Deontay Wilder: Overcoming darkness before the fame


WBC heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder is famous and wealthy, but he had to endure times so difficult that he contemplated suicide.

Throughout a 12-year professional boxing career comprised of 43 bouts, 41 knockouts, and no losses, Deontay Wilder has appeared nearly invincible. The svelt 6-foot-7 WBC champion has a right hand that might be the most powerful weapon ever to grace the sweet science, but there was a time when he felt hopeless and contemplated taking his own life.

Wilder is less than a month away from a rematch with his toughest foe to date, Tyson Fury. Fury endured two knockdowns to push Wilder to a draw in 2018. As Wilder vs. Fury 2 nears, press coverage is sure to hit a crescendo.

During their initial press conference on Jan. 13, Wilder and Fury promoted their fight by trading barbs while displaying confidence and bravado. It was a typical pre-fight promotional affair, and Wilder and Fury spoke to the media in attendance informally once the press conference ended.

While talking to several members of the media, Wilder said something that hasn’t received much attention. When discussing Fury, Wilder criticized Fury’s usage of the term “lineal champion.” He also accused Fury of using his past mental health problems as PR fodder. Then, he said something personal and candidly revealing. Wilder admitted that there was a period in his life when he was suicidal.

It was a powerful comment made quickly in passing, but it has gone widely undetected. One of the only media sources that picked up on Wilder’s startingly open remark was

NYFights captured video of Wilder saying, “I go through things at times. I mean, I had a gun in my hand before, thinking about committing suicide. I mean, s**t, it ain’t no different. But does anybody want to hear about my mental problems? I don’t think so.”

Fury’s lifetime struggles with bipolar disorder and depression are well documented. He discussed with FanSided in September how his mental illness led him to over a two-year path of self-destructive behavior after becoming the unified heavyweight champion in 2015. Wilder’s past depression was unknown until his Jan. 13 comments.

Unlike Fury, the height of Wilder’s depression occurred long before he was a world champion boxer. He has never been diagnosed with a mental health disorder like Fury, but for a while, life’s hardships compounded to the point where things seemed hopeless.

“Life is going to bring a lot of things, and we’re going to go through a lot of things in life, but I think the time frame of when we endure pain or go through it is very important,” Wilder recently told FanSided.

A deep bout of depression befell Wilder when he was early into his amateur boxing career. Wilder was working long shifts as a Budweiser delivery driver while trying to jumpstart the beginnings of his future boxing career with training sessions at night. He was laboring to make ends meet. Wilder’s daughter Naieya (who’s his primary inspiration for pursuing boxing) was just a baby and was bravely enduring her battle with spina bifida.

“At that point of time in my life, I was going through so much. It seemed like nothing was going right for me,” said Wilder to FanSided. “Every day was something. It seemed like I could never catch up on life. I was dealing with a lot of problems.”

Adding to Wilder’s stress level was the deterioration of his relationship with his girlfriend, Naieya’s mother, Helen Duncan. Life at the time was little that Wilder had imagined for himself. He was feeling desperate and falling deeper and deeper into self-apathy, which fed his growing depression.

“I was dealing with my family, with my daughter’s mother,” said Wilder. “I had a baby, and the family broke up. My daughter was everything to me. That’s why I started boxing. When a family breaks up, and the mother takes the child and s**t like that, it becomes a big uproar and a big mess. At that point of time, there was so much s**t going on. I didn’t have a lot of money. I had child support. I had the bills.”

Wilder’s descent into depression proves that all people are vulnerable to moments of mental and emotional fatigue that can quickly cascade into thoughts of self-harm fueled by hopelessness and fear. He diagnosed it correctly when talking about “time frame.” We all have moments when we’re “going to go through a lot of things in life.”

Wilder’s personal and financial problems snowballed to the point where he questioned if life was worth living.

“There was one point and time where I had that gun,” said Wilder. “It had me thinking like, ‘F**k all this s**t. Just take yourself out.’ It feels like it’s a better route. No one has to worry about no problems. Nobody has to worry about you being here no more because you about to exit yourself out of here.”

Negative emotions and thoughts are poisonous and taint the rational thinking of any person no matter how poor, rich, unaccomplished, or successful. Wilder was moments away from throwing away a brilliant future that he couldn’t yet envision. However, Wilder had the gift of angels on his side — one in the form of a spiritual feeling that was unseen and the other in the presence of a small, beautiful baby girl that he didn’t want to deprive of having a loving father.

“But there was always something that came over me when my mind hit that dead end,” Wilder declared. “There’s always something that comes over me saying, ‘You don’t want to do this.’ I always had that confirmation, that feeling. I always found myself sleeping it off. Taking a shower and sleeping it off. When I wake up, I’m always in a better state of mind.”

Wilder staved off suicidal thoughts with time to reflect and review all that he had to live for. Time to think may have saved Wilder’s life.

“It’s like you know what? I’m not going to give up that damn easily,” said Wilder. “I’m going to step over challenges. I’m going to fight my way out. This is going to be my testimony in life.”

Today, Wilder is a boxing titan whose legend grows with every knockout punch he delivers, but his greatest victory is over the substantial obstacles that he has faced throughout life. Wilder refused to succumb to despair. His faith in himself was continually stoked by an indescribable feeling and the love of a living angel named Naieya.

“Look where I am now,” stated Wilder. “We all have mental issues at some stages in our life. Even when you have it all, you’re never just happy all the way. Happiness is within. It’s your family. It’s your surroundings. A lot of people don’t understand what true happiness is. God always had a plan for me. I’m just a living witness.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression and considering self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support, 24/7. You can call 1-800-273-8255 to be connected.