By Juan C. Ayllon at ringside
Photos coutesy of Tom Barnes (http://www.tomba-images.com/)
CHICAGO, July 13, 2012 – The last time Andrzej Fonfara fought on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, he was stopped inside two rounds. That was four years and two days ago, to be precise, at the Aragon Ballroom, and his opponent was Derrick Findley, a squat and muscular, hard-slugging brawler.
Six foot-two and 160 lbs. back then, Fonfara looked like a spindly fawn trying to fend off a hungry bulldog with quick, sharp pokes from its left forepaw. He was surprisingly effective until the roof crashed down on him in the second.
“I won the first round,” Fonfara says, recalling the debacle. “I had good technique, but no punch! He was very strong.”
Fonfara found his punch when he moved up to light heavyweight and stopped Andy Leal in January 2010. He went on to win his next eight fights by knockout, the last one over shopworn but still dangerous ex-IBF Super Middleweight Champion Byron Mitchell in March. Fighting at 175 lbs., Fonfara is no longer the gangly kid who looks like he has reeds for arms and a neck. Now 24 sporting a record of 21-2 with 12 knockouts, he’s filled in, and it’s a good thing, too.
Tonight, he faces ex-champ Glen Johnson, who won the IBF Light Heavyweight championship back in September 2004 with a chilling knockout of Roy Jones, Jr.
That was then, but now 43 years old with a record of 51-15-2 and 35 knockouts, Johnson has lost five of his last nine bouts. However, those were decision losses against world champs: Twice to WBC Light Heavyweight Champion Chad Dawson – in 2008 (a controversial loss in which Johnson rocked Dawson several times) and 2009; once against IBF Light Heavyweight kingpin Tavoris Cloud in a brawl many said was closer than the 116-112 scores judges unanimously awarded Cloud (a former stable mate with Fonfara at 8 Count Productions) in August 2010; a majority decision loss to WBC Super Middleweight Champion Carl Froch in June 2011; and a unanimous decision loss to then IBF Super Middleweight champion Lucian Bute (whom Froch stopped in May to take his crown) in November.
Dubbed the “Polish Prince” by the Polish media, they, along with a legion of Polish and Chicago fans, boxers and friends, seem to be the only ones believing in Fonfara’s chances.
That is, they and Andrzej’s longtime girlfriend, Justine, who says, “He’ll win – of course, he’ll win!”
Chad Dawson’s trainer, John Scully, sums it up this way: “To be honest, I’ve never seen the guy from Chicago. I have no idea who that is. Beating Byron Mitchell, [he's] obviously past his prime, but you know, if he’s able to beat Byron Mitchell, he must have some potential. But, Johnson’s a tall order. At any age, he’s a handful. If he can beat Glen Johnson, then we might have somebody. Chicago may have a legitimate contender if he can beat that guy.”
A decorated amateur from his native Poland, Fonfara sees things differently. “When I was a small kid, I saw [fellow countryman and heavyweight contender] Andrew Golota box here a lot…and I wanted to be like him some day. A dream came true and I’m here, and I’m fighting Glen Johnson in Chicago in a big fight.” He feels that it’s his time to shine.
“I’m so excited,” he effuses. “I have good prepare (sic); he has good camp. We spar like a 110 degrees in the gym, and we still sparred, we still trained. I’m ready!”
True to expectations, he UIC Pavilion is packed with 3,947 fans, with plenty of Polish flags and fans throughout.
Reggae music ushers Johnson’s entrance into the boxing ring, where boos greet him as he waves to the crowd. A minute later, a pulsating Polish rap song introduces Fonfara, whose entrance is met by loud cheers, then chants of “POLSKA, POLSKA, POLSKA!” The fans leave no room for doubt as to who is the favorite. His handlers hold up a white and red Polish flag and two minor tile belts behind Fonfara as ring announcer Thomas Treiber makes the introductions.
“Ladieeeeees and gentlemennnnn, here is the former IBF Light Heavyweight Champ, Glen Johnsonnnn!” he intones in the professional MC manner associated with the fight game. More boos.
“Fighting out of Chicago, Illinois…” The crowd’s response is deafening, drowning out much of what follows. “The Polish Prince from Poland!” Treiber booms. More raucous cheers.
