By Jake Donovan
As the search ends for an opponent to face Deontay Wilder, the 2016 boxing schedule finally has its first notable fight.
Terms were reached Tuesday evening for Wilder to make the third defense of his World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title versus Artur Szpilka. Word of the two sides reaching an agreement came mere hours after BoxingScene.com learned that Szpilka had reemerged as front runner to land the fight, which takes place January 16th at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
The winner will be obligated to face mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin, assuming the WBC steps in and actually orders the fight at some point.
American cable outlet Showtime will air the event, which comes exactly 52 weeks after having played host to Wilder’s title winning effort over Bermane Stiverne last January in Las Vegas.
Efforts to reach Wilder and his camp were unsuccessful as this goes to print. Sources confirming Szpilka as the opponent declined to go on the record until event handlers are ready to formally announce the heavyweight title fight, which is expected to take place no later than Wednesday.
Wilder (35-0, 34KOs) hoped to announce the fight this past Saturday while on site at Barclays Center. Then again, at the time the press conference was scheduled the leading candidate to land the assignment was unbeaten Vyacheslav Glazkov.
Those plans fell apart last week, though the reasons vary depending on which version of the truth is to believe from those involved in negotiations. Nevertheless, enough took place to where Glazkov was convinced by promoter Main Events to instead pursue a sure thing in a mandatory crack at the International Boxing Federation (IBF) title, which has since been stripped from newly crowned champion Tyson Fury.
Glazkov is now due to face Charles Martin in a vacant title fight, with the two sides now heading straight away to a December 18 purse bid hearing.
Meanwhile, Wilder was left without an opponent to announce over the weekend, left to
hold court for a makeshift roundtable session in lieu of a kick off press conference at Barclays Center. The delay was due to both Glazkov pulling out and Szpilka initially asking for more money than was previously offered.
Other names came to surface afterward, though none of which were embraced by the boxing public.
Such is no longer the case with the selection of Szpilka (20-1, 15KOs), who always makes for good theatre regardless of opposition.
The bout will mark the first title fight for the hard-hitting southpaw from Poland, who now trains with top cornerman Ronnie Shields in Houston. He enters the fight on the heels of a four-fight win streak following the lone loss of his career, a 10th round stoppage at the hands of Bryant Jennings nearly two years ago at Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York City.
Jennings has since gone on to challenge for the World heavyweight championship, falling short versus Wladimir Klitschko this past April. He will now face unbeaten Cuban southpaw Luis Ortiz later this month in Verona, New York, although at one point had – through promoter Gary Shaw – expressed considerable interest in facing Wilder, whose title he was once the mandatory challenger.
A shot at the very title was well within Jennings’ reach, as he was due to face the winner of Wilder-Stiverne. Instead, he opted for a bigger payday and higher profile opportunity versus Klitschko, but still remains in the heavyweight mix.
The winner of Wilder-Szpilka will gain recognition as a leader of the next wave of heavyweights, a movement that seems to be fast approaching.
Wilder was ready to lead the charge even before his title-winning effort over Stiverne. The 6’7” heavyweight from Tuscaloosa, Ala. became the first American heavyweight since 2007 to claim a piece of the heavyweight crown. Two defenses have followed, both coming in Birmingham, Ala., an hour from his hometown. A 9th round knockout win over Eric Molina in June was the first-ever heavyweight title fight to take place in Alabama, playing to a sold out crowd at Bartow Arena on University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) campus.
The wins over both Stiverne and Molina aired live on Showtime.
Three months later, Wilder stopped France’s Johann Duhaupas in the 11th round of their NBC-televised title fight in September. The bout marked the first time in 30 years that a heavyweight title fight aired live in primetime on NBC, adding to Wilder’s growing list of significant milestones. He also represents the last American male boxer to have won an Olympic medal, bringing home the bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
With terms being reached for his next fight, Wilder will now represent the A-side in the first-ever heavyweight title fight at Barclays Center, which has quickly gained a reputation as a boxing hotbed since hosting its first card in Oct. ’12.
The only “first” that’s left to hope for is the Jan. 16 clash becoming the first big fight that fans can embrace both before and after the fact, as boxing remains in desperate need of a shot in the arm.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox