The late Michael King was a television producer who had ownership stakes in the Yankees, the New Jersey Devils and the-then New Jersey Nets. King, a billionaire businessman who died in 2015, had a great passion for boxing.
In 2012, he started a program in Carson, California, with a simple premise: Find great athletes from other sports who for whatever reason didn’t make it, and then give them the best equipment and the best training and try to turn them into boxers.
King weeded through more than 3,000 people.
One is left.
And on Saturday, that man, Dominic Breazeale, a one-time quarterback at Northern Colorado who completed 245-of-423 passes in two seasons as a starter, has a chance to become the heavyweight champion of the world.
Breazeale will challenge WBC champion Deontay Wilder on Saturday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in a battle of heavyweights who have both punching power and an intense dislike for the other.
He’s a massive underdog. The MGM Grand sportsbook has Wilder as a -900 favorite, with Breazeale a +575 underdog.
“The idea and the premise of taking elite athletes and turning them into fighters was a good one,” Breazeale said. “I think how he did it, the approach with the individuals and the business and marketing behind it, wasn’t very, very smart. I think we had 3,100 athletes come through the door. I’m the one who became an Olympian. I think we might have had two or three others who became successful pros, though nowhere near as high as I’ve elevated myself.
“But it’s a great idea. An elite boxer, especially an elite heavyweight, has to be one of the most athletic, biggest, strongest men on the planet with great mental fortitude. Knowing that, it made sense to do it like he did, trying to start with some of the best Division I athletes.”
Breazeale and Wilder do not like each other, and both concede it began in the lobby of a Westin hotel in Birmingham, Alabama, on Feb. 25, 2017. That night, both scored fifth-round stoppages, Breazeale over Izu Ugonoh and Wilder over Gerald Washington.
In the hotel lobby, an incident occurred in which there was pushing and shoving and a lot of posturing as a crowd of people surrounded them. Wilder blamed Breazeale for causing the confrontation. Breazeale blames Wilder.
“Outside of that one incident, we’d never crossed paths before and I never had any hatred toward him,” Breazeale said. “It was after the fight in the hotel lobby. My wife and my kids were there and it was the wrong time and the wrong place for an individual to be confronting me. I didn’t do anything to stir the pot up. It seems like he went out of his way to come toward me and be confrontational.
“I’m a professional and I don’t act that way. I certainly wouldn’t go looking for a fight with my wife and my kids there. I was confronted and that’s what started it.”
Wilder, though, tells a different version and said that not only was Breazeale the aggressor, but that Breazeale’s wife got involved.
Wilder said his anger increased when Breazeale laid the blame on him.
“Everything that has gone on between us began that night in the hotel,” Wilder said. “I never had any problems with Breazeale leading up to that point. My main thing about it is this bogus story he’s trying to put out to the universe. He’s wanting people to feel sorry for him and his wife when he caused this. His wife was running around that hotel like a chicken with its head cut off. She didn’t know where her kids were. She can’t tell you where her kids were. I can, because they were with my brother. My brother was protecting her sons like they were my sons.
“But they want to bring this bogus story out that I had 20 goons. That’s where you know he’s lying when he said I had 20 goons with me. … All my guys are family. We come with respect, with dignity and pride. We come with great energy, but we think positive and we speak positive. We don’t tolerate negativity and we don’t tolerate no one disturbing our peace.”
They’ll get the chance to settle it in the ring on Saturday on Showtime in a bout that figures to end before the distance. Wilder is 40-0-1 with 39 knockouts while Breazeale is 20-1 with 18 knockouts. Combined, they’re 60-1-1 with 57 knockouts.
Wilder’s biggest attribute is his power, and he said he believes he’s a harder hitter than any of them, including Earnie Shavers, George Foreman and Mike Tyson.
Breazeale scoffed at such a comparison and said he gives it little to no credibility.
“What he is is a paperweight champion,” Breazeale said. “He’s fought one or two, three at the most, competitive individuals. Any man who laces up the gloves and steps into the ring, you have to give him that respect, but has he fought guys who the same caliber of guys I’ve fought? No way. I fought two Puerto Rican Olympians, one U.S. Olympian [and a British Olympian]. How many guys like that are on his record?
“In the heavyweight division, if you can’t knock out someone with your left hand or your right hand, you have no reason to be in this division. To say he has devastating power, I don’t know. Power is power. When he hits guys with his right hand, they go down. But when I hit them with the right hand, they go down as well. I said this at the original press conference announcing this fight, but we’re going to let the leather fly and we’ll see who has power. Hopefully, he’ll be able to get off the canvas.”
The bout will be Breazeale’s second crack at the title, following a 2016 loss to Anthony Joshua.
That fight was a turning point in his career in terms of understanding what it took at the highest level. He’s utterly confident that, despite the odds, he’ll defeat Wilder on Saturday.
And after saying that, he took one final dig.
“I’ll tell you what, when I get this title, I’m going to change the heavyweight division,” Breazeale said. “I’m going to do some things that the heavyweight champion is supposed to be, the people’s champ.
“The heavyweight champ shouldn’t be an untouchable individual. He should be visiting schools and soup kitchens and setting up different events to help people that they can look forward to. It’s something Deontay Wilder hasn’t done in the four years he’s had the belt, but it’s going to be a bit priority for me.”
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