Fonfara swallows hard as he looks across the ring at the bald rugged veteran, who shakes out his arms and legs in the manner of someone preparing for a jog in the park.
Two strikes of the bell initiate round one. Fonfara darts forward firing hard crisp jabs. Johnson punches back. Several sharp, straight rights follow from Fonfara, who’s trying to establish respect from his shorter, more powerful opponent listed at 5′ 11″, but who is closer to 5′ 8″. He pumps the jab. Johnson gives ground and fires back with a pair of his own. Fonfara lands four punches, capped off by a left to the midriff. He bangs in four more hooks to the waist. A right sends spray flying from Johnsons’ head. Johnson counters. Fonfara is keeping a tight high guard as he jabs his way in. A right hook thumps upside the head of Johnson, who repels him with a walloping left counter. Johnson digs to the midsection with a right, but Fonfara counters with a snapping two fisted flurry near the bell.
Fonfara fires hard jabs moments into the second. Johnson thumps a a hard right to the head and a thudding left to the chest. Fonfara is pumping the jab. They trade. Johnson lands a hard right, then another, and a pair of smacking left hooks. Fonfara smiles, and then he unleashes hell. Johnson covers up as the blows slam home about his head, gloves, shoulders and chest. Resuming, a hook of his catches Fonfara’s head, the force of the blow traveling down his rigid neck and body and sways him to the side. His face flush, Fonfara’s head snaps back from a jarring right. Johnson is coming on. Fonfara’s punches are stiff, but Johnson is beginning to assert himself more. A thumping left slams into the pit of Johnsons stomach. The bell rings moments later.
The pattern is set: Fonfara kicks off the third stanza by driving Johnson back into the ropes with sharp jabs and a cross and backs off as Johnson fires back hard. He’s maintaining distance and circling behind a high guard. A right caroms off the skull of Fonfara, who slams a right uppercut to Johnson’s jaw moments later. They swap thudding hooks. A vicious right hook to the jaw, a left hook by Fonfara, who surges, then a right and another, and Johnson falls back to the ropes. He appears unsteady. But just like that, the reptilian Johnson springs back hard with both fists and repels Fonfara, who backs off behind a high guard.
There is a lull in action. Fonfara lands the odd jab and straight right and then steps out of range. He crunches a stiff right to Johnson’s chin at the bell.
In the fourth, Johnson catches Fonfara with a crushing right to the jaw. However, rather than folding, he counters with his own jarring right that causes Johnson’s knees to sag. Moments later, Johnson lands a monstrous right, Fonfara rips back with his own, followed by crisp jabs punctuated by a right cross.
The Poles are besides themselves. “ANDRE!” Clap-clap-clap – “ANDRE!” goes the cheer after the bell marks the end of round four.
Someone must have lit into Johnson during the minute’s rest, as he kicks off the fifth round pursuing Fonfara and landing hard, clubbing blows in close. The pace slows. Gloves held high, they take turns launching short bursts of punches before returning to high guard position. Johnson snaps Fonfara’s head up with a left uppercut, prompting Fonfara to unleash a four punch volley before circling out. He lands two picturesque punches, but is staggered by a sharp right near a corner. Regrouping, Fonfara answers back with three hard counters at the bell.
It’s now the sixth round and Fonfara is peppering with crisp jabs and keeping his distance. A hard right by Johnson sends spray off his head, and another thumps his solar plexus. Spittle sprays from Fonfara’s moth as he blows out hard following a hard right that bounces off Johnson’s hard, wrinkled dome, as if to say what does it take to knock this guy down? Two more jabs, a digging left to the stomach seems to hurt Johnson, who is now bogging and weaving to avoid the incoming. A left to the jaw wobbles him. Two right missiles cause Johnson to stumble at rounds end. Fonfara blows another mouthful of spit onto the floor, glares at him hard, and returns to his corner.
Fonfara has Johnson on the defense as he fires hard, crisp three and four punch volleys to head and body. Johnson trudges after him desperate to land a finishing blow. Footwork is not his strong suit. Fonfara is blocking the incoming, circles, lands a stiff right and circles out again. Johnson bounces a right high off his head and digs the belly with a left. A pair of hooks to the jaw and Fonfara is pinned to the ropes! Johnson batters with ponderous rights and hooks. Thudding rights slam in close. However, Fonfara bounces a right and escapes the ropes. He’s now on the attack. The crowd roars with lusty approval as the two slug at close quarters.
