- Associated Press - Monday, June 8, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Deontay Wilder’s fight at Bartow Area in Birmingham on Saturday night is being dubbed a homecoming for the World Boxing Council world heavyweight champion.

In some ways it is. He will be fighting some 60 miles from where he was born and raised. The Tuscaloosa fighter will have massive support in what is expected to be a capacity crowd for the first defense of the title he won in Las Vegas in January.

The event itself is called “Sweet Home(Coming) Alabama.”

However, the opportunity for the heavyweight champ to have a true homecoming, a fight in his hometown of Tuscaloosa, hasn’t been such a sweet proposition between Wilder and the University of Alabama.

“Some people may question, hey, we’ve got the University of Alabama, which in reality for me fighting in Coleman Coliseum was one of my dreams,” Wilder, 29, told The Tuscaloosa News. “When I go in there to watch an Alabama basketball game, I look around and I saw this is beautiful for boxing, this is a perfect place for boxing, but on the other hand I feel I’ve been done wrong many times when dealing with Alabama.”

Despite interest from Wilder and his management and promotional team, the university’s lack of interest in hosting the bout at Coleman Coliseum originated with university President Judy Bonner, who informed the athletic department in April that she had reservations about allowing Wilder’s title defense to be held on campus.

Bonner notified the athletic department even before Alabama was contacted by representatives of Wilder or the Tuscaloosa Sports and Tourism Commission about potentially hosting the June 13 bout.

So instead, Wilder (33-0, 32 KOs) will fight Eric Molina (23-1, 17 KOs) at 9,000-seat Bartow Arena, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s on-campus facility, in the first-ever world title bout in any weight division to take place in the state of Alabama.

“Dr. Bonner’s concerns about the use of Coleman Coliseum were based on UA’s ability to provide the significant logistical support that would be required to host an event of this size - with minimal planning time and the necessity of involving already committed campus resources - during a very busy time on our campus, as well as the potential disruption to the thousands of students, parents and visitors participating in already scheduled orientation sessions, classes, camps and events,” Alabama spokesperson Deborah Lane said. “She continues to wish Deontay much success in his upcoming bout.”

Wilder and his team see it differently.

Wilder’s co-manager, Jay Deas, said he contacted Alabama promptly after Wilder’s management team agreed with a television partner, Showtime, on a June 13 fight date to gauge the university’s interest in holding the fight at Coleman Coliseum. Deas said he “never personally heard back.”

“We wanted to do the fight, initially, in Tuscaloosa, and Coleman Coliseum was the place to do it,” Deas said. “The city of Tuscaloosa expressed a lot of interest in it, and so they reached out to the university and for whatever reason it died right there.”

Jay Casten, director of sports for the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission, said his office received feedback that the venue was already booked that weekend. No details regarding an alternate date, event operations, expenses, obligations or financial terms were ever discussed.

“It never got that far,” he said.

“I’m extremely disappointed we’re not hosting it, but I’m extremely optimistic we’re going to host a title fight as long as Deontay continues to win,” Casten said.

Conversely, Deas said that UAB, along with the city of Birmingham, moved quickly when presented with the idea of hosting Wilder’s first title defense.

“We reached out to UAB and were called back the same day. And basically they said ‘Yes, we want it, what do we have to move around? What do we have to reschedule? Anything we need to do, we’re going to do. We want this event, this is huge, this is historic, we want it,’” Deas said. “With UAB, it went from A to Z in less than an hour. With the (University of Alabama), I never heard back after A.”

There is no obligation for the University of Alabama to hold external events at Coleman Coliseum, but when the university does host those events it can be a financial and exposure boost to the community. Coleman Coliseum is the only indoor venue in Tuscaloosa large enough to host a world title fight, and a heavyweight title bout would be the most prestigious non-Alabama sporting event held in Tuscaloosa in years.

Lane confirmed the university is open to external groups using Coleman Coliseum, citing recent high school graduations held at the facility in May and a recent event held by the Alabama League of Municipalities. Casten said that event, which was held May 18, included a 750-person dinner on the coliseum floor.

When asked about specific conflicts that prevented the Wilder bout, Alabama cited two summer camps, a sold out Alabama gymnastics camp running from June 10-13 and new basketball coach Avery Johnson’s first basketball camp starting Sunday, June 14, the day after the fight.

The basketball camp, however, was not announced publicly until May 15, weeks after Bonner’s message to the athletic department and inquiries from Deas and Casten. The gymnastics camp, which ends at 4 p.m. on June 13, is typically held in the team’s practice facility in the back of Coleman Coliseum, not on the coliseum’s main floor.

For Wilder, the first American world heavyweight champion since 2006, the university’s lack of interest in even entertaining a potential bout on campus has become a point of frustration.

A lifelong University of Alabama fan, Wilder has contributed on campus. He has been asked to speak to the football team and gymnastics team, he is a regular at basketball games and he was honored on the floor of Coleman Coliseum at a game after winning the WBC title this winter.

He said the resistance to even get into a discussion about hosting a fight bothers him.

“Until we get a venue built (in Tuscaloosa) or something like that, my business will be in Birmingham,” Wilder said. “They’ve welcomed me with open arms, they beat a lot of (venues) for this fight, they outbid a lot of people, and I’m looking toward targeting the BJCC (Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex) to be my home territory. We’re going to bring all the money to Birmingham.”

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Information from: The Tuscaloosa News, https://www.tuscaloosanews.com

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