Thursday, July 12, 2012

ESPN Breezes Into Chicago For Some Boxing

Andrzej Fonfara has a chance to elevate his career this Friday (photo by ME!)

Boxers don’t start their careers in glory. Most debut at a small, hometown arena and spend the next few years fighting a collection of stiffs as they learn and improve. Even Floyd Mayweather’s first fight was at the nondescript Texas Station Casino in Nevada against someone named Roberto Apodaca whose career lasted all of four fights. It would be two years before “Money” fought for a title and he had an advantage coming from a prominent boxing family.

At some point in every talented boxer’s career there is chance for them to make the jump from back-bar hero to nationally recognized fighter. Local favorite Andrzej Fonfara has a chance to make that leap. This Friday, at the UIC Pavilion, he will take on former IBF Light Heavyweight Champion Glen Johnson in the headline match for ESPN’s Friday Night Fights. A night of fighting that 8 Count Productions is rightfully calling “Crossroads”.

Fonfara has built a loyal following in Chicago over his six-year career. The 24-year-old Warsaw native has lived and fought in the Windy City since he was 18 and has racked up a 21-2 record during that time.  His last nine fights have all ended with him battering his opponents into submission which explains the boisterous following he has in this city.

However, this isn’t the lanky fighter’s first brush with national exposure. After winning 10 of his first 11 professional fights he appeared on Friday Night Fights in 2008 and suffered a brutal second round TKO at the hands of Derrick Findley.  Despite the knockout it appeared his career was backon track as he won his next two fights to set up a match against Skyler Thompson for the vacant WBF United States super middle weight title.  Fonfara won the fight, but had the title stripped when he tested positive for a banned substance.

Since then, “The Polish Prince” has moved up in weight (from 160 to about 175) and steadily put his career back together with a string of dominant victories over increasingly better opponents. His opponent on Friday, Glen Johnson, presents a significant step up in competition. Johnson has fought everyone and everywhere truly earning his “Road Warrior” nickname. At 43 he might not be the same fighter who beat Roy Jones, Jr. (back in 2004 when beating Jones actually meant something) Johnson is still in a better class than anyone Fonfara has fought since Findley.

The Jamaican native proved that last June when he took one of the best super middleweights in the business, Carl Froch, the distance. An old boxing adage is that “styles make fights” and Johnson’s style is to be aggressive and try to outwork his opponents. Fonfara would be smart to move around the ring and work the body of his much older foe, but that’s not what he does. Like Johnson, he prefers to attack and trade shots in the middle of the ring.  While it might not be the smartest plan of attack it will at least make for an entertaining fight.

Fonfara at 6’2” is a tall fighter with long arms and a long midsection. He’ll present an inviting target for Johnson who is at his best when he is able to land his jab to the chest and follow it up with a powerful overhand right.  It was a combination that he was able to employ with success against Froch, who like Fonfara, likes to keep his hands low.

It will be in Fonfara’s best interest to keep Johnson at a distance by using his jab and trying to extend the bout as long as possible and hope that the older fighter tires in the late round. The “Polish Prince” does have deceptive power for a boxer as lean as he is and that could play a factor in the fight as well. If he lands some big shots early, it might dissuade Johnson from pressing forward.  If the fight is fought at a distance, Fonfara should have the advantage.

Should the local boy do well and beat his older opponent it could be a springboard for launching into the national scene at the light heavyweight/super middleweight level. Boxers who are successful on Friday Night Fights tend to find themselves on undercards for cable network fights which could then lead to undercards on Pay-Per-View fights and then onto true notoriety and title fights.  It has been a long time since a Chicago-based fighter has achieved national prominence in the boxing world. With a victory on Friday, Andrzej Fonfara could begin a journey to end that drought.

Also appearing on the card will be Jose Luis Castillo who will be taking on Ivan Popoca. Other matches will feature Elijah McCall (son of former heavyweight champion Oliver McCall), local favorite Jamie Herrera, as well as up-and-coming prospect Paul Littleton. Tickets are available at the UIC Pavalion box office as well as through TicketMaster. The night of boxing is brought on by 8 Count Productions, Warriors Boxing, Round 3 and Blue Wave Boxing.

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