WBC heavyweight champ Wilder set to meet Frenchman Duhaupas

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) Deontay Wilder brought heavyweight boxing to his home state and now he’s helping take it to primetime.

The unbeaten WBC heavyweight champion’s grander ambition beyond Saturday night’s title defense against Frenchman Johann Duhaupas is to lift the once-pre-eminent division back to prominence. He’s hoping this is a step in that direction.

”It’s an exciting time for me and it’s an exciting time for heavyweight boxing and me bringing it back,” the 29-year-old Wilder said.

The excitement for him has much to do with going from the limited audience of pay channels to network television for the first time. It will be the first heavyweight title bout televised on primetime by NBC since Larry Holmes’ defense against Carl Williams in May 1985, five months before Wilder was born.

Wilder (34-0, 33 knockouts) is making his second title defense, both in Birmingham. This one will be at 12,300-seat Legacy Arena downtown, and Wilder will be competing within the state against Auburn and Alabama home football games the same day.

He knocked out Eric Molina in the ninth round in June at UAB’s Bartow Arena.

The 34-year-old Duhaupas (32-2, 20 knockouts) is fighting in the United States for the first time. He hasn’t been knocked out, rebounding in April to beat Manuel Charr after losing a decision to Erkan Teper to stop a 14-fight winning streak.

Wilder’s manager, Jay Deas, said they brought in 12 sparring partners, more than any previous fight, including his first championship bout against Bermane Stiverne in January. The fight that Wilder has long been pointing to is Wladimir Klitschko, who holds the other belts and is generally looked at as the heavyweight to beat.

”Anybody looking past Duhaupas, y’all are fools,” Wilder said. ”This is a tall guy, great record, never been knocked out. What more do you want? Some of my European friends called me and said, `Don’t look past him. He’s a tough guy.’

”I never look past no man. Any man that steps in the ring is definitely getting my full attention and my respect.”

There was none of the standard pre-fight bluster or gamesmanship at Thursday’s news conference. In fact, Duhaupas presented Wilder with a replica of the Eiffel Tower draped with red, white and blue boxing gloves.

Duhaupas smiled as he stepped to the podium and said, ”Nice to meet you, Deontay.”

”First of all, it’s an immense, enormous pleasure to be boxing here in the United States,” Duhaupas said through a translator. ”It’s been a magical country to me ever since I was little. It’s a country I’ve always wanted to visit.

”When I walk around in the streets here, I feel like I’m in the movies or I’m in the video games.”

He did get down to business, too.

”I’ll make to you this promise: I’m here for a reason and I’ll come out with a title on Saturday,” Duhaupas said.

He’s nicknamed ”Reptile” because of a character in a video game he played when he was younger.

Wilder stands out largely for his chiseled 6-foot-7 frame (Duhaupas is 6-5) and a sledgehammer right hand. He knocked out his first 33 opponents within four rounds before going the distance against Stiverne and getting taken deep by Molina.

Now, he’s taking on an opponent who has gone 34 pro fights without getting knocked out, and Wilder said he’s not sure if that’s because of a sturdy chin or strong defense.

”I’m fixin’ to find out Saturday,” Wilder said. ”We’re going to see what he’s good at. I can tell you this for sure: He’s never been in a ring with a guy like me with my caliber, my speed, my athleticism, my power. The things that I’m about to bring to the table. I can promise you that. We’re going to see what happens.

”We’re going to see what makes him so great that he’s never touched the canvas or never been knocked out.”