All great rides come to an end eventually, and last night in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Deontay Wilder found out the hard way – which is very often the only way in the cruel and unforgiving sport of boxing – that his ride as anything approaching an elite fighter is over. Wilder had nothing left against Zhilei Zhang, his once feared right hand simply not capable of being thrown with its former venom, while Wilder’s chin was unable to withstand Zhang’s power-blasts.

It was sad to see 38 year old Wilder laid out the way he was in the fifth round, but it is almost always sad when a great fighter is defeated, largely by Father Time, and is either knocked out or beaten up. A great fighter?

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Many fans will strongly disagree that Wilder is even in the conversation, but we must never forget how great a puncher Wilder was. Neither should we ever forget the sheer, raw excitement Wilder gave us during his ultimately up-and-down career.

Wilder may never have beaten a truly elite heavyweight; his best wins in terms of a big name being his two stoppage wins over Luis Ortiz, but Wilder gave Tyson Fury hell in two fights, with the third and final bout in their rivalry being one of the most thrilling, edge-of-your-seat slugfests of recent years.

Wilder, when we evaluate his career (and he will surely retire, and not risk rolling the dice one more time the way so many fighters are tempted to do), gets points for being a long-reigning WBC heavyweight champion. Wilder held the green belt for an impressive five years, during which time he successfully defended it ten times. No, not all of Wilder’s opponents were elite fighters, but it still takes some doing, wiping out fighter after fighter by KO.

And in his prime, from, say, 2016 to 2019, Wilder scored some frightening knockouts. The big fight we all wanted to see around this time, this being Wilder against Anthony Joshua, never happened, for a variety of reasons, with Wilder instead going to war with Fury. The first fight saw Wilder drop Fury twice, the heavy knockdown Wilder scored in the 12th and final round to this day one we cannot believe Fury rose from. The rematches saw Fury stop Wilder both times, but not before having to drag himself off the canvas two more times, this in the third and best fight of the series. It is now abundantly clear that those three hard battles took a whole lot out of Wilder (and out of Fury).

Now the loser of four of his last five fights, Wilder looked shot last night. It has to be the end. It was a great ride while it lasted. Sure, we could have done without the crazy excuses Wilder came out with after that second fight with Fury, and we could have/should have seen Wilder fight AJ back in the day. Wilder will be best remembered for two things: his chilling, uncommon punching power, and his passionate three-fight rivalry with Fury.

Wilder’s defining fight may be a loss, this the third war with Fury, but in that fight, Wilder showed so much more than just a powerful punch. Heart, guts, a heck of a chin, and a very real desire to win or, without being overly dramatic, die trying.

Wilder exits the sport with a 43-4-1(42) record. There was a time, quite incredibly, when Wilder either stopped or dropped each and every man he shared a ring with. But now, in fact since the Joseph Parker defeat in December, it’s clear Wilder is out of ammo. The big right hand that might – might – have hurt any heavyweight in history had it landed flush is no more. “The Bronze Bomber” is gone. For good.

We fans must now thank Wilder for the thrills, the chills and the spills he gave us during his 2008 to 2024 pro career. And Wilder certainly did so much in the sport for a man who only took up boxing in order to give his daughter a better life. Is so doing, Wilder made the heavyweight division a better place, a more exciting place, for five or six fun years.

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