of Queensberry Rules were first introduced in 1884.
Former British world middleweight champion Nigel Benn lambasted Wilder's comments as a "disgrace to boxing," while former heavyweight world champion Frank Bruno said the remarks gave "boxing a bad name."
"This is a sport, we're not gladiators, these are not Roman times. We shake hands afterwards & go home to our families," Bruno wrote on Twitter.
Breazeale's veteran trainer, Virgil Hunter, also joined the chorus of dismay.
"I'm disappointed in Deontay. He needs to really ask himself if that's what I'm all about," Hunter said.
"Is this the legacy I want to leave? Is this the example I want to show and come to grips with it? I think in the long run an apology is in line."
Breazeale was similarly unimpressed.
"It's definitely not appropriate, I mean come on, who says crazy stuff like that?" Breazeale said. "You never want to say that about an opponent. You have got to have sportsmanship, you have got to be professional in the sport.
"You never want someone to be harmed from a fight. In this one, I understand we have personal reasons and a personal vendetta but if he gets hurt so be it. But do I ever wish death on someone? No of course not."
Wilder though has shown no sign of reining in his bravado.
"I've always been real," Wilder said. "I don't worry about being politically correct."
The 33-year-old will be looking to deliver another knockout display to enhance his box office appeal still further following his last outing, a thrilling 12-round battle with Tyson Fury in Los Angeles last December.AFP