It was 2018, and into 2019, heavyweight Adam Kownacki could see a pathway to getting to that payoff place, to getting a big-deal fight that would pay enough to make the decades of grueling toil more worthwhile.
He'd beaten Artur Szpilka, in fine fashion; took care of Iago Kiladze, who came in with just one loss; handled Charles Martin, then 25-1-1. He was beating yeah, the usual suspects, in Gerald Washington, and then Chris Arreola. A couple more wins and there would be a step-up money fight on his platter, ready to eat. And then he ran up against Robert Helenius, who on paper should have been just another “usual suspect.”
The Kownacki v Helenius clash unfolded on March 7, 2020, right before Covid broke wide in NYC. Helenisu held a 29-3 mark going into the scrap at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Kownacki at 20-0 represented ‘the A side' as he headlined the arena.
You wouldn't blame Kownacki for being confident, Helenius had lost to Gerald Washington (KO8) in July 2019, and then rebounded with a win over a 9-4 guy. He was 36, his nickname still ‘The Nordic Nightmare‘ but many assumed, frankly, he was there as a stepping stone. Ah, but he didn't.
They brawled early on, it was a bit sloppy, but spirited. In the fourth, down went AK, but it was ruled a slip.
Seconds later a left-right-left hook landed clean, and the Polish fighter hit the deck, not on a slip. Helenius followed up, pressed, his form pretty atrocious but he knew he had Kownacki in deep and dark waters. Ref David Fields stepped in and halted the battle when the Pole wasn't answering back.
Covid played out some and then a rematch was booked, for Oct. 9, 2021, in Vegas. This time, Kownacki wasn't the obvious A side, and the match was an undercard attraction, supporting the Tyson Fury-Deontay Wilder trilogy fight. AK had trimmed down some…but there was trouble in the first. Helenius clipped AK, who wobbled, but collected himself. He had some luck in the second, but the third saw Kownacki wobbled again. He fired low, twice, to try to dig out of trouble. Helenius got a break, and got back to throwing. AK's left eye was closing, and things looked bleak. Even worse, AK didn't know how to turn it around and he got frustrated, so he threw low again. The ref took one point for that in the fifth. Kownacki's chin and hard head kept him in it, until the sixth. The Pole launched a right that hit on the belt-line and the ref had enough. He pulled the plug, and now Kownacki was 0-2 against Helenius, his ascending arc having taken a hard dive.
Wounds were licked, and the Polish puncher decided to keep on campaigning. On July 30, Kownacki is booked in a must win clash against Ali Demirezen (16-1, from Turkey, lives in Germany) at Barclays Center. Ali is 6-3, 32 years old, and also a jumbo package, who weighs in the 260s.
Kownacki on paper looks to be the deserved favorite, being that Ali's best wins came against Gerald Washington and Kevin Johnson, and he lost a step up to Efe Ajagba.
On a recent call, Kownacki spoke on this July 30 PBC/Showtime fight, which supports a Danny Garcia-Jose Benavidez tussle.
Kownacki is 9-1 record at Barclays, by the way. His longtime trainer Keith Trimble also participated in the call.
“This is the biggest fight of my career,” said Kownacki, clearly getting the import of the assignment. “I have to win to stay relevant in the heavyweight division. I’m training hard and I’m ready to win.”
His life has changed noticeably recently. “Having two kids these last few years has been life changing for me, but I can’t have everything with a cherry on top. I had to make more sacrifices in my life for this training camp to make sure that I stayed focused.”
For those wondering if he pondered retiring after the dual Ls to the Nord. “I never thought I was done after fighting Robert Helenius. My goal is just to always go out there and do my best. My first boxing goal was to win the New York Golden Gloves, and I did that in my first year. My goal, now, is to win the world title, and that’s what I’m working toward. I had a good 20 fights, I hit a bump in the road, but on July 30 I’m coming to get a win and then I’m back on the right track. I want to get a world title shot in the next year or two, and with my team, I know that I can get that done.”
Coach Trimble weighed in: “We just have to get back to working behind the jab and working on the head movement,” he said. “We can't get lackadaisical. You’re going to see better footwork, better movement and Adam working behind that jab. Adam truly wants to be that first Polish heavyweight world champion. He’s not just doing this for the money, he’s serious about boxing and about his legacy. In this sport, you're only as good as your last fight. Everyone wants to dump on you when you take a loss, but we’re just focused on what is in front of us.”
So will there be tweaks to AK's game on display? “The footwork is really what we’re focused on,” Kownacki said. “I remember being in camp with Wladimir Klitschko and being amazed by his footwork. I worked on it a lot back then but I got a little bit away from it. For awhile, I could go blow for blow and come out on top. The past couple fights didn’t end that way, so we went back to some of our basics. That’s what I have to do to take the next steps.”