Not everyday does a heavyweight champion fall in your laps in the city you reside in. To expound upon that, not everyday does that same champion have a desire to uplift his city and his state to new heights by having the desire to see his fights are hosted on the grounds in which he strolled on as a kid.
The story of Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s native son Deontay Wilder is beginning to shape up to be a sad one. While Wilder is on the verge of reinvigorating the sport of boxing by becoming the new face and an American-born heavyweight champion, there is still a void that is appearing to go unfilled as he continues to strive to be the greatest boxer in the modern era.
After making it very known and public that he wanted his first title defending shot venue to be hosted by his hometown city of Tuscaloosa at his hometown childhood favorite school in The University of Alabama — Wilder was essentially given the middle finger by former president Dr. Judy Bonner when Wilder’s representatives requested to use the Coleman Coliseum Arena for his June 13th bout against Eric Molina.
Frustrated by several attempts to build a historic partnership with the Crimson Tide, Wilder still wanted to keep the fight in-state and was received with open arms by Alabama’s biggest city in Birmingham, with the fight set to be hosted at Bartow Arena.
Based on attendees of the fight, the atmosphere could not have been more electric and invigorating. The pride of having one of their own, an Alabama bred star making it his business to entertain his fellow Alabamians in a Showtime pay-per-view fight televised all over the world, this was truly a magical night and one many will never forget. The spotlight shined brightly on the city and Wilder did not disappoint after a ninth round knockout sent pandemonium throughout the rafters of Bartow Arena that could be felt from as north as Huntsville to the gulf down in Mobile.
While the city itself had to be booming with pride, Tuscaloosa knew it missed out on something special. While Birmingham is merely a 45-minute drive up I-20/59, that is not his home. Wilder, while joyful and ecstatic of his win, had to wonder what it would have felt like to see the same faces he saw growing up in T-Town cheering him on in the seats of Coleman.
With news now surfacing that Wilder’s next fight will again be in Birmingham, this time at Legacy Arena on September 26th, the bridge that was once beginning to be built in Tuscaloosa, is now burning right before our very eyes. The thought that something of this magnitude may never happen is unfathomable — and downright disappointing. Nothing appears to be able to salvage this relationship and nobody appears to be able to make this happen unless…
Enter Alabama football coach Nick Saban.
Legend has it that former Alabama coach Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant was the most powerful man in the state of Alabama, whose influence exceeded the governor himself. This notion is not just a folk tale, but a fact. Saban, just like Bryant has the power to make anything he wants to happen almost at the snap of his finger in the state of Alabama and most certainly in the city of Tuscaloosa, and even more so within the confines of The University of Alabama.
Making this happen is easier said than done however. Saban, like Bryant is not known to engage in any sort of politics outside of the football program. While Saban unquestionably uses his platform to make statements surrounding the state of college football, usually stays out of the inner dwellings of social issues and political issues unless prompted, in which he gives the typical vanilla response to.
In this case however, Saban would not only be doing the university a good deed, he would be showing all of the youth of Tuscaloosa something to aspire to. Who in their wildest dreams would ever think that a boxing match of all things could take place on the campus at Alabama? What’s a kid from the west side of Tuscaloosa who never thought of getting out of the trials of everyday struggles think when he/she’s that hard work and dedication to a specialized craft can one day be showcased for millions to see right there on the campus of their hometown school?
This is the kind of impact Wilder was hoping to achieve by having this fight take place at home. It was supposed to be bigger than himself. It was supposed to inspire those who needed inspiration. Those who long to be like LeBron James, Julio Jones, or Kobe Bryant but can’t actually relate because they didn’t come from the same place. This is where Wilder grew up. These citizens know him and can relate to him.
Whether Saban ever feels compelled to act on this or not is a personal decision he has to make. However, affecting lives extends beyond just the football field for the citizens of Tuscaloosa. Lives can, and will be impacted if the day ever comes where Wilder can stand tall in front of his family, friends, and fellow T-Town residents hoisting a world championship belt.
Sometimes it’s bigger than just yourself.