Like countless other boys born and raised in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Wilder always wanted to play football or basketball for his hometown University of Alabama Crimson Tide. However, the 6-foot-7-inch Wilder’s goals changed in 2005, when his daughter, Naieya, was born with spina bifida, a serious birth defect of the spinal cord.
A freshman at Tuscaloosa’s Shelton State Community College at the time, Wilder left school and was soon working two jobs in order to support his daughter, who doctors said might never be able to walk. In an attempt to earn more money, Wilder took up boxing shortly thereafter and was an extremely quick study. In 2007, Wilder won the National Golden Gloves title in just his 16th amateur fight and also won the U.S. amateur championship at 201 pounds.
He won the U.S. Olympic trials in just his 21st amateur bout, and earned a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Games. It was the only medal won by a U.S. boxer. Wilder made his professional debut in November 2008 and by 2013 had amassed an impressive 30-0 record. In 2014, he was 32-0 (all 32 victories coming by knockout) and easily won a 12-round unanimous decision over Bermane Stiverne to become the first U.S.-born fighter to hold a heavyweight title since 2007.