Don’t judge a book by its cover: Adam Kownacki vs. Charles Martin
First a mea culpa: I admit evaluating Adam Kownacki harshly because of a less-than-impressive physique for an elite boxer. I even compared the highly-rated heavyweight to Baby Huey on Twitter and was subsequently shown the error of my ways, as Kownacki knocked out the more imposing and intimidating physical presence of Artur Szpilka. After all boxing is about skill, not muscle mass. However in my – and boxing fans’ – defense, we have seen similarly-shaped heavyweights such as Chris Arreola, Tony Thompson, Andy Ruiz or Dominic Breazeale falter at the world title level. If that will be the case with Kownacki, 17-0 (14), remains to be seen and fans can judge for themselves when Kownacki faces former IBF beltholder Charles Martin, 25-1-1 (23), on Showtime (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT), Saturday night.
If Polish-born but American-raised Kownacki is to stumble at a higher hurdle, Martin seems a logical candidate, given his solid resume and experience at the world title level. One experience was bad as Martin went out on his shield against champion Anthony Joshua. The other was positive when Martin scored a third round TKO of undefeated Russian contender Vyacheslav Glazkov to initially win the IBF title. The Kownacki-Martin clash is an attractive match of styles, as well as one that should advance the winner into title contention.
What is not up for debate is Kownacki’s hometown advantage. The likable Pole is already an attraction in New York City, pulling in Polish fans like a Kielbasa-laden polka festival at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. It marks Kownacki’s fifth appearance at the venue; he was actually raised in the Brooklyn borough from the age of seven when his parents immigrated from Lomza, Poland. So it is no coincidence that Kownacki caught the boxing bug watching Andrew Golota fights but thankfully there has been no hint of psychological frailty on Kownacki’s part.
Kownacki’s matriculation has been steady and incremental, starting out at famed Gleason’s Gym winning his first (of two) New York Golden Gloves heavyweight tournament at 17. Had a good amateur career and benefited from even better gym work on the tough Eastern seaboard circuit. His early pro career was marred by setbacks however. Kownacki lost nearly three years after fracturing his left hand, requiring two surgeries plus an artificial bone and during intense sparring with Wladimir Klitschko (also trained with Tomasz Adamek and close friend Jarrell Miller), Kownacki tore his left bicep. Since then has been injury-free and his career has taken off, culminating in a victory over Artur Szpilka on FOX, which elevated Kownacki to national prominence.
At 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, Kownacki is a good-sized threat but his subtle skills and punching accuracy sets him apart. A straight and imposing right hand is Kownacki’s best weapon, along with consistent pressure, as he stays on top of foes, thanks to deceptively agile feet. The combination guided Kownacki to an 82% kayo ratio and earns immediate respect in the early rounds, as Kownacki comes out of the gates fast. Kownacki promises that will be the case again, “It’s exciting to be back in the ring on Showtime to showcase my skills. It will be an amazing night in Barclays Center. It will be another step to reach my goal of becoming the first Polish heavyweight champion. I am training hard in preparation to fight Charles Martin. I’m hoping Barclays Center will be covered in white and red.”
Charles Martin was one of the few promising manifestations in the current crop of American heavyweights, with WBC titlist Deontay Wilder being the other legitimate challenger to the European dominance. Martin did not ascend to status of champion in glorious fashion, as opponent Vyacheslav Glazkov ignominiously bowed out of their uneventful meeting in the third round with a torn ACL tendon. As an amateur, Martin won the National PAL title and, at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, sports the classic size of a fighter who can box or brawl in a division lacking multifaceted talent.
The 32-year-old Saint Louis-bred heavyweight scored knockouts in 21 of his first 23 outings before losing in his first title defense against Anthony Joshua in England. Martin eased his way back with two easy wins and believes he is ready for the next big step. “I don’t want to talk about fighting; I just want to get in there and show off my skills,” said Martin. “For this fight I asked for the toughest opponent that I could get. I’m not worried about who is in front of me.”
Promoter Lou DiBella’s assessment is matter-of-fact, “It is an effort by Charles to get back into the big picture in the heavyweight division with one big win. And for Adam, an opportunity to defeat a former world heavyweight champion and put himself into the immediate title conversation. It doesn’t get better than this. In my mind, this is as good a premium cable fight as you could possibly make.” An accurate overview, given five (Joshua, Wilder, Tyson Fury, Alexander Povetkin and Kownacki) of the Top 10 heavyweights are in action before the end of the year. This positions the winner of this fight nicely for a 2019 run at a titleholder.
Stephen Espinoza, president of Showtime Sports, said it was a priority to put the Kownacki-Martin event where it had the most impact, “Adam is hugely popular with Brooklyn’s Polish community. He’s fighting at Barclays Center for the (seventh) time. Charles Martin is no stranger to Barclays Center either, having won his heavyweight title there on Showtime back in 2016. It’s a very intriguing crossroads fight in a division which has certainly got a lot of attention, a lot of buzz lately.” A nice change from stale casino atmospheres that rarely come to life if a Mexican or Mexican-American boxer is not headlining the card.
Kownacki has dealt well with the pressure of boxing in front of the hometown faithful and sees little reason to change his style or attitude for this test, “I’m ready to make a statement. I will be in pressuring him all night. I’m a pressure fighter and if Charles Martin is able to give me his all, then I think it’s going to be a tremendous fight. It is going to be exciting. There will be lot of fireworks.” Kownacki has prepared himself for the best version of his opponent, “Charles Martin is very focused, so I’m prepared for the best Charles Martin that he brings and I could beat the best Charles Martin and go for the title shot right after. I am looking at Charles Martin as if he still has the title, as if he is the champion, so I am ready.”
Defeating a former champion is a natural progression and test every contender must pass. Kownacki, a student of the game, sees this fight as a proper evaluation of his current status in the heavyweight ranks, “It’s a very big fight for me. I’m training very hard and hopefully, after this fight, I’ll be mentioned as a heavyweight contender. I am running and doing more workouts. By beating him it puts me right in on the title shot. He’s a contender and the former world champion, so bringing a shot at a title would be, I think, the next step in my career.”
As someone who does not think of himself as a steppingstone Charles Martin is taking the appropriate steps to avoid the spurious tag, “I know it’s going to be a tough fight and that’s what I am training for, so we’ll see nothing new. I got some stuff to prove. He is just a good fighter with a lot of heart. I’m prepared for everything you can possibly think of. I’m coming to minimize everything he brings; that’s what we are working on. I’ve come in to win, come in to make a statement. I’m bringing devastation.”