After heavyweight world titleholder Deontay Wilder fought to a draw with lineal champion Tyson Fury in a classic fight in December, the wheels were immediately put into motion for the rematch both men demanded.
With terms agreed to and close to signing the paperwork, Fury suddenly changed course. He and promoter Frank Warren blew off the rematch and signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank to bring him to ESPN.
With the rematch off the table for the time being and an undisputed world title fight between Wilder and three-belt titleholder Anthony Joshua also not happening for the time being, Wilder had to reset the plans for his next fight. That meant a mandatory defense against Dominic Breazeale in a fight riddled with animosity -- more on that later -- that will take place on Saturday (Showtime, 9 p.m. ET) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
Wilder warns he is going to punish Breazeale
Deontay Wilder tells the First Take crew that he is a peaceful person, but he plans to "massacre" Dominic Breazeale on Saturday night at the Barclays Center.
The fight is a battle of 6-foot-7 former U.S. Olympians with power, which they both plan to put to good use.
"Dominic Breazeale is going to get knocked out in dramatic fashion on Saturday. I can't wait," Wilder said. "He's like a fly in my ear. I'm going to get him out of there in a fashion no one has ever seen. It will be my time. It's punishment time. It's judgment time, and I am the judge."
Breazeale agreed there will be a KO.
"There's no way this fight goes the distance. I know for sure it's going to be fireworks from the opening bell, and there's going to be a fantastic finish," Breazeale said. "People talk about his big right hand, but this is heavyweight boxing. I have a big right hand, too. I've put many individuals down on the canvas. All Wilder does is talk. We'll see who lands that right hand first on Saturday. I've been training like a caged dog during camp. I'm confident in what I can do and what I bring to the table on Saturday night. It's going to be fun."
This is your Ringside Seat for the fight.
Oh, boy, is this one personal. Wilder and Breazeale do not like each other. At all.
"I think this is the most excited I've been and the most I wanted to hurt a man since 2015 with Bermane Stiverne," Wilder said. "With this one right here, the story that comes behind it, people have got to understand when you're dealing with Deontay Wilder, I'm passionate about what I say. I'm passionate about what I do."
The bad blood stems from an incident in February 2017, when Wilder retained his title by fifth-round knockout of Gerald Washington and Breazeale knocked out Izuagbe Ugonoh in the fifth round on the undercard.
Later that night, in the lobby of the fight hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, there was an altercation between Wilder; his younger brother, Marsellos Wilder; Breazeale; and their teams. Breazeale, who was with his wife and kids, alleged he was punched from behind by Marsellos.
Earlier in the evening, Marsellos Wilder and Breazeale had gotten into an argument at the arena, which spilled over to the hotel later. Police were called following the hotel incident but no arrests were made. Breazeale later filed a lawsuit against Marsellos Wilder, which was dismissed a few months later.
The incident has left each man with a severe dislike for the other, so much so that when Marsellos Wilder, a 3-1 cruiserweight, suffered a fourth-round knockout loss in January to William Deets, who was 6-12 and supposed to be a soft touch, Breazeale sent Deets a congratulatory gift.
"It's no secret that there's a personal rivalry from these two guys, so there is no shortage of motivation," said Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports.
Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KO), 33, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, is so amped up to get his hands on Breazeale that following a workout for the media this week, he intimated that he wouldn't mind killing him in the ring.
"Dominic Breazeale asked for this. I didn't seek him out. He [came for] me," Wilder said. "This isn't a gentleman's sport. We don't ask to hit each other in the face, but we do anyway. If you ask any doctor around the world, he'll tell you the head is not meant to be hit. 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?"
Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), 33, of Eastvale, California, said the animosity would make a win -- and a knockout -- all that more satisfying for him.
"It's going to be a lot better sleeping the night after I win the title if I get a knockout," he said. "Don't get me wrong. A win's a win, but at the same time, I want to impress the world. I want to impress the boxing community with a big knockout. When I say 'big knockout,' [I mean] one where my right hand, my left hand is going to make contact and he goes out. Doesn't get back up.
"The personal thing from the outside of the ring makes the revenge factor. You approach myself and my wife and kids in a situation that was not boxing-related. The gratification -- and the fact that my personal revenge, knocking out Deontay Wilder -- is a lot bigger than just an actual win or KO."
Face to face
Wilder: 39 career knockouts, tied with Manny Pacquiao for most among active title-holders
Wilder: 95.1 percent knockout percentage, fifth among active titleholders
Wilder: Connects on 48.4 percent of his power punches, according to CompuBox data; second to Errol Spence Jr.
