There’s no question that Deontay Wilder will be the “A-side” fighter when he defends his WBC heavyweight title in Brooklyn this Saturday night. Wilder is undefeated in 35 fights, with 34 of those wins coming inside of the distance. He’s demonstrated the sort of explosive punching power that electrifies fans. At the same time, his quality of competition has been less than inspiring. For this reason, the American fans who are anxious to embrace him are also anxious to see him face the biggest stars in the sport.
Most of them are already looking past Artur Szpilka, the Polish contender who will climb into the ring with Wilder on Saturday night. If they are familiar with him at all, it is only to know that he was stopped in Round 10 by Bryant Jennings in 2013.
While Jennings is clearly the favorite for this fight, it’s a mistake to view Artur Szpilka as a walk-over opponent. At just 26, he represents a dangerous combination of youth and experience. The former soccer hooligan turned professional at age 19 and has fought often, facing respectable competition. In 2013, he knocked out Mike Mollo twice, in two of the year’s most exciting fights. Sandwiched betweed the two knockouts of Mollo were stoppages of veteran journeymen Taras Bidenko and Brian Minto.
Jennings was Szpilka’s first test against a fellow contender. While he lost decisively, he showed grit and heart. He rebounded from that defeat with the biggest win of his career, over two-division champion and long-time heavyweight challenger Tomasz Adamek.
Artur Szpilka is on the bubble for the top 10 in the heavyweight division. He took an important step toward improving his career in 2015 when he signed on to work with Ronnie Shields, one of the sport’s best trainers. He went 3-0 with three knockouts for the year, against middling competition.
This fight with Wilder is his big break, even more than the earlier bout with Jennings was. The WBC champion is a very dangerous puncher, with under-rated boxing ability. It will be a real challenge for Szpilka to finish the bout, let alone win it. But unlike many of the opponents Wilder has faced, Szpilka will show up determined to win, with a solid plan to make it happen.