Heavyweight Deontay Wilder returns to action on Saturday almost a year after his last fight – an epic trilogy encounter with Tyson Fury.
Wilder, 36, seriously considering retirement over the past 12 months, but has finally decided to sign to fight Finland’s Robert Helenius at the Barclays Center in New York.
With question marks hanging over Wilder’s motivation, his trainer Malik Scott says the Alabama native is as fired up now as he’s ever been.
“He still has a fighting dark spirit when he’s in the ring,” Scott told BBC Sport.
“I like that, because once that meanness and meanness is gone – that’s where you retire.”
After back-to-back losses to Fury, Wilder had to rediscover his passion for the sport. Here BBC Sport looks at why the ‘Bronze Bomber’ is back.
“We thought that was it”
The losses to Fury were the first of Wilder’s previously unblemished career and stripped him of the WBC title he had held since 2015. They also carried the added shock of back-to-back stoppages.
In the months leading up to the trilogy fight on October 9, 2021, Wilder’s future looked uncertain after he lost his passion for the sport.
He explained: “I went to the gym a few times to try to get that feeling. I couldn’t find it. That feeling wasn’t there anymore.”
Wilder – who became a fighter to financially support his daughter, who has had the spinal defect spina bifida all her life – looked ready to bow out.
“We all thought ‘this is it’ – he didn’t want to watch boxing, he didn’t want to be around boxing,” Scott continued. “I really didn’t know.
“It was 50-50 because Deontay wasn’t really interested in boxing. Until the statue was unveiled, I was very unsure.”
The statue Scott is referring to is a life-size bronze figure of Wilder that was erected in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in May of this year.
The public art prompted Wilder to reconsider his future in the ring.
“That was the first time I’ve seen him smile from ear to ear since we were getting ready to fight Fury for the third time,” Scott said.
“He was smiling and laughing and laughing in that one smile that I hadn’t seen since the last practice.
“He told us ‘okay’ then and there in front of the whole crowd that he’s not going to retire.
“After the statue was unveiled, a spark struck and it’s been on ever since. About an hour later he was talking about training camps and rivals.”
Has Wilder lost his confidence?
Galvanized by the support of his community, Wilder returned to the gym.
Scott says his fighter has found fire back in his belly, but questions still hang over the physical and mental scars left by the grueling three fights with Fury between 2018 and 2021.
“Obviously he was down, we didn’t get the result we wanted, he’s human,” Scott said.
“But I don’t think Deontay has had to rebuild mentally because he’s accomplished so much.
“To rebuild mentally you have to be somebody who’s really unfulfilled, somebody who hasn’t made a ton of history.
“Losing a boxing match is not something that could make Deontay lose confidence in the man and fighter that he is.
“In its simplest form: he lost a boxing match to a very good fighter.”
“Will Usyk or Joshua be next”
Fury delivered two defeats to Wilder with aggressive tactics, pushing Bounier on the back foot and intimidating the bully who had previously knocked out 41 of his 42 opponents.
Scott, however, urges Helenius to be careful if he intends to borrow Fury’s design.
He said: “I hope Helenius copies Fury because he will find out very early on that Fury was beaten by Deontay four times for a reason.
“Helenius doesn’t have the chin that Fury has. We’ve seen him get hit by people with a lot less power and stay down and his punch resistance isn’t like Fury’s.”
Wilder’s desire in camp is in stark contrast to those deflated gym visits after defeats by Fury.
“He’s training three times harder than he’s ever trained. For that to happen you have to want it. There’s got to be a fire inside,” Scott said.
“We have to slow him down, put the brakes on him,” Scott added. “He gives 130% every day, these are not things you can fake.
“Whatever Helenius brings to the table won’t be enough on October 15 because Deontay Wilder will put him to sleep.”
‘The Nordic Nightmare’ is enjoying a resurgence in form after winning his last three contests but, as Wilder’s former partner, he is a familiar figure.
Scott says they are no match for the Finn’s known skill set, but if they secure the win they expect, Team Wilder will be aiming to top the division once again.
“It’s the second half of his career, he’s not in it for the money, but the fight he has to do is a high-profile, long-running fight,” he said.
“It would be Oleksandr Usyk or Anthony Joshua next. I’m not interested in Deontay fighting Andy Ruiz or Frank Sanchez – none of those guys.
“He wants to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.”