Deontay Wilder, the unbeaten knockout artist and reigning WBC Champion, will make his third title defense on January 16.
The fight against contender Artur Szpilka (20-1, 15 KOs) will hail from the Barclays Center in New York City, and it will air on Showtime.
While it should be interesting enough, one surprising fight on the undercard may also be the most controversial.
It pits challengers Charles Martin and Vyacheslav Glazkov against one another for the vacant IBF title that was stripped from true champion Tyson Fury just one week after beating longtime holder Wladimir Klitschko.
The IBF has undergone a great deal of criticism, not just for stripping a champion who won the title in the ring, but also for the reasoning behind it.
Part of Fury’s contract clause was to allow for a mandatory rematch with Klitschko should he win the fight. (He captured a 12-round unanimous decision.)
When Klitschko decided to exercise his rematch clause immediately, the IBF stepped in and said that Glazkov was the No. 1 challenger and if Fury went through with the fight, he would no longer be the champion.
Fury refused, and the IBF decided to devalue its own title by taking it off him and putting the fight on the Deontay Wilder card.
Deontay Wilder, meanwhile, has his sights set on Tyson Fury, or at least the winner of the Klitschko-Fury rematch. It has been a goal of Wilder to unify the main titles (WBC, WBA, IBF) for some time, and such a contest would be a rare big-money fight for the struggling heavyweight division, which has not seen an undisputed unified titleholder since 1999 when Lennox Lewis held the three majors.
That said, Klitschko had been able to unify several titles during his successful 18 defenses before running into a roadblock with Tyson Fury.
Exerting that type of dominance made him the undisputed champion for many, but still, it has been 17 years since anything has been official, and not having one clear champion to beat gives any sport — or in this case, sports division — a branding problem that is difficult to shake when it comes to generating revenue.
Through all of this, there is some question as to whether Deontay Wilder is really as good as his record would indicate.
He has dispatched all 35 of his opponents with 34 of those coming by way of knockout, a 97.1 percent KO ratio. That said, the quality of his competition has been suspect, with Bermane Stiverne considered his best opponent. He won that fight by unanimous decision and managed to capture the WBC strap in the process.
Whether he’s the best the division has to offer or not, though, he is certainly proving to be a good thing for it with his insistence on bringing the titles together. It’s just unclear, after Glazkov and Martin face off for the IBF whether that belt can truly be considered one of the majors any longer.
Until the winners of that fight and the Deontay Wilder-Artur Szpilka contest are able to face the winner of the Fury-Klitschko rematch, it will be difficult to take them seriously.
Still, Deontay Wilder at least has more of a claim to legitimacy than whoever ends up with the IBF. He won his title because the previous holder, Vitali Klitschko (Wladimir’s brother), retired, thus making the fight with Stiverne an understandable necessity.
Deontay Wilder has also been a busy champion, logging four fights in 2013, two fights in 2014, and three fights in 2015, with his first of this year in the first month. That’s highly productive for a major titleholder.
So to the question: should you care about the Deontay Wilder card on January 16. Half of it — Deontay’s half — yes. But the IBF has a long way to go before it can restore its legitimacy in the eyes of most fight fans.
[Image via DeontayWilder]