By Thomas Gerbasi
When Adam Kownacki blasted through former world heavyweight title challenger Artur Szpilka in four rounds last July, it came as a surprise to some. Maybe not that Kownacki won, but the manner in which he did so. The unbeaten Brooklynite wasn’t surprised.
“I kinda knew it was gonna be the way it was,” he said. “I had a very tough camp and I trained very hard. I did a four-week camp in Poland with Tomasz Adamek and then sparred a bunch of good southpaws like Otto Wallin and Cam Awesome. They gave me great work and I was doing good in sparring, so I knew that the fight would be good too.”
Maybe the biggest takeaway from Kownacki’s effort was that while he’s obviously been successful on his way to a 16-0 (13 KOs) record, in knocking Szpilka out, he looks to be someone who will fight to his level of competition, and that when the lights are brightest, that’s when he’ll shine.
He doesn’t disagree with that assessment as he prepares to face Georgia’s Iago Kiladze this Saturday at Barclays Center.
“I think so. Obviously when the fight has more publicity, that drives you more and you have more pressure, and I love the pressure. I know this fight is big, coming off a big win, and even though Iago’s name isn’t that big, I know I have to deliver a similar performance to what I did in the Szpilka fight so people will continue to remember the name and my stock will continue to rise.”
The win over Szpilka took Kownacki from prospect to contender, and putting together a similar effort against Kiladze may not send him skyrocketing up the heavyweight rankings, it’s a good opportunity on a big card to keep his name out there and gain some new fans. Then again, he doesn’t have to convince the Brooklyn contingent that is easily noticeable by their red shirts and cheers every time he steps between the ropes in New York. It’s support he appreciates.
“You feel it, of course,” Kownacki said. “Especially since they have the red shirts, so it sticks out – it’s a sea of red. And you hear the noise and it definitely fires you up to perform to the best of your ability. It gives you that extra boost of power – it’s stronger than coffee.”
At this point, the confidence of the 28-year-old Lomza, Poland native is obvious, and nothing has happened yet to deter him. Will Kiladze, a former cruiserweight turned heavyweight at the suggestion of former heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko, be the one to do it?
“I didn’t really hear of him before,” Kownacki said of his foe. “I think I saw a picture of him and Klitschko in camp a while ago, but I didn’t know it was him until they offered me the fight. He’s been a cruiserweight, so I didn’t really pay attention to him, but it’s going to be a tough fight. He’s talking a good game. This fight’s gonna go one of two ways – it’s going to go like the Szpilka fight or it’s gonna be 10 rounds of me chasing him around. But me and my camp have been working very hard on cutting off the ring, and that’s what I plan on doing. I should stop him.”
If he does, that’s another notch in his belt and another step closer to the ultimate goal: a heavyweight championship. Is 2018 the year of Adam Kownacki?
“It has to be,” he said. “I’m not getting younger, I’m 28.”
So is it “Old Man Kownacki” or “Ancient Adam?”
“You’ve got to set goals for yourself and eventually I want to be world champion, and it’s a good time to be a heavyweight,” he said. “You have a lot of good fighters, a lot of great competition, and the division is coming back. But most important is the 20th and I’ve got to stay focused because I’m not taking Iago lightly. It’s definitely gonna be a tough fight, but I’m a hundred percent prepared and I’m gonna do my best to stop him and get him out of there early, so I can build on the win against Szpilka and hopefully get that big title shot in 2018.”