‘Deontay brought boxing to Alabama:’ Birmingham fights draw thousands as sport … – AL.com

Jadalie Medeiros, 12, and her brother Jonathan watched raptly as dozens of boxers from all over the world entered the ring Saturday – heavyweights and lightweights, new fighters with something to prove and a world champion with a title to defend.

The siblings from Dothan, both talented and decorated boxers in their own right, accompanied their father, John, to the Legacy Arena at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex. They anxiously awaited the marquee fight of the night, when Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder would defend his WBC heavyweight title against Johann Duhaupas, of France.

The fight reached the 11th round, with Wilder delivering a series of powerful blows to his opponent’s face and winning by technical knockout. The victory brought his record to 35-0, with knockouts in all but one fight.

“What Deontay has done for the world of boxing – Deontay has brought boxing to Alabama, and he’s brought boxing from Alabama to the world,” John Medeiros said.

Jonathan Medeiros started boxing when he was 7, after the family met Felix “Tito” Trinidad, widely regarded as one of the best boxers in Puerto Rican history. The Medeiros family then met Wilder at Jonathan’s first Golden Gloves tournament, and they have since kept in touch.

John Medeiros says Wilder and his manager, Jay Deas, deserve all of the credit for the markedly increased interest here.

“The biggest thing in [Wilder’s] camp is loyalty,” Medeiros said. “He’s loyal to his home, his family and his state. Jay is a huge pinnacle of making all this happen, too.”

It can be difficult for amateurs to break into the sport in Alabama because gyms are relatively scarce. Still, Medeiros said, the state produces a lot of quality fighters and the recent surge in popularity will breed more success.

“The more competition there is, the better it makes everybody,” he said.

Deas’ driving passion, dedication span decades

The members of the Medeiros family were among a crowd of 8,471 at Legacy Arena to watch Saturday’s fights.

Also in attendance were supporters hailing from Wilder’s hometown, including University of Alabama basketball coach Avery Johnson and Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox, as well as a longtime supporter of Deas – his college baseball coach.

Bobby Pierce recruited and signed Deas out of high school to play at Chipola Junior College. A left-handed pitcher with a good arm and a trick pitch up his sleeve, Deas lacked consistency but had enthusiasm and commitment in spades.

“He’s always had a beaming personality, a driving passion, and he’s a dedicated and hard worker,” Pierce said.

The two lost touch for years, but they reconnected after Pierce was surprised and proud to see an ESPN segment on Wilder and Deas. They caught up, reminiscing about their time together at Chipola and talking about Deas’ years-long efforts to popularize boxing in Alabama.

“His passion for boxing began well before he met Deontay,” Pierce said. “He was throwing that passion on me like I throw my baseball passion on other people.”

Deas described to his former coach the difficulties he and his team had faced while setting up some fights – from getting the legislature’s approval to finding ideal venues. Those hurdles are just part of building something that’s worthwhile and will stand the test of time, Pierce said.

“It gives me a great appreciation for what he and his team and his fighters have accomplished,” Pierce said. “This right here says to me what I saw in that 18-year-old kid was true. For any former player to reach this magnitude – I don’t know that it gets any better than this.”

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