The undefeated heavyweight contender will take a major step toward becoming a world champion when he faces veteran Robert Helenius in a title eliminator Saturday night on FOX.
There’s no ferocious nickname befitting a 6-foot-3, 260-pound punching machine whose waist size might be bigger than his chest size.
Adam Kownacki is simply “Babyface” and that moniker fits the big man perfectly.
Kownacki, 30, the unbeaten heavyweight contender whose body type is 180 degrees different than some of the chiseled specimens he’s defeated in the ring, has been bullied and teased about his un-svelte frame and cherubic face since he was a self-described “chubby” kid.
He’s endured the hurtful comments and the bullying from the time his family emigrated from Poland when Adam was seven and settled in the heavily Polish-American Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. His father worked construction and his mother stayed at home to look after their three sons. Adam learned English, he says, by watching Power Rangers on TV.
“Unluckily, I wasn’t born with great genetics,” Kownacki said by phone recently. “I have the dad bod and I’ve been chubby all my life.”
In fact, the “dad bod” – his words – is what got him started in the Sweet Science in the first place. He was ready to fight back against the bullies and never shied away from a fight.
“For sure. I always liked to fight. I liked to throw it down,” said Kownacki (pronounced Cove-NOT-ski). “I started with karate and I played basketball also. Once I found the gym with boxing, I asked my mom to sign up; I used the excuse to lose weight, then I started boxing.
“I liked the competition and you don’t have any teammates to rely on. When you’re in the ring it’s all on you – you gotta take the last shot, you gotta make sure you catch the ball. You can play basketball, you can play football, you can play soccer, but you can’t play boxing.”
Kownacki was also inspired to pick up the gloves by watching Polish heavyweight Andrew Golota fight on TV.
“Because there were a lot of immigrants in the neighborhood, all the jobs were immigrant jobs, like cleaning for the ladies and construction for the men. There weren’t a lot of good jobs available,” said Kownacki. “Then I saw Golota fighting and I thought, ‘Oh, wow, you can achieve something else besides doing construction and the basic immigrant jobs.’ That opened my eyes.”
Kownacki began as an amateur at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn at around age 15 and won the junior Golden Gloves at super heavyweight in his first year. “I thought, I can do this.”
Do it indeed. Kownacki finished as runner-up the next two years, turned pro at age 20 and has never looked back. He was often underestimated because of his body type.
“Earlier in my career it was a bigger surprise,” Kownacki said. “Now it’s out of the bag; I’ve been on national TV and people know what to expect so they know I can fight. But definitely earlier in my career it was a plus: Chubby kid putting an ass-whuppin’ on guys who look like Mr. Olympia.”
On Saturday, Kownacki, who’s built a massive following among the Polish faithful in the New York City area, will put his 20-0 (15 KOs) record on the line against former European heavyweight champion Robert Helenius (29-3, 18 KOs) of Finland at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. The FOX PBC Fight Night and FOX Deportes card begins at 8 p.m. ET/5p.m. PT.
Kownacki, who moved to Long Island from Brooklyn five years ago, couldn’t be happier to be back at Barclays. “It’s like my home,” he said. “When I go there, I know exactly where everything is, I know what to expect, a lot of red and white (Polish fans) in the crowd, and it makes you a lot more comfortable.”
“ You’re the baddest man in the world when you’re the heavyweight champion. ” Undefeated Heavyweight Contender - Adam Kownacki
Keith Trimble, who has trained Kownacki for going on seven years, echoes his fighter’s sentiments. Trimble says he’ll usually be totally laid back in the dressing room before a fight at Barclays, but when they walk out, it’s showtime.
“This will be his 10th fight at Barclays Center, and we went from two, three hundred (Polish) fans there to half that place wearing red,” Trimble explained. “When you walk out, and you hear them chanting, and singing and chanting his name, [you get] goosebumps. It’s like, ‘OK, let’s do this!’”
Kownacki is looking to eventually become the first Polish heavyweight champion (six have tried and failed, including Golota) by winning Saturday’s WBA title eliminator. The pressure, he says, is enormous.
“I have a whole country (Poland) cheering me on, and then I was raised in Brooklyn so I have all of Brooklyn cheering me on,” Kownacki said. “And I’ve lived in Long Island the last five years, so I know all of Long Island is cheering me on. It gets heavy, but it’s good. You just have to go out there and perform.”
Kownacki performed in his last fight, to be sure. He and opponent Chris Arreola threw a combined 2,172 punches and landed 667, both CompuBox records for a heavyweight fight. Kownacki won by unanimous decision, going 12 rounds for the first time.
“I was hoping to land a big shot and take him out of there, but it didn’t come,” Kownacki explained. “I just throw a lot of punches, and I try to bring the pressure. I’m a good pressure fighter and it’s worked for me so far so why change anything?”
One big thing has changed for Kownacki since that slugfest. His wife Justyna gave birth to their first child, son Kazimeirz – named after Kownacki’s late grandfather – last August 25. Babyface Sr. is thrilled to have Babyface Jr. as his newest fan.
“It’s truly a blessing watching this little munchkin grow,” Dad gushed. “And he’s a part of you. You see some of the stuff you have that he has, like my ears, he has my lips. It’s crazy.”
Kownacki even has his own clothing line, AK Babyface, with that sizable built-in fan clientele.
“It just shows you that the American dream is alive and well,” Kownacki said. “We come from everywhere in the world, end up in the States and then make something of yourself.”
Asked about a possible future bout with former WBC champ and PBC stablemate Deontay Wilder, who was stopped for the first time in his pro career by Tyson Fury a few weeks ago, Kownacki was loathed to look past what’s in front of him.
“I have to get by Helenius. That’s what I’m focused on,” he said. “If I’m too far ahead I could be in the same place as Wilder is right now. I have to make sure I win on March 7th. Next Sunday we can talk about what’s next.”
What’s next could be a title shot. Is he ready for that? Trimble, for one, has no doubt.
“If he does what he’s supposed to do in this fight, I believe he will be ready to fight for a title,” Trimble said. “I one hundred percent believe he can do it.”
Winning his first belt would be a dream come true for Kownacki and a boon for Polish fight fans.
“You’re the baddest man in the world when you’re the heavyweight champion,” Kownacki said. “So that would mean everything.”
For a closer look at Adam Kownacki, check out his fighter page.