-- Heavyweight titleholder Deontay Wilder has the punching power and personality, not to mention the growing fan base in his home state of Alabama, to be become one of boxing's biggest stars.
And that is the plan for the first American heavyweight titleholder since Shannon Briggs lost his belt nearly a decade ago. Wilder hopes someday to fill the void left by Floyd Mayweather, who, as expected, announced his retirement following his whitewash of Andre Berto in their welterweight championship fight on Sept. 12.
"After Floyd went out, up pops Deontay Wilder. That's the plan," Wilder said. "That's always been the plan, and I'm making sure that that plan is played out like it's supposed to. I am the heavyweight champion, and the heavyweights are the cream of the crop and now it's our turn.
"We're bringing it back. Floyd has done a marvelous job with his career and stuff like that, but now it's my turn. Now it's time for the big guys to rule like they once were and I'm the man for the job."
Said Jay Deas, Wilder's co-manager and trainer, "America has been wanting a heavyweight that is charismatic, energetic, wants to fight often, has a knockout punch, has the looks and everything that the heavyweight champ should have. He's the man for the job."
While the recognized heavyweight world champion is Wladimir Klitschko, who has held his title for more than nine years, unified three major belts and made 18 title defenses, Wilder has done well sparring with him and hopes to fight him sooner than later to unify their titles in what would be, by far, boxing's biggest heavyweight fight.
But that match is probably about a year away at the earliest, so Wilder is going to remain active, continue to build his name and popularity and hone his skills, the critics of his opposition -- of which there are legion -- be damned.
"I don't care about what other people think about it," Wilder said. "I don't care about what people write, I don't care about what people say. I don't even read anything. All I do is train and that's my life."
Wilder won his belt in January with a one-sided rout of Bermane Stiverne and defended it in June with a sometimes-rocky ninth-round knockout of Eric Molina. Before Stiverne, Wilder had never faced a top opponent.
Now the 29-year-old Wilder is ready to step back into the ring for his third title bout in nine months but he will face Frenchman Johann Duhaupas on Saturday night (NBC, 8:30 ET, with additional bouts on NBC Sports Net beginning at 11 ET) in the Premier Boxing Champions main event at the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama, not far from Wilder's hometown of Tuscaloosa.
Few have ever heard of the 6-foot-5, 242-pound Duhaupas, whose biggest win, if one can even call it a big win, came by majority 10-round decision against former world title challenger Manuel Charr in April. How obscure is the 34-year-old Duhaupas?
"I know that Johann Duhaupas is not exactly a household name. Perhaps even in [his hometown of] Abbeville, France, that might be the case," joked Marv Albert, who will call the fight for NBC.
It will be the first heavyweight world title bout on NBC in prime time in 30 years, since Larry Holmes defended the title in a 15-round decision win against Carl "The Truth" Williams on May 20, 1985 in Reno, Nevada, a fight Albert was ringside to call as well.
Having the fight on network television in prime time figures to go a long way in helping Wilder build the kind of following he aims for.
"Having Deontay fighting on free television is a big deal," said Lou DiBella, who is promoting the card. "NBC prime time is a big deal. The heavyweight division has suffered some decline. I've watched Muhammad Ali fight on free television. Some of the greatest of all time developed on free television.
"I'm so excited about a lot of people getting the chance to see this young, charismatic champion fight on free television."
In the scheduled 10-round co-feature, heavyweight Dominic Breazeale (15-0, 14 KOs), a 30-year-old 2012 U.S. Olympian from Alhambra, California, will face Fred Kassi (18-3-1, 10 KOs), 36, a native of Cameroon fighting out of New Orleans and coming off a draw with longtime contender Chris Arreola in July.
The 6-7, 229-pound Wilder (34-0, 33 KOs), a 2008 U.S. Olympic bronze medalist, and his team have tried to ignore the constant heavy criticism about Wilder's poor opposition, Stiverne notwithstanding.
"We're going to keep doing what we're doing," Deas said. "The possible fights with Klitschko, Tyson Fury and [mandatory challenger] Alexander Povetkin take time to get done. While those are coming together, we're fighting different guys. These guys here come to win. This guy can be an instant millionaire in one night."
Wilder said he believes that Duhaupas, though unknown and unaccomplished, is the right kind of opponent for him.
"I think he's the best type of opponent for me," Wilder said. "He's tough, he comes to fight, he's got a great record, he's never been stopped, he got the height and the weight. Do I have to say more? I think this is a great opponent for me. I think this is a great fight despite of what maybe critics may say about it.
"They're going to see this is a great fight, this is an exciting fight, this is going to definitely be a tough fight and I'm looking forward to it. This type of boxing in the heavyweight division is back and I'm happy that I'm leading the pack. I'm back, I'm going to bring even more exciting fights and I can't wait to get this on, I can't wait. I'm definitely an active champion; once I became champion, I told people that I want to stay active."
Deas knows it would be easy for Wilder to get complacent. After all, he is the star of the show and facing an obscure opponent. But Deas said nothing could be further from their mentality.
"If anyone is looking past Duhaupas, it's not us. We've been focused on him since day one," Deas said. "This is the biggest challenge of Deontay Wilder's career. Deontay knows what a challenge this is. We had 12 sparring partners come into camp, which is more than we've ever had. That's because we know what a big event and challenge this is. We're not looking past anybody."
Said Wilder, "If anyone is looking past him, they're a fool. I have friends all over the world who have told me not to look past him.
"Any man that steps in the ring definitely gets my full attention and respect. The heavyweights are the hard hitters. When people get dressed up to see a heavyweight fight, there's one thing they want to see: knockouts. Right now, there are two tall guys with power that are determined and dedicated. There is one challenger, trying to become the first heavyweight champion from his country."
Duhaupas (32-2, 20 KOs) has been a pro since 2004. His two decision losses came to his best opponents, in 2008 to Francesco Pianeta, who got knocked out by Klitschko in a 2013 world title fight, and in March to Erkan Teper, who knocked out David Price in the second round in July to win the European title.
Duhaupas, who will be fighting outside of Europe for the first time, believes he is ready to pull off the upset.
"I'm someone who has worked very hard to be here," he said. "It's because of all my hard work that I am here today ready to fight for a world title. I've traveled a lot to train with the best boxers in the world. I am here for a reason, and that is to win the title on Saturday.
"Deontay's a great fighter that hits very hard. I know that we're in his neighborhood and that puts extra pressure on the fight. Either way, it's a world title fight. Doesn't make a difference if it's in his backyard or mine. I'm confident in myself and I'll be equally as confident in the ring. I'm ready to deliver the knockout."
With a victory, Wilder is expected to move on to his mandatory defense against Povetkin (29-1, 21 KOs), whose lone loss was by shutout decision to Klitschko in 2013. Should Wilder defeat Povetkin, the talk for a Klitschko showdown will grow more intense.
"Without [beating] Duhaupas there is no Klitschko, there is no Fury and there is no Povetkin, period," Deas said. "We're gunning for the biggest opportunities possible but it starts on Saturday night. In the heavyweight division, anybody on the right night can be champion. That's why it's our job to make sure Deontay is ready mentally and physically. We know he's ready."
Wilder has every intention of taking care of business on Saturday and being around at the top for a long time and enjoying every minute of the ride.
"This is my happiest point. Words can't even express the feeling that I have. I love what I do. I'm so passionate about boxing," he said. "If she was a woman, I'd put a ring on her."