Eddie Hearn, who acted as promoter for former WBC heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder in his crushing fifth-round loss to Zhilei Zhang in Saudi Arabia last Saturday, witnessed a psychologically crushed fighter in the dressing room after the fight.

The Matchroom Boxing boss had seen something similar before: It was behind the scenes, following Anthony Joshua’s second consecutive loss to Oleksandr Usyk.

“The reaction that I saw from Wilder after the [Zhang] fight was similar to when AJ lost to Usyk in the second fight,” Hearn said. “It looked to me like a guy who had given everything in camp and just completely set his mind and focus on victory … 

“It was frustration.

“Obviously AJ performed well against Usyk, but Deontay didn’t look himself.”

The showings were indeed different. Joshua had lost a close decision, performing better in the rematch than he had in the first fight. Wilder, however, was knocked out in five rounds, and the 38-year-old was slow to pull the trigger throughout.

“I’ve seen Deontay fight live twice, against Joseph Parker and Zhilei Zhang, and, for me, it’s difficult to say he’s not the same fighter because I’ve not [often] seen him live,” Hearn said. “But the confidence to let his hands go is not there anymore – and that’s what made Wilder. 

“If you’re getting pushed back by Zhang and you’ve got the right hand cocked, you’ve got to let it go, and he couldn’t let it go. When he did, it didn’t look like it had the zip that it used to.”

Hearn stopped short of saying Wilder (43-4-1, 42 KOs) should now walk away.

“I don’t think anyone has the right to say he should retire,” Hearn said. “But at the level you would expect he wants to box at, I don’t think he can perform there anymore. If he said, ‘I’m done,’ I think that would be the right call.

“At a lower level, he could go on for another two or three years, but I don’t think that’s his motivation.”

Hearn nonetheless enjoyed working with “The Bronze Bomber” at last. For many years, efforts from both sides to get Joshua and Wilder together came to nothing.

But the promoter saw a fighter who still believed in his future in the fight build-up. One that was understandably crushed, as he digested the realization of his defeat, in the aftermath. 

“I know how much he wanted to win,” Hearn said. “When I saw [his trainer] Malik Scott the next morning, he was saying, ‘We had a good camp and we were expecting it to happen for us,’ but sometimes that’s the way it goes.

“When your time is up, your time is up.”