A few weeks after heavyweight contender Adam Kownacki outslugged former world title challenger Chris Arreola in an instant-classic brawl last August, Kownacki’s wife gave birth to their first child — a boy named Kaz, after Kownacki’s grandfather.
As motivated as Kownacki said he has always been to reach the top of boxing, he said his son’s birth has made him even hungrier.
“There have been some sleepless nights, but looking at my son’s face, looking at his smile and seeing him laugh, it’s really a blessing and it adds so much more motivation,” Kownacki said. “I tell him, ‘Daddy has to work hard to make your life better so you can have it better than I had it growing up.’ My parents sacrificed a lot, and I picked that up from them and I will sacrifice a lot for him.”
The sacrifices Kownacki has made so far in his career have led him to the precipice of a world title opportunity, but that final step has been elusive.
On the one hand, Kownacki is in an ideal position. He is undefeated, highly entertaining, has become a major ticket seller in his hometown of Brooklyn, New York, and is making seven-figure purses as he drives toward a shot at a world title.
On the other hand, Kownacki’s path to a title shot is blocked for the time being because world champion Tyson Fury is bound to a third fight with former titlist Deontay Wilder, tentatively slated for July 18. Three-belt titleholder Anthony Joshua has to address two mandatory defenses: one against Kubrat Pulev on June 20, and another later in the year against Oleksandr Usyk.
There is also a reasonable possibility that if Fury beats Wilder again and Joshua beats Pulev — and they’ll both be favored to do just that — Joshua could get an exception to the Usyk fight and meet his British countryman Fury for the undisputed world title in the biggest fight boxing currently could offer.
All of those fights have left Kownacki spinning his wheels, waiting for an opening but knowing he must keep winning to get the elusive title shot. At least the fun-loving Kownacki has a positive attitude about the situation.
“The best way to deal with it is to fight who they put in front of you, make sure you don’t mess up, take every fight as though it’s for a title and eventually the title fight will come. I hope it happens before I retire. If not that really sucks,” Kownacki told ESPN with a laugh. “I’m in my prime right now. In heavyweight boxing you’re in your prime from like 30 to 35, so right now I’m 30 and all I can do is keep making my skills better and make sure I don’t waste my prime.”
Kownacki will face Robert Helenius in a world title elimination fight in the main event of a Premier Boxing Champions heavyweight tripleheader on Saturday (Fox and Fox Deportes, 8 p.m. ET) at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It will be Kownacki’s 10th fight at Barclays and his fifth time in a row.
The Kownacki-Helenius winner will move a step closer to an eventual shot at one of Joshua’s belts, but that is a long way off because of Joshua’s other obligations and plans.
While Kownacki would welcome any title shot, he really wanted to fight Wilder, a relatively easy fight to make given their alignment with PBC. Before Wilder suffered a seventh-round knockout loss to Fury in their rematch on Feb. 22, there was discussion within PBC that if Wilder had won and Fury declined to exercise his contractual option for a third fight that Kownacki would likely get the next shot against Wilder this year. But Wilder lost and he exercised his right to meet Fury again this summer.
“It sucks because sometimes things don’t work out how you want it to,” Kownacki said. “But Wilder has that third fight with Fury in the summertime, so maybe if Wilder wins maybe I can fight him at the beginning of 2021. All I have to do is stay focused on myself and control what I have control over, which is putting on a good performance on Saturday and growing my fan base. But I want the Fury-Wilder III winner.”
Keith Connolly, Kownacki’s manager, said Kownacki was at first very disappointed by Wilder’s loss.
“When I met with Adam a few days ago he was frustrated Wilder lost. He was a little upset because he was looking forward to fighting Wilder, maybe at the end of this year,” Connolly said. “I told him that in any business or sport you have to adapt to what happens and roll with the punches and that the opportunity will come back around. I said, ‘If you let it throw you off your game you’ll never even get to that level, so just stay focused on the task at hand. Great athletes can do that. Keep winning and things will open up again.’ He knows that as long as he keeps winning and looking good, something will open up. That’s the way boxing is.”
Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs), a Poland native who has lived in Brooklyn since childhood, has a goal to become the first heavyweight world titleholder from that country. He has certainly done his part so far to position himself for an eventual title opportunity as long as he defeats Helenius (29-3, 18 KOs), 36, a Sweden native fighting out of Finland. A few years ago, Helenius was regarded as one of the division’s top rising contenders before losses to Dillian Whyte and former world title challengers Gerald Washington and Johann Duhaupas.
“You can’t take anyone lightly, especially in the heavyweight division,” Kownacki said. “Helenius has a very good record. He has to be motivated to face me because he knows if he beats me he gets my spot. Beating him doesn’t really do a lot for me because I’m a big favorite in this fight, but him beating me does everything for him. I had a good camp. I believe I am the best heavyweight in the world, so it shouldn’t matter who I fight because I should be able to beat everybody.
“I want to look spectacular. If I could get him out early with a spectacular knockout that would be great.”
Kownacki has already beaten Helenius-caliber and better opponents. He began to step up his opposition in 2017 and has passed each test handily. He knocked out former title challenger and Polish countryman Artur Szpilka. He won a memorable slugfest by stopping Iago Kiladze. Then he outpointed former world titlist Charles Martin, knocked out Washington and won a decision over Arreola in a sensational fight that set several CompuBox heavyweight records, including for most combined punches thrown and landed.
Now Kownacki will face Helenius looking to just keep the chains moving toward a coveted opportunity to fight for a title.
“He knows if he loses Saturday the heavyweight title shot is out of the equation for a while,” Connolly said. “But his head is in the game. He knows what he has to do.”
Kownacki doesn’t plan to allow anything to slow him down.
“My team says to just stay focused, keep training hard, keep doing what I’m doing and I trust them,” he said. “I’ve been built very well. I’ve had the right fights. Eventually I’m gonna get that chance.”