(Reuters) - It may not be the same plot as the Cold War-themed “Rocky IV” movie but Deontay Wilder is deterimined to emerge victorious when he becomes the first reigning American heavyweight champion to travel to Russia to defend his title.
Wilder will defend his WBC title against Russia’s Alexander Povetkin in Moscow on May 21 and the longstanding rivalry between the two countries in international sport, one that is often fueled by political difference, was not lost on him.
“My expectation is, of course, to win. To come back with that victory for America,” Wilder said during a workout in front of the media this week. “This is a big fight, not just for myself, for America. It’s like Russia vs. America.”
In “Rocky IV,” Sylvester Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, went to Russia at the height of the Cold War to avenge the death of his friend, Apollo Creed, at the hands of Russian boxer Ivan Drago. The resilient fighter won the fight and the support of a previously hostile Soviet crowd.
Wilder (36-0, 35 KOs) admitted it would have been easier for him to fight Povetkin (30-1, 22 KOs) in the United States but prefers to travel the world and defend his title.
“I’ve been getting nothing but positive feedback from fans all over. Even if they weren’t a fan of Deontay Wilder they are now for this very fight,” said Wilder, the first American heavyweight champion in nearly a decade.
“Hopefully I can win them over to stay a fan of Deontay Wilder after this fight. ... It’s a great thing that we’re going over to Russia defending my title in somebody else’s backyard.”
The charismatic Wilder, a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist who won the WBC heavyweight title in January 2015 with a unanimous decision over Haitian-born Canadian Bermane Stiverne, said anything less than a knockout of Povetkin is unacceptable.
He is also not losing sleep over fighting in front of a pro-Povetkin crowd.
“I don’t have any concerns. I don’t let my brain sit back and think about if I don’t knock him out or are they going to rob me, or anything like that,” said Wilder.
“I just don’t want my mind to be on that when I‘m in a fight. I want to have a clear mind. I want to go in there and do what Deontay is capable of doing.”
Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Larry Fine