NEW YORK – Adam Kownacki could’ve walked away from his potentially lethal line of work following back-to-back technical-knockout losses to Robert Helenius.
The popular Polish heavyweight has made millions in recent years. He has made some sound investments as well, which has left Kownacki much more financially stable than most boxers.
The 33-year-old, Brooklyn-bred brawler doesn’t necessarily need to fight anymore to support his wife and two young sons. The thought of retirement still never even entered Kownacki’s mind after he suffered a fractured left orbital bone in the first round of his one-sided, sixth-round TKO loss to Helenius in their rematch last October 9 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
“It’s my life,” Kownacki told BoxingScene.com. “It’s my choice. I feel good. A lot of people told Chris Arreola to retire, or Dereck Chisora, and they’ve been winning, you know, putting up good fights. A lot of guys that say that kind of stuff have never been in the ring. We, as fighters, wanna show our best. Definitely, I wanna show that my head wasn’t really where it was supposed to be in those two losses.”
Kownacki (20-2, 15 KOs) will get the opportunity to rejuvenate his career Saturday night at Barclays Center, where he’ll box for the 11th time as a professional in his home borough.
He has embraced a challenging assignment in his first fight after his second defeat to Helenius. In fact, oddsmakers have installed Turkish contender Ali Eren Demirezen as almost a 2-1 favorite to defeat Kownacki in a 10-round bout Showtime will televise as its co-feature before Danny Garcia (36-3, 21 KOs) and Jose Benavidez Jr. (27-1-1, 18 KOs) meet in the 12-round, 154-pound main event.
The 32-year-old Demirezen (16-1, 12 KOs) is a 2016 Olympian who has lost only a 10-round unanimous decision to then-unbeaten Nigerian knockout artist Efe Ajagba (15-1, 12 KOs) in July 2019 at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
“I wanna make a statement,” Kownacki said. “I’m here to make some noise in the heavyweight division and beating him will put me back on the map. He’s a former Olympian. He fought some tough competition, so I know he’s very game. But I was ranked in the top 10 before my two losses, so I definitely wanna show the world I belong there.”
Kownacki’s defensive deficiencies were compounded early in his rematch with Finland’s Helenius, who fractured Kownacki’s left eye socket with the first flush right hand he landed in the first round of their rematch. The courageous Kownacki, who was knocked down during the fourth round of their first fight, remained on his feet throughout their second encounter, but he absorbed a brutal beating until referee Celestino Ruiz mercifully stopped the action at 2:38 of the sixth round on the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder undercard.
“I got hit with a good right hand and it kind of messed up my vision,” Kownacki recalled. “It got a little bit blurry and I remember going to the corner, telling [cut man] Danny [Milano], ‘I can’t see.’ We spoke after the fight and he said he was going to the eye and he felt the crack there. So, he couldn’t really press a lot harder on it because he could make it worse. So, I gave it my all the next five rounds, but it’s hard, especially with a guy like Helenius, where he uses his reach very well to box. So, I was basically a sitting duck.”
In hindsight, his inability to see should’ve kept Kownacki from continuing in their rematch.
He was winning their first bout comfortably before Helenius hurt him with a left-right combination early in the fourth round. Helenius (31-3, 20 KOs) dropped Kownacki soon thereafter and upset him by fourth-round TKO in a fight FOX televised from Barclays Center in March 2020.
“I’m a fighter, so it just sucks,” said Kownacki, who didn’t need surgery to repair his fractured orbital bone. “He caught me. He gave me two lessons that cost me two losses, you know? The first time not to be overanxious and the second time not to fight with an injury. But, you know, it’s a part of this game. You just have to bounce back, stay focused, which I have done for this fight.”
Kownacki moved to Miami, where he believes he can better focus on training and maintaining a more appropriate weight. The 6-foot-3 Kownacki expects to weigh in at approximately 255 pounds on Friday for the Demirezen bout, which would be his lightest weight in more than five years.
He also sent his wife and two young sons to Poland during training camp to eliminate distractions in advance of a fight he must win to have any shot at resuscitating his career.
The likeable Kownacki knows many boxing fans feel he is finished as a legitimate contender. Comparable doubts drove him throughout this career, thus this isn’t uncharted territory for him.
“You know, coming up in boxing, I was always the underdog,” Kownacki said. “Nobody ever gave me a good shot and I proved a lot of people wrong already. I still have some work left to do, but it’ll be one fight at a time. Right now, I have Demirezen in front of me. After him, we’re gonna move on to bigger and better things.”
Though he has plenty of detractors at this point in his career, Kownacki can count on loyal Polish people to strongly support him once again at the venue where nearly half of his professional fights have been contested. Kownacki’s ultimate goal is still to reward their faith by becoming boxing’s first Polish-born heavyweight champion.
“We had a meet-and-greet [recently] and a lot of people showed up,” Kownacki said. “You know, it’s truly amazing how people still have my back. Everybody said, ‘You look great. We can’t wait to see you back in there. Bring us back the heavyweight championship of the world – back to Brooklyn, back to Poland.’ And that’s my mission.”
Keith Idec is a senior writer/columnist for BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.