Adam Kownacki wasn’t the only “Babyface” in the gym during a recent training session.
While hitting pads with trainer Keith Trimble at Bellmore Kickboxing MMA, the Melville-based boxer had a fresh set of eyes evaluating his work — those of his son, Kaz, who impacted the heavyweight’s training camp in the way you’d expect of a six-month old.
“Pretty much the same, just a little bit more sleepless nights,” Kownacki laughed.
Kownacki fights as a father for the first time on Saturday at Barclays Center with a chance to capitalize on his local popularity and take his career to a different level. The unbeaten 30-year-old fights Robert Helenius in what’s being billed as an elimination fight for the WBA heavyweight title, a belt currently held by British star Anthony Joshua.
Young Kaz will remain in the hotel on fight night, but there will be plenty of friendly faces in the crowd for Kownacki, who grew up in Brooklyn after immigrating from Poland at age 7. He’s become a regular at Barclays Center, fighting there for the 10th time Saturday in his second straight main event following a unanimous decision win over Chris Arreola last August.
“It’s amazing. I was an amateur when they started building it up and the Nets were moving to Brooklyn,” Kownacki said. “I wanted to fight there and be the main event there and we’ve made it there, so you work hard and chase your dreams they’ll come true.”
As has become custom, Kownacki expects Brooklyn’s Polish community to be in his corner Saturday, packing the arena full of red-clad fans.
“It started up with my brothers, my cousins and my dad coming to fights,” Kownacki said. “Then they told their friends, their friends told their friends, and before you know it we’re filling up Barclays Center.”
Kownacki believes his style in the ring has helped draw in many of those fans, raising his profile and marketability to a point where he can start thinking about title challenges and big fights against the sport’s best.
“It’s action boxing. Last fight we broke the heavyweight record for most punches thrown and most punches landed,” Kownacki said. “I’m an action-packed fighter, I like to get knockouts and come forward and put on a good fight. It’s been very TV friendly.”
Kownacki (20-0, 15 knockouts) expects to employ that same active strategy against Finland’s Helenius, a 6-foot-7 former European heavyweight champion. This is just the second fight in America for Helenius (29-3, 18 KOs). The first one was last July as Helenius was knocked out by Gerald Washington, who has lost by TKO to Kownacki six months earlier.
“He’s tall, so finding the right sparring partner was a little tough, but a lot of local guys helped me out just getting the rounds in,” Kownacki said of his opponent. “With Helenius' height, I'm going to have to work behind my double-jab and then let my punches go. He's very experienced and he's been in there with a lot of talented fighters.”
Should Kownacki get the victory he expects Saturday, a championship could be his next option, whether that comes against Joshua or someone else. Joshua is scheduled to face Kubrat Pulev on June 20 at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London. But if a title fight isn’t offered next, Kownacki said he’d expect to keep busy until it happens.
“I want to fight, I want to make my money,” said Kownacki. “Being champion is key, but if I’m the best, I should be able to beat anybody, even if he’s not a champion.”
And being the best is all part of Kownacki’s ultimate motivation — the 6-month old at home he'd like to one day inspire.
“My goal is to set a good example for him and make sure he gets to do what he wants to do in life. Make it a little bit easier for him, make sure he has what he needs,” Kownacki said. “If it’s to be a boxer, I’d support him 100 percent, if it’s to be a musician, I’d support him 100 percent, if it’s to be a doctor, same thing. And I can set the example for him.”