On paper, what jumps out is the considerable height and reach advantages Deontay Wilder brings to his heavyweight title defense against challenger Artur Szpilka.
Wilder is 6 feet 7 inches tall with an 83-inch reach. Szpilka is 6-foot-3, which isn’t exactly the Tom Cruise fun-size type, but he nonetheless cedes six inches of wingspan to Wilder.
Still, Szpilka went up against the 6-6 Jameel McCline in 2012 and won handily over the course of 12 rounds.
“I feel good when I spar someone taller than me,” said the 26-year-old native of Wieliczka, Poland. “It’s not how tall you are, but how you box. You must have defense, offense, everything. This is important.”
OK, one down. But what about the fact that when he takes on Deontay Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday in a non-PBC contest (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT), it will undoubtedly be the biggest fight of Artur Szpilka’s (20-1, 15 KOs) career?
Wilder presents the stiffest test, yes, but Szpilka has been in tough fights before. Two years ago, he stepped up to take on Bryant Jennings. They were both unbeaten prospects, but Jennings got the better of things that night with a 10th-round stoppage.
It was enough to propel Jennings into a title shot against Wladimir Klitschko last April, when a valiant loss for Jennings amply foreshadowed the upset looming in Klitschko’s future.
Immediately after his tilt with Jennings, Szpilka took on heavyweight stalwart and fellow countryman Tomasz Adamek in Krakow, Poland. If the Jennings fight was a crucible for prospects, the Adamek contest was a turbocharged industrial forge in front of a rabid home crowd, with Szpilka prevailing by 10-round unanimous decision.
Now comes his shot against an unbeaten heavyweight champ.
“I have a different look than against Jennings,” Szpilka said. “I know this is an opportunity. I’ve waited for the day so long. When I was young I wanted to fight a world champion, and now I am.
"When I fought Tomasz Adamek I was the same with pressure, because it was a big fight, 19,000 people. I know I feel comfortable and what I must do, and now it’s the same. I know what it is to lose. I don’t have pressure. I lost one time, but [Wilder has] never lost. He will see what it is to have real pressure.”
If there’s any pressure on Szpilka, coming in as a recognized underdog, it’s that Polish fighters had a great showing in 2015. Now it’s up to him to keep his country’s success rolling.
Szpilka himself was 3-0 last year, while 175-pound contender Andrzej Fonfara scored huge wins over Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Nathan Cleverly, the latter being a Fight of the Year candidate. Then there was Krzysztof Glowacki, who left Poland for the first time in his career and proceeded to score the upset of the year—in the PBC Fight of the Year—with his 11th-round KO of Marco Huck to win a 200-pound world title.
“Polish people love boxing, they love fighters,” Szpilka said. “Everybody will be supporting me, because it’s the heavyweight championship of the world. I have a surprise for [Wilder]. I know what I must do. I’m ready. I’m ready for 12 rounds of a hard fight. “
- Deontay Wilder
- Artur Szpilka