When long-reigning heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko lost a decision to Tyson Fury in November, it breathed life into a once-glamorous division that failed to capture the imagination of the American audience during an era dominated by Klitschko and retired older brother Vitali.
But American WBC champion Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs), who defends his title against Polish contender Artur Szpilka (20-1, 15 KOs) Saturday night at Barclays Center, is ready to seize the opening to bring heavyweight boxing back to prominence.
“When Klitschko lost, I viewed it as the heavyweight division becoming more exciting,” Wilder said Thursday at the final news conference in midtown Manhattan. “Klitschko is boring. He’s inactive in the ring and nonexistent [in terms of fan enthusiasm] out of the ring. My ideal who made the division was Muhammad Ali. That’s how I look at myself is to be Ali Jr.”
There’s no mistaking the emotion Wilder has invested in his first New York appearance on top of a card that also includes a fight for the vacant IBF title between Charles Martin (22-0-1, 20 KOs) and Ukrainian Vyacheslav Glazkov (21-0-1, 13 KOs). During a photo op Wednesday at the World Trade Center, Wilder and Szpilka engaged in a heated shoving match. That is standard boxing hype, but this encounter had an air of authenticity as Wilder put a hand in Szpilka’s face and shoved to prevent a head butt.
“We call that ‘smush-face,’ ” Wilder said.
Szpilka was upset Wilder previously had called him a “nobody,” and he said, “He has to prove it inside the ring, not outside the ring.”
Explaining his reaction to Szpilka’s aggressive approach, Wilder said, “I’m the champ. You’re going to respect me. I had to let him know, ‘You’ve got to back up. I can get on your level if I have to.’ . . . I got excited. I want people to see the intensity and see how real it is.”
Szpilka, who was discovered brawling in the streets before a boxing coach steered him to the ring, is motivated to become the first Polish heavyweight champion. Boxing fans may recall Andrew Golota twice was on the verge of beating Riddick Bowe when he self-destructed and was disqualified on both occasions.
Although Szpilka was the third choice for an opponent behind mandatory contender Alexander Povetkin and Glazkov, Wilder understands he has a potentially rough fight on his hands. “He’s going to show the best Artur Szpilka because of what’s on the table,” Wilder said. “He wants to make history. He’s going to bring a little more ‘oomph’ to the fight, and that’s what I want.
“I want this to be an aggressive fight. I’m predicting a KO in four rounds or under.”
Notes & quotes: Showtime is televising the card as part of a “free preview weekend,” and it will be streamed live on YouTube for free.