Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko will make his 14th title defense against Francesco Pianeta, a man he sparred with last year in preparation for another fight.
They will meet May 4 at the SAP Arena in Mannheim, Germany. K2 Promotions, Klitschko's company, announced the news Tuesday. The fight will be televised in the United States on Epix.
"I have a lot of respect for Francesco Pianeta. He is young, a southpaw and has an immense fighting spirit," Klitschko said. "He will do anything to reach his goal. I am warned and will prepare myself very intensively."
Pianeta (28-0-1, 15 KOs), a 28-year-old who was born in Italy but has lived in Germany since he was 6, has a thin résumé. Last year he faced his two most recognizable opponents but both were way past their prime -- former contender and world title challenger Frans Botha (44) and former titleholder Oliver McCall (47). The draw on Pianeta's record came in 2009 against Albert Sosnowski, who was knocked out in the 10th round of a 2010 world title fight by Vitali Klitschko, Wladimir's older brother.
The 6-foot-3 (or 6-foot-5, depending on which bio is accurate), 243-pound Pianeta is close to matching the physical stature of the 6-foot-6, 245-pound Klitschko and is familiar with his fighting style because he has been in the ring with him as a sparring partner.
"I was in Wladimir's camp as a sparring partner last year. I saw his weaknesses and will use them for me," Pianeta said. "I know many experts see me as the underdog but I like this role and will shock the boxing world when I knock out Klitschko."
Pianeta was out of the ring between late 2009 and 2010 after being diagnosed with cancer, but he has since recovered and has won eight fights in a row.
Klitschko (59-3, 51 KOs), who turns 37 on March 25, has yet to be seriously challenged in any title defense during his second reign. He scored three decisive wins in his 2012 defenses, knocking out former cruiserweight world champion Jean-Marc Mormeck of France in the fourth round, American Tony Thompson in the sixth round of a mandatory defense (and a rematch of a previous Klitschko knockout) and routing Poland's Mariusz Wach in a virtual shutout decision. After the fight, Wach tested positive for steroids.
The fight will be Klitschko's second since the Oct. 25 death of his longtime trainer and close friend Emanuel Steward. Just two weeks after Steward died, Klitschko dominated Wach with heavyweight contender Jonathan Banks, a Steward protégé and longtime Klitschko team member, serving as his chief second.
With 13 successful title defenses in this title reign, Klitschko, who has held a world title since knocking out Chris Byrd in 2006 as well as unified three major belts, has the third-most heavyweight title defenses in boxing history. Only Joe Louis (25) and Larry Holmes (20) have more than Klitschko, who is 20-2 overall in world title fights.
Klitschko, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist for Ukraine, will be returning to SAP Arena, where has some special memories.
"Mannheim is a special place," Klitschko said. "I started my second career there with my victory against Chris Byrd in 2006. The atmosphere has always been great."