Pope Francis speaks with Deontay Wilder
Urban News Service – Pope Francis named Deontay Wilder, a current heavyweight champion, the Boxers’ Representative and Ambassador for Peace through Sport in a private ceremony in Vatican City.
Wilder, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, met the pontiff earlier this week while on a tour of Rome and the city’s surrounding areas.
“He’s truly a remarkable man that represents true love, happiness, and world peace for all human race. He also enjoys pizza and is a huge boxing fan. And you know he’s a part of the BombZquad family baby,” Wilder later said about the meeting on Twitter.
“BombZquad” refers to the Deontay Wilder’s fans base. The fighter was nicknamed the “Bronze Bomber” after winning a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. When Wilder won his World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title in 2015. In doing so he became the first American heavyweight champion in nine years — the longest stretch without an American champion in the sport’s modern history. While soccer is the most popular sport in Pope Francis’s native Argentina, boxing is also quite popular and the country has produced several world champions.
Wilder met the pontiff inside Vatican City. The heavyweight champion made the stop while touring the greater area of Rome. The tour was planned and sponsored by the Italian Boxing Federation and WBC as part of an effort to increase international cultural diplomacy through boxing.
The award Deontay received was recommended to Pope Francis by Scholas Occurentes, the non-religious social awareness organization he founded as an archbishop in Argentina.
“Since its inception, Pope Francis dreamed of Scholas as the possibility of giving a concrete response to the call of this era, conferring on him the task of educating in the openness to the other, upon hearing that gathering the pieces of an atomized and empty of meaning world, and start creating a new culture: the Culture of Encounter,” according to a statement posted on the website of Scholas.
The organization focuses on giving children from impoverished areas opportunities to commit themselves to sports — the group particularly pushes the sports of soccer and boxing, which they believe can teach children discipline and other important values.
“Through the teaching of various boxing techniques, learning experiences are generated linked to values that are at stake: overcoming, effort, respect, companionship.”
Scholas’s goal is not simply getting children off the streets. They aim to use sports as a means of teaching morality and life lessons.
“By means of these two experiences, and through several disciplines and sports techniques, the purpose is to generate learning spaces and time to develop values such as resilience, team work, respect, honesty, effort and spirit of solidarity.”
Wilder’s own story reflects the values promoted by Scholas. As a youth Wilder was a high school football star who dreamed of playing for the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide and later a promising college basketball player. All of that changed when he became a father in 2005 at age 19. His eldest daughter was born with a life-threatening spina bifida. He put education aside to make money for his family and her treatments. He worked a variety of jobs from an IHOP to a Red Lobster. He also worked as the driver of a Budweiser truck while taking up boxing, a path which eventually lead him to great success.
Wilder was extremely vocal in his respect for Pope Francis, who he can be seen shaking hands with in several photos of the event.
Known for his bombastic attitude in the ring, Wilder has a humble persona outside of the squared circle. He has not posted any non-Vatican related content since the meeting.
“Much love from me Pope Francis and I’m wishing you many many blessings your way,” said Wilder after the event on Twitter.“What [an] honor it was to meet the #Pope @franciscus today,” Wilder later posted on social media.
In February of next year, Wilder will be fighting another big fan of Pope Francis — British heavyweight Tyson Fury.
The pair fought once before in a 2018 match. Contested in Los Angeles, Fury recovered from two knockdowns and the fight was scored a draw. The two are scheduled to meet in a rematch in February 2020. Neither fighter has suffered a defeat as a professional.