Fonfara kicks off the eighth pumping the jab and crashing hard one-two combinations. Johnson rakes his midriff with a walloping right and left. In close, Johnson lands a pair of hooks. He lands yet another one on Fonfara, who is steeled for the blow and, off balance, Johnson stumbles to the ropes! Fonfara nods and fires his own sharp right to the head, digs to the body with a left, and finishes with a pair of rights upstairs. Fonfara is boxing well. Not dissuaded, Johnson wallops with a right, and then another.
“Come on, Bring it Glen!” his promoter, Leon Margules of Seminole Warriors Boxing, shouts from ringside.
Fonfara closes the round landing a pair of hooks to Johnson’s head and, in an old school move, walks three feet to his corner at the bell. Who’s the old pro now, he seems to say.
Fonfara is alternating pairs of jabs with crisp one-twos to kick off the ninth.
“Come on, Glen, take over!” shouts Margules. “Step in with the right!”
Fonfara is circling and jabbing when he’s caught with a thudding hook. Fonfara acknowledges it with a nod. A looping right crashes behind Fonfara’s guard, causing him to back off.
“He’s hurt now, Glen!” Margules screams.
Fonfara attacks with both fists. He absorbs a slashing right to the head, but takes it well. Johnson backs him off, but now it’s Fonfara slamming home the haymakers.
The crowd is shrieking.
Fonfara bounces a hard right off the skull; Johnson just misses with a wicked right. A Fonfara right explodes on the chin of Johnson, who’s exposed with his back to the ropes. Johnson grabs hold tight. The bell rings.
Fonfara attacks with a savage salvo of jabs and rights to kick off the tenth and final round. Johnson covers and blocks most.
Shouts of “ANDRE, ANDRE, ANDRE!” reverberate through the Pavilion.
Fonfara staggers Johnson with a potent combination in a corner. He unleashes a flurry, but moments later, Johnson lands a stupefying left hook to the jaw and backs him off. A pair of crunching rights by Johnson land, but Fonfara counters with hard blows to the body.
Johnson is breathing hard through his mouth. Fonfara rallies, catches a hard right to the jaw, but continues to press forward. Johnson hangs in close to reduce the leverage of Fonfara’s long arms and maximize his. Fonfara accommodates, as he batters him along the ropes with lefts and rights. Johnson caches him with a huge right to the chin, but Fonfara withstands it and crashes home a half-dozen blows at the final bell.
The crowd, which has been cheering madly for the last two minutes, is besides itself. Roars turn to a loud buzzing mixture of mutters, cheers and clapping. The ring is flooded by team and family members and others associated with the production.
The crowd erupts with a deafening roar as Thomas Treiber announces the scores of 99-91, and 97-93 twice for “the Polish Prince!”
Patricia, Fonfara’s eight year old niece is in the ring and tells this reporter, “I love it! I’m very proud of Andrew.”
Afterwards, Thomas Treiber announces that Glen Johnson has just said that he’s retiring and offered him much luck in his future endeavors. Polite applause and cheers greets the news.
Fonfara takes the microphone and dedicates his win to Jerzy Kulej, a two-time Olympic boxing gold medalist who died at the age of 71. He then spoke in Polish.
Concluding, Treiber says, “The POLISH PRINCE, Annnnndrzej Fonfaraaaaaaa!!!”
The Co-Main Event: Ivan Popoca vs. Jose Luis Castillo
In another crossroads fight, 38 year old former champion “El Temible” Jose Luis Castillo who hails from Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico, takes on Chicago’s Ivan Popoca, 30, in the co-main event.
Popoca is the more active in round one, jabbing away and landing thumping blows with both fists. Castillo catches him with a pair of uppercuts and a hard left hook to the head.
“Fight smart, Ivan, fight smart,” his promoter Dominic Pesoli shouts.
A right dumps Popoca into the ropes. Rights and lefts have the crowd roaring.
“Hold him, Ivan hold him!” shouts Pesoli.
Castillo is battering him against the ropes, then corals him into a corner with the force of punishing blows. Popoca is trapped. The bout seems moments from being stopped.
“Hold him – (expletive)!” Pesoli screams.
Popoca punches back just enough to avoid the stoppage, and head clears.
