Central Point’s Wilson ready for his own Garden party
It was bad enough that the biggest fight of Central Point boxer Mike Wilson’s career was postponed nearly 1 1/2 months.
The heavyweight was further dismayed when rumors the rescheduled June 19 fight would move from Miami to Las Vegas — thereby allowing his legion of Oregon fans a better chance to attend — were unfounded and that his World Boxing Association eliminator matchup against Michael Hunter Jr. would, in fact, take place in New York City.
But when Wilson found out where in the Big Apple, his frown turned upside down: Madison Square Garden, otherwise known as the Mecca of boxing.
Wilson and Hunter, who is from Las Vegas, are scheduled to fight a 10-round main event Tuesday in the first of a monthly boxing and music series at the Garden’s Hulu Theater.
Promoted by Triller Fight Club, the “TrillerVerz” series features up to 10 bouts on each card as well as a live Verzuz Rap Battle, which kicks off next week with Dipset against the Lox.
The event will be streamed live for free on fite.tv, with Wilson and Hunter expected to enter the ring about 5 p.m. PDT.
“I was pretty disappointed until I heard it was at the Garden,” Wilson said this week as he wrapped up an extended training camp before departing for New York Friday. “The Garden is a pretty historic venue, and that’s something nobody can ever take away from you until the day you die — fighting the main event at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s an honor. Before they retire, everybody wants to have a fight at the Garden. All the guys. It’s just kind of the Mecca of the boxing world.”
Indeed, the first two bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, including the 1971 “Fight of the Century,” were staged there. Other iconic battles featured Sugar Ray Robinson against Jake LaMotta and Rocky Marciano against Joe Louis, although they were at other MSG sites. The current Garden opened in 1968.
Wilson will stay at The New Yorker hotel, where Ali spent two weeks recuperating from his loss to Fraizer in their first meeting. A plaque and photos in Ali’s room, No. 2549, commemorate the occasion.
“There’s a lot of cool stuff going on,” said Wilson.
His fight will be the first at the Garden in more than two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The last bout was Andy Ruiz Jr.’s shocking upset of Anthony Joshua to become the unified heavyweight champion.
Wilson is 21-1-0 with 10 knockouts and is ranked 14th by the WBA. He’s held the WBA North American title for three years.
His lone defeat was a 12-round unanimous decision at the hands of former WBA cruiserweight champion Denis Lebedev in November 2018.
Wilson last fought on Sept. 7, 2019, winning by TKO over Gary Kopas.
Hunter, who turned 33 in July, is ranked sixth by the WBA and has a 19-1-1 record with 13 knockouts. His only loss was by unanimous decision to Oleksandr Usyk in a 2017 World Boxing Organization cruiserweight title fight.
Hunter ended more than a year of inactivity with a KO of Shawn Laughery last December.
Wilson and Hunter are former two-time U.S. amateur champions and met once at nationals in 2007. Wilson led going into the fourth and final round before Hunter, a 2012 Olympian, rallied for a 25-24 victory.
Tuesday’s Wilson-Hunter fight marks the third time it was moved. It was originally set for June 5 at loanDepot Park in Miami, then was pushed back two weeks to avoid fighting on the same weekend and in the same city as Floyd Mayweather and Logan Paul.
Wilson and Hunter were to fight on the undercard of the Teofimo Lopez-George Kambosos Jr. lightweight championship contest. Lopez tested positive for the coronavirus on the same day Wilson and his team arrived in Miami, and the fight was postponed again.
Triller Fight Club eventually elected to steer clear of the Lopez-Kambosos card for fear they’d lose their fight altogether. Lopez and Kambosos are now expected to square off in September on a card featuring the return of Oscar De La Hoya.
Wilson, 38, had not experienced such maneuvering of a fight in his career.
“It just takes a little wind out of your sails because you get yourself so physically prepared, but not only that, mentally, too,” he said. “You’re in a good spot in your mind, you’re ready to fight.”
Upon returning from Miami, his trainers — Jimmy Pedrojetti and Jared Maddocks — did a reset on workouts. They started slowly, then gradually upped the pace, intent on peaking for the August fight.
“It’s kind of a bummer because, man, you’ve got to put yourself through it all again,” said Wilson. “But we haven’t let it turn into a hindrance. We’ve just enjoyed it.”
He and Pedrojetti are often on road runs as the sun is coming up.
“We were talking,” said Wilson. “Sometimes you dread it, getting up and you’re tired, but we sure will miss all this when it’s gone and we’re not doing this on a competitive level. So we just take every day and seize the moment and enjoy it.”
“We joked that, man, I’m like a ‘55 Chevy,” laughed Wilson. “It takes a minute to warm up in your older age, but once you’re running, you’re running good. That’s what we compare ourselves to.”
Against Hunter, Wilson is regarded as a decided underdog, although official odds are not available.
Wilson, of course, thinks otherwise.
“I feel real good about this,” he said. “We’re in good shape, we’re in a good mental mindset. All the pressure is on Hunter. He’s trying to lock down this big deal with Triller, and we’re coming in, really, just to spoil his plans.”
Even though it’s been 14 years, Wilson can draw on their previous meeting.
“In all his interviews,” said Wilson, “he’s very respectful towards me. He knows I’m coming to fight. In the boxing world, me being out here in Oregon, I’m not the household name. Everybody thinks he’s got an easy fight, so the pressure’s on him. He knows he’s going to have his hands full.”
Both fighters began their careers as cruiserweights. This will be Wilson’s first heavyweight bout.
Hunter typically fights at about 225 pounds, and Wilson expected to be about 215.
That’s where the ‘55 Chevy engine talk takes hold.
“We want to be in there and set a tough pace,” said Wilson. “We’ve got a pretty high motor for a heavyweight. A lot of these guys Hunter fights, they’re 25 or 30 punches a round, where we’re up in the 100 punches a round. We set a fast pace and it tends to break people down, so that’s what we want to do. I feel like we get stronger as it goes on.”
Wilson ended his training camp with a couple sparring sessions this week. He brought in Shamarian “Duke” Snider from Dallas for 10-round sessions Monday and Wednesday.
Snider, who upped his cruiserweight record to 10-2-1 with a TKO over Jay Williams on July 17, was also in Wilson’s camp prior to the June postponement.
“He’s real solid work,” said Wilson, who sparred five times with Snider the past couple weeks. “He’s got a style that’s real similar to Hunter’s, kind of slick. He gave us real good work the last time around.”
The prep work is done, and the big city beckons.
“It’s just a great opportunity,” said Wilson. “A guy from right here in southern Oregon gets to go fight the main event at Madison Square Garden. I think that’s pretty neat.”
Tim Trower is a freelance writer. To comment on this article, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.