Former USC football player Gerald Washington confronts long odds against heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder

Former USC football player Gerald Washington’s unlikely path to a heavyweight championship fight has been cleared. Now, he just needs to find openings to land punches on champion Deontay Wilder.Washington (18-0-1, 12 knockouts) will fight World Boxing Council...

Former USC football player Gerald Washington confronts long odds against heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder

Former USC football player Gerald Washington’s unlikely path to a heavyweight championship fight has been cleared. Now, he just needs to find openings to land punches on champion Deontay Wilder.Washington (18-0-1, 12 knockouts) will fight World Boxing Council...

24 February 2017 Friday 18:05
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Former USC football player Gerald Washington confronts long odds against heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder

Former USC football player Gerald Washington’s unlikely path to a heavyweight championship fight has been cleared. Now, he just needs to find openings to land punches on champion Deontay Wilder.

Washington (18-0-1, 12 knockouts) will fight World Boxing Council champion Wilder (37-0, 36 KOs) at 5 p.m. Saturday in Wilder’s hometown of Birmingham, Ala. Washington got the shot after Andrzej Wawrzyk was yanked for submitting a positive steroid test.

Washington, 34, faces long odds. The Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas lists him as a 20-1 underdog.

“That's what life is all about,” Washington said at Thursday’s news conference. “You have to take risks and when it's time, it's time to handle your business. It's my time and I'm ready. I'm so happy to be able to do what I love. I'm going up against Deontay Wilder, the ‘Bronze Bomber,’ in his backyard. You can't take away what he's accomplished. But I'm here to handle my business.”

The 6-foot-6 Washington was recruited to USC by Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian. He played tight end and defensive end in 2007 and ’08, and landed practice-squad spots with the Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks.

He turned to boxing in 2012 and has beaten over-the-hill former title challengers Eddie Chambers and Ray Austin in his last two bouts.

“I've had an incredible run. I'm thankful to Deontay for picking me for this fight. He could have chosen a lot of opponents, but he picked me and I'm grateful for that,” Washington said. 

“This is a dream come true. I started boxing as a kid but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I've had a long road, but now I'm here fighting for the heavyweight championship of the world. This just means so much to me.”

Wilder hasn’t fought since July 16, when he suffered a broken right hand and torn biceps in an eighth-round stoppage of Riverside’s Chris Arreola.

“My time off has allowed me to get a better relationship with my left hand,” Wilder said. “There are so many different ways to throw a jab that I didn't think I could do. Working with one arm allowed me to be exposed to a lot of new things. It's going to be a different Deontay Wilder in the ring. 

“It's been a journey for me. I know there's a purpose to all of it and there's a reason why I'm here and why I'm the champ. Everything has manifested my way.”

Wilder is aiming for a later 2017 bout against the winner of the April 29 Anthony Joshua-Wladimir Klitschko bout at Wembley Stadium in London.

But first comes Washington, seeking to grasp his moment.

“I try to live as a champion and now it's my opportunity to be a champion,” Washington said.

Wilder said he admires the sentiment.

“When my first opponent dropped out, the first name that came to my mind was Gerald Washington,” Wilder said. “I appreciate the way he conducted himself. Every time I saw him, he always shook my hand and told me he was ready.

"I know Gerald is excited. I was too. I know what it's like to be able to fight for one of the most prestigious belts in the world. But, it's my belt. I'm still enjoying it. Even though I'm heavyweight champion of the world, I'm still humble. I keep the belt in its case, until it's time for me to fight again. I'm not satisfied. There is still more to attain.”

Saturday’s card includes the return of Upland-based heavyweight Dominic Breazeale (17-1, 15 KOs), following his June 25 loss by TKO to International Boxing Federation champion Anthony Joshua. Breazeale meets an intriguing foe in Poland’s Izuagbe Ugonoh (17-0, 14 KOs).

Abner Mares, the World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion from Hawaiian Gardens, and former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield will join the Fox broadcast team for the card, which also includes a fight for the International Boxing Federation super-welterweight belt vacated by Jermall Charlo, who’s moving to middleweight.

Jarrett Hurd (19-0, 13 KOs) meets Tony Harrison (24-1, 20 KOs) for the 154-pound title.

Sights and sounds from Saturday's Dodgers FanFest at Dodger Stadium.

Sights and sounds from Saturday's Dodgers FanFest at Dodger Stadium.

Sights and sounds from Saturday's Dodgers FanFest at Dodger Stadium.

Sights and sounds from Saturday's Dodgers FanFest at Dodger Stadium.

After a first half in which he played like that impostor in a Tom Brady mask, the New England Patriots quarterback put on a Super Bowl performance for the ages Sunday, leading his team back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28.

After a first half in which he played like that impostor in a Tom Brady mask, the New England Patriots quarterback put on a Super Bowl performance for the ages Sunday, leading his team back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime, 34-28.

Chargers owners Dean and John Spanos talk about the team as it prepares to relocate to L.A.

Chargers owners Dean and John Spanos talk about the team as it prepares to relocate to L.A.

New Rams Coach Sean McVay talks about his vision for the team.

New Rams Coach Sean McVay talks about his vision for the team.

Lindsey Thiry and Nathan Fenno discuss the Chargers' announcement they are moving to Los Angeles. 

Lindsey Thiry and Nathan Fenno discuss the Chargers' announcement they are moving to Los Angeles. 

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire

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