Castillo closes out the round catching him with a couple uppercuts and a potent right drives a loud “Ohhh” from the crowd.
A hard left hook dumps Popoca on his trunks early in the second. He rises at about the count of four. Castillo rips the body, comes back up to the head, and works low again. Popoca slides along the ropes to his left and, head clearing, counters and fights his way clear of the ropes. He drives a straight left to the chest and backs his antagonist off.
Popoca is now busy again, working Castillo with jabs and straight lefts. Resurging, Castillo backs him off with a series of hard lefts and rights. Popoca is once again jabbing and crossing as the third round gets underway. A hard glancing left hook by Castillo, then he traps Popoca the ropes and pummels him. A right seems to hurt him, but rather than discouraging Popoca, it lights a fire. Now bleeding from a cut over the outside of his left brow – possibly from a class of heads -he surges and seems to hurt Castillo with a potent right to the head. They are slugging head to shoulder up close. Popoca is digging to the body, catches a hook to the jaw and is caught again in between punches. The pace is withering. As if to make a point, Popoca lands a short left hook to the jaw at the bell.
Castillo is landing the hook to Popoca’s head early in the fourth, but Popoca slugs back with thudding shots of his own. A hook bobbles Castillo’s head. Trapping him, Popoca batters away. He’s paying a price, though, catching a hurtful counter for every 10 he throws. Castillo fights his way clear of the corner. A wicked left creases Popoca’s beltline, a left uppercut snaps his head back, yet he still marches forward. Bleeding from cuts on his nose, his right cheek and his left eye, he trades blows at the bell, and is closely looked over by his cornermen.
“He’s okay, Rizzo,” Pesoli shouts to Popoca’s chief second.
Popoca emerges from his corner with large gobs of Vaseline smeared over his brow and face as the fifth commences. He immediately takes it to Castillo. They’re trading hard at close quarters. Blood now streams from Popoca’s face while, virtually unmarked, Castillo continues the demolition with chilling economy. He rips the body with a hard left and right. He bounces a hard hook to the jaw, followed by a straight right. He batters, but then Popoca surges forward behind thumping hooks and rights. At the bell, Castillo turns to his corner with a grudging look of respect. Tough kid, his eyes seem to say.
Castillo appears to be taking a breather in the sixth, keeping his distance and reengaging now and again. He bounces a hard left off the jaw and turns as if expecting Popoca to drop. However, he doesn’t.
A crushing right sends spray flying from Popoca’s head and appears to stun him. Additional blows prompt referee Pete Podgorski call time. He asks a ring doctor to examine Popoca, who’s cleared to continue. The audience cheers as Popoca resumes pursuing his tormentor.
As the seventh gets underway, Castillo lands a pair of right hooks low on Popoca’s side and digs to the lower abdomen to stem the flow of lefts and rights from his younger foe.
Like a bull bleeding from repeated lancings from banderilleros in a bullfight, Popoca keeps moving forward. His face looks like that of the Elephant Man with blood streaming from every pore. He sags from the force of a concussive right, but regroups and continues stalking his tormentor.
Castillo is bouncing on his toes, jumping in with sharp lefts and rights as the eighth begins. Popoca drives him into the ropes with a thudding right and batters him with thudding blows over and under. Castillo rips the waist with three hard right; Popoca bleeds and slugs back hard.
Two jarring rights to the head fail dissuade Popoca, who continues to pressure and slug hard.
The bell rings and, moments later, Pesoli walks by the reporters’ table and says, “They’re stopping it.”
“This guy (Castillo) has nothing left and they’re stopping it,” Pesoli says with a disgusted tone.
Thomas Treiber makes it official. “Referee Pete Podgorski stops the contest after the completion of eight rounds,” he announces. “The winner by technical knockout…Jose Luis Castilloohhhhh!” Scattered cheers greet the statement, signaling perhaps that Castillo,who advances to 64-11-1 with 55 knockouts, had dodged a bullet. Meanwhile, Popoca suffers his second knockout loss in three months, having been stopped by Ruslan Provodnikov in April, bringing his record to 15-2 with 10 knockouts. Both fighters face hard questions as to where they go from here.
“I don’t appreciate him stopping it like he’s the physician,” matchmaker Jerry Alfano says afterwards. “He could see fine; the cuts were under both eyes.”
