He’s the heavyweight champion of the world but all he really wants to know is the score to the Alabama game.

That’s because Deontay Wilder is a Tuscaloosa boy, and growing up in the shadow of the University of Alabama, in a state where the only thing more popular than Jesus Christ is Crimson Tide football, he loves Nick Saban’s squad.

It’s the first Saturday of December and Wilder’s perched high above Barclays Center in a suite partly paying attention to an undercard fight. With an entourage of two—well three if you count his trainer/coach, Mark Breland—he’s taking in the enormity of the Brooklyn arena where he will kick off a career-defining year.  

The SEC Championship game isn’t on in the dark, empty suite, but Wilder gets an update. Alabama is leading Florida at halftime. He smiles. Sunglasses still masking his eyes, he turns his attention back to the match taking place a few stories below. He’s asked what it’s going to be like when he steps into the same ring January 16 and headlines Brooklyn’s first heavyweight championship bout in 116 years. With aspirations outsizing the 18,000-seat arena, the 6-foot-7, 230-pound bruiser thinks big.  

“Picture it full of people, me performing, they loving me,” says Wilder. “Especially when they see my billboard coming up. I think some fighters get jealous of that. They’ve got to understand I’m the heavyweight; it’s the cream of the crop. Once you’ve got a heavyweight that is dominant, it’s over with. All the guys who say they’re going to take over boxing after Floyd, they can sit down.” 

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