By Jake Donovan
In what has quickly become a heavyweight tradition, Deontay Wilder will once again defend his title in his home state.
Having never previously hosted a heavyweight title fight before his reign, the college football-crazed state of Alabama will now serve as the backdrop for a Wilder-headlined event for the fourth time in under two years. The next such occasion comes on February 25, when the unbeaten titlist faces Poland’s Andrzej Wawrzyk live in primetime on free-to-air Fox TV from the Legacy Arena in Birmingham, Alabama.
The bout will mark the fifth title defense for Wilder – including his third at Legacy Arena within his past four starts – and his first start back since recovering from two surgeries to his right hand and biceps suffering in his last ring appearance in July.
“I'm excited about defending my world championship for a fifth time and in front of my great fans at Legacy Arena in Birmingham on February 25," said Wilder (37-0, 36KOs), the 2008 Olympic Bronze medalist who is coming off of an 8th round knockout of Chris Arreola at the same venue this past July. "It's always fun to display my talents in front of the hometown fans. It's an opportunity that I always look forward to and it brings out the best in me. I'm healthy and I'm ready to put on a fantastic show.”
Wilder was hoping to fight three times in 2016 – actually he’d hoped for quite a bit in what became a frustrating year.
The 31-year old fighting pride of Tuscaloosa – less than an hour from Birmingham, which has become his heavyweight headquarters – began the year with a bang, scoring a highlight reel 9th round knockout of Artur Szpilka in front of a packed house at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Among those in attendance was Alexander Povetkin, his mandatory challenger and whom he was slated to face this past May in Moscow, Russia.
Those plans fell apart once it was learned that Povetkin tested positive for traces of Meldonium in his system – one of two times on the year in which the 2004 Olympic Gold medalist and former heavyweight titlist was busted for doping. He also tested positive for Ostarine prior to his eventually scrapped clash with Bermane Stiverne (whom Wilder outpointed to win the title in Jan ’15), instead facing late replacement and past Wilder knockout victim Johann Duhaupas.
As for Wilder, from the Povetkin fallout came the pieced-together plans to return to Birmingham for the third time in 13 months. His first appearance came in June ’15, scoring a 9th round knockout of Eric Molina in front of a sold-out crowd at Bartow Arena on UAB campus.
The win was followed by a laboring 11th round stoppage of France’s Duhaupas last September in primetime on NBC from Legacy Arena at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex, his first of what will now be three trips to the popular tourist area. Also having appeared on that show was Wawrzyk (33-1, 19KOs) in just his second stateside appearance, making quick work of journeyman Mike Sheppard in a bout that was picked up via highlights on NBC Sports Network.
Wawrzyk was one of several heavyweights on a card that also included then-unbeaten contenders Dominic Breazeale and Charles Martin in separate bouts. All appeared on the show with the intention of eventually fighting for a world title.
Martin was the first to get his wish, scoring a bizarre 3rd round injury stoppage of Vyacheslav Glazkov last January – on the Wilder-Szpilka undercard – to win a vacant belt. His reign lasted just three months, rolling over and conceding his title to Anthony Joshua in a two-round knockout this past April in London. Breazeale put up a braver effort versus the unbeaten British knockout artist, but was battered in seven rounds in his title bid this past June, also in London.
Wawrzyk had his shot at a secondary title, suffering a 3rd round stoppage to then-unbeaten Povetkin – who was essentially a glorified mandatory for Wladimir Klitschko at the time - in May ’13. He has since won six straight as he heads into his first bid for a full title.
“I'm extremely motivated to fight for the heavyweight title against a great fighter like Deontay Wilder," said Wawrzyk. "Fighting for the world title has always been my dream. To fight against such a great athlete as Wilder is an extremely difficult challenge, but one I am ready for.
“I have trained for this since I was a teenager. On February 25 I will step into the ring ready to fight and win against the most dangerous man on the planet.”
A press conference to formally announce the event is expected to come shortly into the New Year. Meanwhile, tickets for the show – which start at $25 (plus applicable fees) – go on sale Thursday, December 29. Tickets are available at TicketMaster.com and AlabamaTitleFight.com.
A limited number of tickets are available through a special “New Year’s Package”, which runs through Monday, January 2.