Boxing is a brutal sport full of brutal opinions, something Deontay Wilder’s trainer and former opponent Malik Scott knows all too well.
Seven years ago, in Bayamón, Puerto Rico, Malik met Deontay in a scheduled 12-round fight at the Coliseo Rubén Rodríguez. Coming into the fight, pundits had Malik down on paper as Deontay’s toughest test to date. Unlike the former Olympic bronze medallist’s previous notable foes (Audley Harrison and Siarhei Liakhovich), Malik was not past his prime and was thought to harbor the same ardent determination of any hungry contender. Something that was clearly evident in his pre-fight press conference.
“I believe I’m the higher-skilled caliber of fighter he has fought. “I’m not coming to test him, I’m coming to beat him,” said Scott.
Yet it was not to be his night. After just 1-36 of the first round, the fight was over. A left hook, straight right combination sent Scott crashing to the canvas, where he was counted out. Inevitable perhaps, considering the power of Deontay Wilder. But the fans were less than pleased by the display. As the replay went up on the big screen, the arena was filled with a cacophony of boos. The straight right which had sent Scott down and out barely penetrated his guard, and accusations of fight-fixing quickly circulated through the crowd.
Even Showtime commentator Al Bernstein was somewhat skeptical of the final blow: “Part of that punch landed, but it bounced off the glove and some of the fans here are actually booing as they look at the replay.
“I think the temple shot to the left of the head may have had an impact and may have been an equilibrium shot, but that right hand did not land perfectly, but I guess it was enough to send him down and out.”
Despite multiple members of the press reiterating Bernstein’s point, many fans remained adamant that Scott had taken a dive – and the impact of this slur would remain with Scott for the rest of his career.
Malik retired from competition in 2016 after a unanimous decision loss to Luis Ortiz, another fight that was poorly received by fans due to Malik’s gun-shy approach to the contest. For the next five years, he would shift his attention to coaching, taking kids’ boxing classes at a club in West Hills, California. During this time, Scott played the part of aide-de-camp for Wilder, holding pads and offering advice where needed. But this ultimately changed.
Former head coach Mark Breland had been sacked by Wilder after the second Tyson Fury fight, a decision motivated by Wilder’s belief that Breland had been part of a wider conspiracy to throw the fight in Fury’s favor. In a time of need, Wilder turned to his friend for counsel.
In May 2021, Wilder confirmed via Instagram that he had appointed Scott as his head coach for the third fight with Tyson Fury. A bizarre choice many thought, considering Scott had never trained a pro. Once again, the negative comments began to circulate. “A reminder that this guy fought Wilder and took a dive before becoming his coach,” one fan wrote. “Wilder really hired a guy that took a dive against him as his trainer,” wrote another. In terms of perception, not much had changed.
In reality, the switch of trainer seemed to be the right one. Wilder had been boxing for 16 years and despite training alongside a respected coach in Mark Breland, alongside Jay Deas, he still maintained the same bad habits, namely an over-reliance on the right hand and an inability to appropriately disguise it with feints and combinations . If these men could not get through to him, then perhaps his long-time friend could. At least that was the thinking.
Training footage leading up to the fight looked good, and Wilder really seemed to be switching things up. From the eye test alone Wilder had visibly added more variety to his offensive arsenal and was layering phases of attack and defense well.
Despite the first date in July being postponed due to Fury contracting COVID, the camp kept rolling and Wilder continued improving. By the time fight night came around, he looked a completely different animal.
“The Bronze Bomber” was of course finished in the 11th round, but his performance was a stark improvement on their last contest. Early on, Wilder boxed beautifully and in stretches got off the cleaner work. A fearsome jab to the body kept his man at bay and counteracted the tricky slips of Fury. There was clearly more variety from Wilder and he was finally setting up the right hand to good effect, an element Scott had drilled with his man time and time again.
As the contest went on, the gas tank faded, and the damage accumulated. Wilder lost to the better man, but there was a lot to like about his performance – and his trainer.
Suddenly, opinions on Scott began to change. Overnight he had gone from ‘That guy that quit against Wilder’ to a trainer with exceptional qualities. Some were going as far as to say that he had all the makings of a great future, although the jury is out on that one. Regardless, he had proved his worth as a capable tactician and technical coach, by teaching the old dog new tricks and nullifying Fury’s early advances with intelligent changes of pace and shot placement.
Even one of Scott’s harshest critics, Tyson’s father John Fury, retracted his statements from the build-up during a podcast with True Geordie: “Now, he’s put a year’s training in on and off and they’ve got it right which, big up to Malik Scott, he did a good job and I’ll take it back about the kid, what I said about him. I said he could not improve him, but he did and I’m a man who admits when he’s wrong. “
The comments on his interviews were overwhelmingly positive. Comparing the like-to-dislike ratios of these interviews with those of the ones preceding the fight showed an obvious shift in fan response. He had undoubtedly earned their respect.
Former two-weight world champion Shawn Porter perhaps summed it up best: “All the way across the board I really do feel he proved himself. A lot of people were saying that Deontay made the wrong choice, he’s hiring a coach that he beat and has never won a championship title and ‘What does he know, he’s never coached anyone before?’
“I just thought that Malik did a terrific job. Every time they went to the corner it gave me confidence in Deontay that something good could happen to him. ”
Malik had finally silenced the doubters and the naysayers. A reminder of how quickly everything can change in boxing.