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Deontay Wilder wants to fight the top heavyweights

Deontay Wilder, of course, loves his family. But there is another love in his life, one he will also gladly talk about from the moment you ask. Often, he'll talk about it even if nobody asks.

"I just love boxing. I'm in love with the sport," Wilder said in his Alabama drawl. "Again, I say that all the time and I just want to let you know that I mean it. I'm in love with the sport. I want the people to be able to see me and be able to see a great performance."

Since Wilder claimed a heavyweight bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics -- the last American man to receive an Olympic boxing medal -- he has turned in many excellent performances. None better than last January when he faced his first reputable opponent, Bermane Stiverne, and dominated him start to finish in a one-sided decision victory. He took his belt and became the first American heavyweight world titleholder since Shannon Briggs lost a title in 2007.

Wilder has been relatively busy since, notching a pair of successful defenses in 2015. He now heads into his third title defense, and fourth fight overall in 364 days, when he defends his crown against hard-charging Artur Szpilka on Saturday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET, free preview weekend and streamed live on Showtime's YouTube channel.)

In the co-feature, Ukraine's Vyacheslav "Czar" Glazkov (21-0-1, 13 KOs), a 2008 Olympic super heavyweight bronze medalist, will fight Charles Martin (22-0-1, 20 KOs), of Carson, California, for a vacant heavyweight belt, the one stripped from Tyson Fury 10 days after his massive upset of Wladimir Klitschko on Nov. 28.

The card will represent the first heavyweight title bouts in Brooklyn in 115 years, since May 11, 1900, when James J. Jeffries knocked out James J. Corbett in the 23rd round of their scheduled 25-round fight to retain the world title in Coney Island. The main event will also, however, represent a third consecutive defense for Wilder in which his team elected not to match him with a top contender, which has started to try the patience of many boxing fans.

In his first defense last June, Wilder (35-0, 34 KOs), 30, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had some anxious moments in what was eventually a one-sided ninth-round knockout of Eric Molina. In September, Wilder battered Frenchman Johann Duhaupas from pillar to post in an 11th-round knockout win. Wilder was expected to crush both of them and he eventually did in fights that did little to raise his stock.

A win against the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Szpilka (21-1, 15 KOs), the huge underdog seeking to become the first Polish heavyweight to win a world title, likely won't do much to raise the 6-7, 228-pound Wilder's profile either.

But Wilder said it's a process. One thing at a time, he said. The man with a big personality said he has even bigger goals and that, of course, he wants to fight the top heavyweights.

He also wants to unify the titles and follow in the footsteps of the great Lennox Lewis, the Hall of Famer and former undisputed champion, who is in New York this week assisting promoter Lou DiBella in getting the word out about the card.

"I still think about the first time I met Lennox Lewis and he took the time out to talk to me and he showed me different techniques. I'll never forget," Wilder said at Thursday's final news conference. "Lennox was one of those guys that set the standard. He's a hard act to follow. But I love a challenge.

"Here we are in 2016, with a young champion trying to follow in the footsteps of a great champion to become undisputed heavyweight champion of the world."

But Wilder has a lot of work to do first.

The recognized heavyweight champion is Fury, the British big man, who outpointed long-reigning champion Klitschko to end his 9½-year title reign and take the lineal title along with three of the four sanctioning body belts (one of which was stripped 10 days later and will be on the line in Glazkov-Martin).

Fury-Klitschko II is on tap for this spring or early summer and, should Wilder retain his belt against Szpilka, he is supposed to next make a mandatory defense against a legitimate top contender in Alexander Povetkin, which would figure to be a true test of Wilder's mettle. Wilder said he knows it's a long road.

"When people say the heavyweight champion of the world, I want one person to be recognized," Wilder said. "I wish my opponent and all future opponents good luck, 'cause they're going to need it. People who know me know that if I say I'm going to do something, I'm doing it. I am hungry. I am determined. I'm not playing with anybody in 2016. I don't say things just to sound good. My actions will speak for themselves.

"I take pride in what I do and what I have. I'm very honored to have the WBC belt. I even have the belt tattooed on my body. It's not going anywhere. But there are more belts that I want. It's going to be a long journey and a tough path to fulfill. But I'm that man."

Szpilka, a 26-year-old southpaw, may be the long shot to win, but he will be boosted by a Polish crowd supporting him and said he is ready to fight his heart out, which is what he typically does.

"I'm not just here to get my paycheck. Everyone who knows me knows I come to fight," said Szpilka, who moved to Houston last year to train with Ronnie Shields. "I don't just want to win. I want to win in spectacular fashion. I will fight hard and after the fight you will hear 'the new heavyweight champion of the world.'"

But that won't happen as far as Wilder is concerned. He has plans that go way beyond beating Szpilka. The two got into a head-butting scuffle during a photo opportunity at the top of the Empire State Building this week.

"2016 is going to be a huge year for Deontay Wilder," he said. "The fans are going to be very excited and impressed with what I do this year. 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.

"We're on a mission. Everything that has happened has been planned. Everything seems to happen at the right time in my career and my life. I was meant to do this. Boxing was my calling in life."

It is a calling that he is in love with.