Wilder defends title as heavyweight division heats up

The heavyweight division is starting to get more interesting after years of domination by the Klitschko brothers and little in the way of worthy challengers.

Tyson Fury ended Wladimir Klitschko's decade run as champion in November with an upset win that breathed some new life in the division. There are also a number of upcoming young heavyweights who may one day make their marks as champions.

And then there's Deontay Wilder, who fights Saturday night in Brooklyn against Poland's Artur Szpilka in one of two heavyweight title fights that will be broadcast on Showtime.

Wilder is an Olympic medalist and unbeaten as a pro. He holds the WBC version of the title, and is a bruising slugger with 34 knockouts in 35 wins.

But he's done little since winning his title to make his case that he's the best heavyweight in the world, other than stop a few journeymen in his home state of Alabama. And that doesn't figure to change against Szpilka, even if the Barclays Center is a bigger stage.

No matter, says Wilder. He's pretty confident that this is going to be his year.

''I keep saying that I want it to be embedded in you guys' brains that 2016 belongs to Deontay Wilder, where he will unify the division,'' Wilder said. ''There hasn't been one since 1999. That was Lennox Lewis. Now I must make history. I can't let any man get in my way from that.''

Odds are, Wilder will have to wait longer than 2016 to accomplish his goal. The way boxing's multiple sanctioning organizations work, it may never happen.

Fury and Klitschko will meet, likely in May, in a rematch of their fight. And even if Fury wins the rematch of their lackluster first fight, it's doubtful he would risk fighting Wilder before the end of the year.

That doesn't stop Wilder from talking a good game.

''The fans are going to be very excited and impressed with what I do this year,'' he said. ''I'm not playing around. My goal is to be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world and whoever has those belts is going to have to deal with me.''

Two of those belts will be in play at Barclays Center, with Vyacheslav Glazkov facing Charles Martin for the vacant IBF title. Fury won that title with his win over Klitschko, but boxing being what it is, the organization stripped it from him for taking the rematch with Klitschko instead of defending it against Glazkov, the organization's mandatory challenger.

Neither Glazkov nor Martin are household names – or even considered prime- time heavyweights – but one or the other could put himself in the heavyweight mix with an impressive win.

Fury plans to be ringside watching his possible future opponents, and the fights could get a wider audience than usual because Showtime is offering a free viewing weekend for non-subscribers.

While Wilder has plans to become the dominant fighter in the division, Szpilka has some plans too.

''I want to be the first Polish heavyweight champion of the world,'' Szpilka said. ''I'm ready. This is important for Poland and my Polish fans.''

Szpilka is a rugged fighter who likes to mix it up. But he's only had 21 fights, though his only loss came when he was stopped by Bryant Jennings, who lost a lopsided decision to Klitschko last year.