Camp Coffeeville – Wilder’s Secret Weapon!
(Photo credit: Frank Reynolds) By Frank Reynolds: It is a town without a traffic light. It claims only 350 residents and boasts a single restaurant, convenience store, post office and grocery yet to rising heavyweight Deontay “Bronze Bomber” Wilder, Coffeeville, Alabama is home away from home.
Wilder is currently 29-0 with 29 knockouts. He is ranked in the top 10 in the World and currently holds the WBC Continental Americas Title.
He has trained in Coffeeville in preparation for his past six bouts. It is now tradition for Team Wilder to start and finish each camp in this tiny, out of the way woodland retreat located in southwest Alabama along the Tombigbee River near the Mississippi state line. The team, which includes Wilder, Coach/Manager Jay Deas, former World Champ and Olympic Gold Medalist Mark Breland, Canada’s Russ Anber and camp coordinator Cuz Hill claim this area where animals outnumber people at least 100 to 1. For Wilder, Coffeeville is a perfect place to be.
“I can get away in total isolation and focus on the job at hand. There are no distractions. You can barely get a cell phone signal so it’s all about what we need to do to win. We start and finish camp there as a way to focus,” said Wilder.
Longtime Coach Jay Deas has ties to the area, which affords Wilder housing and a large compound on which to train. The town is remote, yet not too far from Wilder’s home in Tuscaloosa. Should he need to tend to his family (he has a daughter with Spina Bifida) it’s only a two hour drive.
“We used to come to hunt and fish,” said Deas. “We’d find a place to work out in front of the Town Hall. Slowly but surely the idea came to put a training camp in Coffeeville.”
Visionary Mayor Robert Cox saw the potential right away. The town was seen by many as down for the count, having closed its high school two years prior. The school had been the heartbeat of the community.
The town set about to purchase the educational building and once that was accomplished recruited Deas to open a gym as the first new occupants of the former school. The agreement called for the facility to be used not only by Team Wilder, but also to benefit the youth of the area. Wilder and company quickly jumped in giving frequent free clinics. Suddenly, the town was on its feet again and swinging back.
“We’re small, but we’re proud,” said Mayor Cox. “When the school closed a lot of kids here had nothing to do and that leads to trouble ten times out of ten. This gym gives them hope. They’re excited. It’s a big deal and something they’ve never had before.”
When Deas, Breland and Anber first saw the gym, neglect had taken its toll.
“It was pretty bad. Filled with dead bugs, dust and rust. Mark and Russ were the first to see through all that and say this could be great, something no one else has. Original hardwood floors from the 1950’s and tons of space. They said they wanted to do it,” said Deas.
The youth of the town spent days cleaning it up. Anber, who owns Rival Boxing, donated six premium heavy bags to the cause and flew in from his home base of Montreal, Canada to hang them.
“Jay needed my help and explained his vision to me. Once I saw it I thought it was a tremendous idea and I wanted Rival Boxing to be on board,” said Anber. “We’re making a difference. It’s a beautiful gym that needed to be used. With the space, original flooring and top of the line bags it is easily one of the top 50 boxing facilities in America. Easily.”
For Mark Breland, it is a return to his past, having spent part of his storied amateur career on Muhammad Ali’s boxing team.
“Coffeeville is a throwback to what Ali had at Deer Lake. I ran those hills in Coffeeville and my legs hurt for two days. It was like 1984 all over again. I loved it,” said Breland.
One thing Breland learned the hard way was the need to be on constant alert.
“Oh, you’ll see some animals! They’ve got deer, wild pigs, alligators, coyotes, all kinds of stuff,” said Breland. “I had to learn what was what so I could be on the lookout when I ran. I saw a pig and said, man, there’s a hippopotamus! They all fell out laughing at me.”
Former World title challenger Ray Austin has sparred at Camp Coffeeville and feels the area is of benefit to Wilder.
“Deontay can be great. I already call him Champ. For him to have his own isolated training base can only make him better. I’m on board with it anytime he needs me to spar. I think a lot of fighters are going to want to set up their camps in Coffeeville,” said Austin.
“I like the area and the people. We’re glad to have the gym up and running for the kids there. They’re hungry to be somebody and that motivates me. I always look forward to the start of camp,” said Wilder.
“Deontay has been good for Coffeeville and Coffeeville has been good for Deontay,” said Mayor Cox. “Since he started training here he’s won the Continental title, got ranked in the top ten and won his first Showtime main event. We feel like we’re a part of that. When he wins the World Title, how many towns our size can say they had a World Champ training?”