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Meet the artist behind Deontay Wilder’s statue

Tuscaloosa artist Caleb O'Connor with former WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder at the unveiling of the statue in his honor.
Pat Duggins
Tuscaloosa artist Caleb O'Connor with former WBC Heavyweight Champion Deontay Wilder at the unveiling of the statue in his honor.

Tuscaloosa native Deontay Wilder returns to the boxing ring tomorrow. The former world heavyweight champion will face fighter Robert Helenius Saturday night. If you can’t make it to Brooklyn for the match, the next best thing may right here in Tuscaloosa. The city unveiled a bronze statue of Wilder earlier this year at the local Sports and Tourism Commission office. Tuscaloosa artist Caleb O’Connor worked with the champ on the design. He says Wilder didn’t make too many changes…

“Uh, no…no. The only thing he wanted was when he changed his hair and he grew a beard, and I think that’s appropriate because that’s how he looks. But, that was it. That was the only thing,” said O’Connor.

Fans of the “Bronze Bomber” lined up on the day of the veiling to talk with Wilder or get a picture with him or his statue. O’Connor says the work of art’s right fist may have a similar fate to a famous statue of a wild boar in Florence, Italy…

“And it’s got a snout that’s just been rubbed through time, rubbed through time, people come by, they rub it, they polish it,” O’Connor recalls. “And what I think his right fist is going to be. And so, I think the significance is that through time, people will touch that fist, they’ll polish it, and they’ll all become part of the art in that sense.”

Deontay Wilder’s is known for his right fisted punch. The champ also gave APR his very first interview on his connection to the historic Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery. That’s in part two of our series “No Stone Unturned” Preserving Slave Cemeteries in Alabama, at apr.org.

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.
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  • Before the Civil War, the state of Alabama was home to an estimated thirty three thousand slave holders. Local historians say one of them was John Welch Prewitt. He set aside two acres that became known as the Old Prewitt Slave Cemetery. The site may hold up to two hundred unmarked graves. Former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Deontay Wilder lives next door.
  • Part 1— "The 40 unmarked graves"Alabama voters head to the polls next month. One ballot item could end slavery in the state. Alabama’s constitution still allows forced labor, one hundred and fifty seven years after the thirteenth amendment abolished the practice. That’s not the only lasting impact of the slave trade in Alabama. APR spoke with the descendants of some of estimated four hundred thousand people enslaved here around the Civil War. Many say they can’t find the burial sites of their ancestors, due to unmarked graves or bad records kept by their white captors. Alabama Public Radio news spent nine months looking into efforts to find and preserve slave cemeteries in the state. Here's part one of our series we call “No Stone Unturned.”
  • A bronze statue of Tuscaloosa native and WBC World Heavyweight boxing champion Deontay Wilder was unveiled at the city’s Tourism and Sports Bureau. A crowd of fans of the “Bronze Bomber” was on hand to hear from the champion, as well as his longtime manager and trainer Jay Deas, and Mayor Walt Maddox.
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