Former USC-football-player-turned-boxer Gerald Washington lost a heavyweight title bout on Sunday, falling to Deontay Wilder via a fifth-round technical knockout in Birmingham, Ala.
Washington, 34, entered the fight as a heavy underdog after replacing two-time heavyweight champion Andrzej Wawrzyk — who tested positive for a banned anabolic steroid — less than a month before the bout was scheduled to take place.
The Vallejo, Calif. native won his first professional fight at the age of 30, knocking out Blue DeLong in July 2012. Since then, he had emerged as a legitimate heavyweight contender, with a draw against Amir Mansour in 2015 being the only blemish on his undefeated record until Sunday night.
Washington initially came to USC as a tight end in 2006, transferring in from junior college after serving in the U.S. Navy for four years as a helicopter mechanic. Under former head coach Pete Carroll, Washington made the switch to defensive end and recovered two fumbles and blocked a kick during his senior season. After trying his hand at the professional level with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks’ practice squads, Washington moved on to boxing full-time.
He got his Rocky opportunity over the weekend, challenging the undefeated Wilder (38-0, 37 KOs) for his belt as a little-known contender. Washington (18-1-1, 12 KOs) started the fight strongly. He mostly kept the 31-year-old Wilder at a distance using a firm jab that seemed to catch the champion off-guard early on.
A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., Wilder enjoyed a significant home-field advantage on Sunday. With a raucous crowd at his back, Wilder managed to land a thunderous right hand across Washington’s face in the fifth round that knocked him to the canvas. Washington was able to beat the count, but the bout was stopped not long after as Wilder jumped right back in and went for the kill. At the time the fight was called, one judge had Wilder ahead on the scorecards 39-37 while the two others had the contest
tied at 38-38.
“I just got a little impatient,” Washington told reporters after the loss. “I was trying to go for it. It was an even boxing match. I could have kept it like that and kept it boring. I don’t know why I fell asleep there. I guess I lost a little focus.”
Nevertheless, Washington called the match “an experience” and was sure he would learn from his first career championship opportunity.
“You have to follow the game plan and stay focused, stay patient,” Washington said. “You may not get all the shots you want in the beginning, but you have to play the game all the way out and then things will start to happen.”
Wilder retained his WBC belt with the victory and will now set his sights on becoming a unified champion in the heavyweight division. It’s unclear where Washington will go from here, having taken such a massive step up to face Wilder, but he tweeted a statement thanking fans on Monday morning, along with #ChampionOnTheRise.
“I’ll get back to work and come back stronger than ever,” Washington said. “This is a part of our sport, a part of life. You have to be able to get back up and keep pushing forward.”