Listening to the deep, Southern drawl, you would be forgiven for thinking that former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder had picked up the phone. Instead, fellow Tuscaloosa native Deon ‘The Equalizer’ Nicholson (13-0, 12 KOs) spoke to Boxing Social about changing paths and the hunt for greatness at the top of two divisions.

Nicholson was last seen making his television broadcast debut, featuring on the Yordenis Ugas vs Mike Dallas Jr card in Mississippi in February. He toppled the tough Earl Newman over 10 rounds – his first encounter with the judges’ scorecards, but that was before the Covid-19 pandemic swept the United States, stifling his hope of another PBC appearance this summer.

“I knew I could go 10 rounds,” stated the 29-year old. “I already knew all those things that people didn’t; that I could go the distance, that I could box and that I had serious punching power. I gained experience going those 10 rounds, absolutely, fighting on the television and in front of a nice crowd. It was great for me so early in my career.

“I was so ready to perform. I was ready to show people my ability. I’ve fought on Deontay Wilder’s undercards, but it was great to get onto the television spots [on this card]. I’m looking forward to fighting more now on television. I know that PBC loved my performance and they loved the way I came to fight, so that’s great for me.”

Nicholson (right) drills Earl Newman. Photo: Stephanie Trapp/TGB Promotions.

Spending time with his young family during the current lockdown, Nicholson reflected on his own difficult childhood, living with his grandparents in Alabama from an early age after both parents could no longer care for him. It was that environment that would eventually lead Deon towards trouble on the streets of Tuscaloosa.

“I grew up in the projects, so I’d consider it a real rough area. My grandparents raised me because my father was in prison when I was a kid and my mother was on drugs,” said Nicholson. “I got a good relationship now with my father, but my mother isn’t as good. It was hard for me, but my grandmother and grandfather did their best with me. They were always there for me.

“When I was young, there was a lot of trials and things that I stumbled upon. Now that I’m older, I can fight professionally and actually get some money for it. Fighting to me just became normal. Growing up, it makes you better prepared for [boxing], even though I was doing it illegally. I was just getting in trouble in the neighbourhood. I grew up and people were just beating on people for no reason; you just had to survive the environment, so I probably fought every day.”

The man now dubbed ‘The Equalizer’ for his serious punching power would overcome a spell in prison, incarcerated as an adult after spending time previously in juvenile detention centres. He explained that it was natural progression for many of his peers, without a glimmer of hope or a sign of escape detached from the sidewalk. Boxing would provide Nicholson with that opportunity, following in the footsteps of Tuscaloosa’s famous, former champion.

Nicholson (right) impressed on a PBC TV spot in February. Photo: Stephanie Trapp.

After leaving prison, Deon kept himself to himself, training and tweaking his street-brawling technique in preparation for a legitimate fighting career, debuting in August 2016. He had previously visited the gym as a young teenager, but now with his own key to the facility, boxing is his sole focus. Nicholson described his ‘loner’ lifestyle, now preferring to mix in smaller circles. He continues risking his wellbeing for the good of his family; notably his young daughter, another striking similarity with local hero Deontay Wilder.

The pair already have a cordial relationship with the fringe contender explaining: “We’ll talk, me and D’, he gives me advice on things. Whether it’s boxing or stuff like that. When he took that loss [against Tyson Fury], it really felt like I took a loss. I love the guy so much. I know that he’s gonna be back stronger with a different gameplan. He is just a real motivation for me. He’s definitely somebody who’s come from nothing and has built himself up to that level.

“My family is just more motivation, too. It’s more gas poured on the fire and spending time with them. I’m able to do things that I didn’t have the chance to do with my own mother and father. I can be there for my kids, but I can be there for them financially, also.”

Nicholson is weighing up his options and planning a potential move down to light-heavyweight when boxing returns, after frequently fighting far taller and heavier men at the 200lbs cruiserweight limit. Height isn’t everything and Nicholson referenced the explosive reign of short-statured heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, but why put himself at a disadvantage, he asked rhetorically.

Nicholson (right) is inspired by former WBC champ Deontay Wilder. Photo: Stephanie Trapp.

At both light-heavyweight and cruiserweight, ‘The Equalizer’ could make some serious noise, carrying frightening power and building his fan-base with every outing. Now firmly living life on the straight and narrow, he admitted it is time to push himself towards the best fighters in the world. A career spent in boxing is often short-lived and Nicholson is already playing catch-up.

A man of few, well-chosen words, he prefers to let his thunderous punches do the talking. “A lot of these guys probably went to college, graduated and things like that. But believe me, this is my only way out,” he said. “I need this. That’s why I’m working so hard. I’m just being myself, man. I know in this sport you could be the best of the best and you still might not be embraced or loved. I know that I’m a humble person – I’m not arrogant. A lot of people like fighters who can do their talking in the ring, so I never worry about that.”