“I talked to the corner two rounds before,” Podgorski says. “Show me something. He was breaking him down – you guys know the jargon.” He acknowledges that one cut was caused by a clash of heads, but the other was a result of a punch.
Basset, Virginia’s Elijah McCall (226 lbs., 10-1-1, 9 KO’s) knocked out Cleveland, Ohio’s Jason Massie (268 lbs., 7-2, 4 KO’s) inside five rounds.
With his father, former WBC Heavyweight Champion Oliver McCall cheering him on from ringside, McCall faced a sturdy test in Massie. Dropped him in the third (?) round with a right hook to the jaw, he did the greater preponderance of effective punching. In the fifth round, a walloping hook to the ribs finished it. Referee Celestino Ruiz counted him out with 36 seconds into the fifth round.
At super middleweight, Chicago’s Paul Littleton (163.5 lbs.) upped his record to 4-0 with 4 knockouts over South Bend, Indiana’s Ramiro Bueno (167 lbs., now 2-3 with 1 knockout.
In a controlled assault and battery, Littleton hurt Bueno with a straight right to the chest, dropped him with an overhand right to the head (earning Bueno a standing eight count upon rising after a few moments) in the first round.
Bueno tried, swinging with malevolence. However, a hurtful left hook to the side dropped him froa bout a four count. He rallied briefly with left and rights, even knocking out Littleton’s mouthpiece with a right hook (I believe). Resuming, Bueno was dropped with a sharp counter to the head. A hard left, right left to the head finished it, as he dropped to the canvas. Referee Celestino Ruiz waved it off without a count at 2:10 into the second round.
Chicago’s Jaime Herrera won a majority decision over St. Louis, Missouri’s cagey Tyrone Chatman over six rounds with scores of 57-57 and 58-56 twice, bringing his ledger to 8-2 with 4 knockouts to Chatman’s 9-2-2 with 6 knockouts.
Evanston, Illinois’ Junior Wright (177 lbs., now 4-0, 4 KO’s) knocked out Detroit, Michigan’s Covon Graham (177.5 lbs., now 1-3-1, 1 KO). Graham was winning by a landslide for the first two minutes of his fight with Junior Wright as he backpedaled, pecked away with the jab, and crossed Wright with great effectiveness. However, Wright grazed his chin with a hook and began touching him with the occasional blow. Cornering him, Wright ripped a thudding left to the midsection and that was it. Graham dropped to his hands and knees and was counted out by referee Pete Podgorski at 2:58 into round one.
Chicago’s super featherweight Juan Bustamante (135 lbs., 4-0, 2 KO’s) continued his winning ways in notching a decision over Cincinnati’s Micah Branch (127 lbs., 0-2).
Wearing a smug, tight lipped expression, Micah Branch employed a defense resembling Floyd Mayweather’s tucked shoulder defense without the effectiveness or offense to back it up against Juan Bustamante and was dropped in the first round and battered throughout the second.
After catching a particularly jarring punch that drew a loud, collective “Ohhh” from the crowd, he countered with a stiff right to the chin that drew a similar reaction, moments later. Now in the fight, he nevertheless was outworked by Bustamante with hammering lefts and rights for the remainder of the round.
Bustamante picked up where he left off in the final stanza, mixing busy lefts and rights to the head to a ducking and spinning Branch. To his credit, Branch ripped him with a wicked right to the head, dug some sharp blows to the midsection and flurried well in spots. However, it wasn’t nearly enough, as judges scored the bout 38-37, 40-34, and 39-36 for Bustamante.
The first bout of the night took a bizarre twist, as Miami, Florida’s Vilier Quinonez (176.5lbs., 176.5 lbs., 4-0, 3 KO’s) crashed home a wicked left to the unguarded jaw of Battle Creek, Michigan’s Dorian Hatcher (178.5 lbs., 1-5) while referee Celestino Ruiz was issuing him a warning. The blow whistled over the right shoulder of Ruiz, who turned, saw Hatcher on the mat, and began counting. Hatcher rose at the count of ten and was waved off. Quinones had won by knockout at 44 seconds into round two.
Afterwards, Ruiz said, “I was about to issue him a warning for a low blow, but was out of position and (Quinones) caught him with an uppercut.”
PROMOTERS: 8 Count Productions, Seminole Warriors Boxing.