Wilder: Connects on 37.6 percent of his total punches, according to CompuBox data, third-best
Breazeale: Only loss came to WBO, IBF and WBA heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua in 2016
Breazeale: Third straight fight at Barclays Center
Breazeale: Has KO percentage of 85.7
Breazeale: Played QB at FCS Northern Colorado in 2006-07
Breazeale working his way back, wants Joshua rematch
Breazeale, who was a 2012 U.S. Olympian, got a shot at a world title when he challenged Anthony Joshua in London in 2016.
But since suffering his only pro loss, Breazeale has stormed back with three victories in a row, each by knockout, even risking his mandatory status for Wilder's belt in the process.
Breazeale survived an incredible back-and-forth slugfest with Izuagbe Ugonoh to knock him out in the fifth round on a Wilder undercard. Then, Breazeale stopped former Wilder victim Eric Molina in the eighth round (a round sooner than Wilder did in a 2015 title defense) and former Puerto Rican Olympian Carlos Negron in the ninth round in December with Wilder at ringside.
But the question remains: If Joshua was able to so easily dispose of him, what makes Breazeale think he will be able to stand up to the power Wilder possesses?
"I've grown a lot in the last few years. The Joshua fight was an eye opener," Breazeale said. "It was good experience. I learned then that I was standing there a lot more and taking some damage that I didn't need to take because of the big guy that I am. Wilder's got a big right hand, but so do I, and I've got a big left hook. In the heavyweight division, if you don't have knockout power, you've got no reason to be in the division.
"So, yes, Wilder's going to throw some leather and make some contact, by all means. Boxing, it's all about hitting and not getting hit. I don't plan on getting hit a lot, and if I do, I've been there. I've done that before. At the same time, I plan on putting on all the punishment. And if the right hand comes, so be it. I'll deal with it. It's part of boxing."
In Breazeale's perfect world, he'll beat Wilder and eventually face Joshua in a rematch for the undisputed world title.
"I'm going to put my name in that hat with Joshua, and I definitely want my revenge against Joshua, so we're going to make some things up in the near future," said Breazeale, who will go into the fight with Virgil Hunter as his trainer for the first time. "My way to do that is to get my WBC title, and that's what I plan on doing."
Breazeale said he suffered depression after the loss to Joshua but pulled himself out of it and went back to school on what he did wrong in the fight.
"My way of bouncing back from that title shot against Joshua was to study the film day in and day out," he said. "I watched it round after round, minute after minute. I watched it in silence. I watched it with people. I watched it without people. And I guess I can say that's the quarterback background in me [as a former college football player]. I wanted to see everything that I did wrong. I didn't want to see anything I did right because I understood there were things that were done right, but there were a lot more things that were done wrong.
"Me and my [now former] trainer Manny Robles went back to California and kind of restructured my boxing skills, and they grew. And lucky enough that we were fortunate enough to have three big KO wins, and here we are back again fighting for the world title. I learned a lot more from that one loss than I learned from all my wins in my whole boxing career and amateur career. So that one lifetime experience in the summer of 2016 against Joshua was a lot bigger for my boxing career than anything could have been."
Inching up on history
Wilder, who took home a bronze medal from the 2008 Olympics, has made eight title defenses and is aiming for No. 9 against Breazeale. That's a notable number in heavyweight history.
Should Wilder retain the belt, he will inch up the all-time heavyweight defense list and join four iconic heavyweight champions who also made nine defenses: Muhammad Ali (during his first title reign), Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson (in his first title reign) and Lennox Lewis (in his second title reign).
The all-time record for any division is 25 by Joe Louis. Others who would still be ahead of Wilder: Larry Holmes (20), Wladimir Klitschko (18 in his second title reign), Vitali Klitschko (11 in his second title reign), Tommy Burns (11) and Ali (10 in his second title reign).
The magnitude of the names with nine whom Wilder could join is not lost on him.
"It means a lot. It means a great deal to me," Wilder said. "It means a lot to accomplish that. It means that I've proved so many people wrong, and still to this day I'm proving people wrong.
"It's going to be a great accomplishment not only in the past -- so many great fighters that came before me, but to continue to go forward to be the No. 1 guy. I've still got a long way to go to do what I want to do in this sport.
"I will accomplish everything I set forth to do. I'm an amazing fighter. I'm an amazing talent, and I've got an amazing team behind me. And with that combination, man, the sky's the limit."
Rafael's prediction: Wilder by midround knockout.