NEW YORK -- Adam Kownacki's dream is to become the first Polish fighter to win a heavyweight world title, and he moved a step closer to getting his chance on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
With most in the crowd of 8,790 cheering Kownacki on, he won a unanimous decision in a hellacious slugfest against former three-time world title challenger Chris Arreola in the main event of the Premier Boxing Champions on Fox card.
It was a wildly hard-fought bout from the outset, just as most expected given the fighters' penchant for brawling. As Arreola had said in the days before the bout, "My prediction is that the fans are going to get their money's worth. You better record this one, because you're going to watch it again and again."
He was dead on because it was a heavyweight rumble to remember, which Kownacki won 118-110, 117-111 and 117-111. ESPN also scored the fight 117-111 for Kownacki, who was fighting at Barclays Center for the ninth time but the first in a main event.
"I thought it was a good, close fight, but I knew I pulled it out. I landed a lot of shots and that was enough to win. That's all that matters," said Kownacki, whose wife, Justyna, is due with their first child, a boy, on Aug. 29. "Chris is an Aztec warrior. He's a great fighter. I knew it would be a tough fight and I prepared for it."
Arreola, on the backside of a career in which he lost all three of his world title shots by knockout -- to Vitali Klitschko (2009), Bermane Stiverne (2014) and Deontay Wilder (2016) -- said before the fight he would retire if he lost; he put in one of the best efforts of his 16-year career and made Kownacki work extremely hard for the victory.
Arreola, who injured his left hand in the middle of the fight-of-the-year contender, hedged on his retirement talk after the bout.
"Retirement is something I need to talk to my family and team about," Arreola said. "I gave it my all this fight. I let it all hang out. After breaking my [left] hand, I kept fighting because I believed I could win."
Both men put in a herculean effort, with massive punch output for any weight class, much less heavyweights. According to CompuBox statistics, Kownacki landed 369 of 1,047 punches (35 percent) and Arreola landed 298 of 1,125 (27 percent).
They combined to land 667 punches and combined to throw 2,172, both CompuBox heavyweight records.
The previous record for combined landed punches was 650, by David Tua and David Izon in 1996, and the previous record for combined punches thrown was 1,730, by Ike Ibeabuchi and Tua in their 1997 instant classic.
"The CompuBox numbers prove it was a great fight," Kownacki said.
As expected, Kownacki (20-0, 15 KOs), 30, who moved from Poland to Brooklyn when he was 7, and Arreola (38-6-1, 33 KOs), 38, of Riverside, California, came out firing from the opening bell, but it was the younger and stronger Kownacki who landed the more telling punches, forcing Arreola back. Arreola landed a few combinations, but Kownacki appeared unmoved in the action-packed round.
The toe-to-toe action continued in the second round, with blood appearing to fly from Kownacki's nose as they exchanged clean punches at close range. Kownacki slipped in couple of hard uppercuts, but Arreola was undeterred.
Another right uppercut snapped Arreola's head back in the early moments of the third round as Kownacki continued to apply intense pressure. But after Arreola seemed to be in trouble, he rebounded, including landing a hard body shot and a right hand upstairs.
Back and forth they went in an extremely violent and exhausting fight. They continued to tear into each other to the head and body round after round.
"I tried to follow up when I had him hurt, but I was throwing two punches instead of three or four," Kownacki said. "Props to Arreola because he proved he could still hang. I'm sure the fans would want to see him again."
Arreola had taken a lot of punishment, which caused referee Danny Schiavone to look closely at him and for the ringside doctor to delay the start of the seventh round so he could examine him. And then the fight continued, with more punishment being given and taken by fighters who showed iron chins.
The pace slowed in the eighth round, no surprise given the energy they had expended, but that didn't stop them from continuing to nail each other, defense be damned.
Arreola, who was 244 pounds to Kownacki's career-heavy 266.4, was hampered by the left-hand injury but told trainer Joe Goossen he wanted to keep going after the ninth round. In the 10th round, after Arreola got nailed, he took a step back and took a deep breath. It was that kind of grinding battle.
Arreola was examined by the ringside doctor again before the start of the 11th round but pleaded to continue. And in the opening moments of the round, he landed a stiff right hand to Kownacki's head, but he did not budge. Still, Arreola had one of his best rounds of the fight.
Arreola was going for the knockout in the 12th round against a tiring Kownacki and had another strong round, but not enough to get the knockout he needed.
"Adam is relentless," Arreola said. "He just keeps coming. I know I got him with some good punches and he got me with some good ones. I was more than ready to go all 12, but Adam came in and won the fight."
With the victory, Kownacki stays near the head of the line to get a world title shot. He was discussed as a challenger for Wilder -- who worked the fight as a Fox ringside analyst -- this year but it didn't pan out. He was also offered a last-minute chance to challenge Anthony Joshua on June 1, but turned it down because he felt he wasn't in the right condition, and Joshua was upset by Andy Ruiz.
Six previous Polish fighters have challenged for a heavyweight world title and failed: Andrew Golota, Tomasz Adamek (a friend of Kownacki's), Artur Szpilka, Mariusz Wach, Albert Sosnowski and Andrzej Wawrzyk. Kownacki claims he will be "lucky No. 7" and get the job done.
"I just have to keep training hard, getting better and sharpening my skills," he said. "We'll see what the future holds. Hopefully, next year I'll get the title shot."