He didn’t even shoot his target a glance upon shooting his right hand. “I didn’t have to look at him,” Deontay Wilder explains, reflecting on the inevitability of flesh meeting canvas. “I knew he was going down.”
Two weeks after the Times Square ball dropped in New York City, Artur Szpilka followed suit.
New year, old story.
The narrative goes a little something like this: Two dudes get in the ring, one of whom is heavyweight champ Deontay Wilder. Three rounds later, five rounds later—it’s just a matter of time, as past fights have shown—the other guy gets stopped, either by his corner, by the ref or by his inability to stand upright in the face of Wilder’s fists. Three different routes to the same painful destination.
It’s happened on 35 separate occasions now.
On January 17 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, Szpilka made it longer than most, boxing well early as Wilder gradually found his range in the fight.
Then, in Round 9, Szpilka lunged forward and hurled a wild, overhand left. In so doing, he stormed straight into Wilder’s right hand, a mental mistake akin to falling asleep at the wheel and plowing into a telephone pole.
In a flash, Szpilka was flat on his back, arms fanned out over his head, eyes as blank as an unblemished chalkboard.
As soon as the punch landed, Wilder was moonwalking across the ring, celebrating his win without even peeking in the direction of his crumpled opponent.
He was that certain of the outcome.
It was a devastating KO, the early leader in the clubhouse for Knockout of the Year.
Clearly, Wilder enjoyed the moment. But nearly two weeks later, he can’t help but think about another fighter whom he wanted on the other end of his punches that evening: Russian contender Alexander Povetkin, the mandatory challenger to Wilder’s title.
“He’s supposed to be the one who got knocked out that night,” Wilder says. “But they needed more time for me, and we understand. I just don’t like to be held [back], making it seem like it’s my fault or that I’m running from him. That’s not the case. It was the other way around. We’re ready, and they’re not. I want to be an active champion, and we’re not going to wait for anybody.”
According to Wilder, though, the wait is over. Povetkin’s up.
“That’s going to be my next fight,” he says. “It’s happening.”
In the meantime, Wilder has been assessing his performance against Szpilka, the first lefty he faced in nearly three years.
“When I went back and looked at the fight, it was a lot better than what I expected,” he says. “There were a lot of shots that I blocked from him. My defense was real good. I had nice movement. I was off-balance a lot, but that was due to the southpaw versus the orthodox stance.”
Still, he acknowledges that it took him longer than he expected to adjust to Szpilka’s cagey boxing style and the boost his opponent got from legions of Polish fans, who packed Barclays Center and raucously cheered on their countryman as he attempted to become the first-ever heavyweight champion from their homeland.
“There was a lot of opportunities that I could have taken advantage of, but I didn’t do it, just wanting to be cautious,” Wilder says. “I didn’t want to get too riled up, because I knew he had the momentum of the crowd going with him and I didn’t want to jump in there too early.
"When I got his coordination down, where he was going to be when I threw a punch and where he was going to put his head, it was over.”
A number of notable heavyweights took in Wilder's victory ringside, most notably newly crowned champ Tyson Fury, who burst into the ring after the bout and jawed with Wilder, his act cheesy enough to slather atop some nachos.
“The majority of top heavyweights were there. The few who weren’t were watching,” Wilder says. “To see a knockout like that, especially when you’re in person, you better believe they’re thinking otherwise when it comes to Deontay Wilder.
"They may feel they want to get in that ring and fight for money, but at the end of the day, nobody wants to get knocked out like that.”
After the fight, Wilder was contacted by Lennox Lewis, the last man to unify the heavyweight division 17 years ago. He congratulated Wilder on his win.
“It’s always good to hear feedback from big bro, because I’m trying to follow in his footsteps—along with many others who came before me,” Wilder says. “My goal is to become the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. That’s going to take a little time, but we’re getting there.”
One right hand at a time.