Joe Smith Jr. watched video of Andrzej Fonfara’s come-from-behind unanimous decision over former champion Nathan Cleverly in October. Which means Smith saw Fonfara set 175-pound records for punches attempted (1,413) and landed (474), all while absorbing Cleverly’s 462 landed shots, which ranked second all time.
Smith takeaway from Fonfara’s performance in the 12-round brawl? He was impressed, but hardly intimidated.
“It was a good fight where they pretty much just stood there and landed punches on each other back and forth,” said Smith, a 26-year-old slugger from Long Island, New York. “I would have maybe moved around a little bit more, and I punch a lot harder than Cleverly, so it would have been a different fight.”
Joe Smith Jr. (21-1, 17 KOs) will have an opportunity to prove that assertion when he meets Andrzej Fonfara (28-3, 16 KOs) in Saturday’s 175-pound battle at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT). It’s the same venue in which Fonfara—a transplant from Poland who settled in Chicago—is 14-0 with 10 knockouts, including the victory over Cleverly.
“Whether the crowd is for me or against me, as long as they’re loud, I’ll be motivated to put on a good show,” said Smith, who will be fighting outside of the Big Apple for only the sixth time—and just the first time in nearly six years. “Fonfara is a busy fighter, but the busier he is, the busier I’m going to be, so I think it’s going to turn into a slugfest where there are a lot of punches thrown.
“I’m focused, I’m ready, and this fight’s going to show how good I really am.”
Smith weighed in Friday at 173 pounds, while Fonfara checked in at 174½.
Fonfara, 28, is 18-1 since the start of 2009, the only setback coming by unanimous decision against current 175-pound titleholder Adonis Stevenson in May 2014. In the defeat, Fonfara scored a ninth-round knockdown after twice being floored by Stevenson.
That loss ended Fonfara’s 15-fight winning streak, but he’s since rebounded with a trio of victories over Doudou Ngumbu (unanimous decision, November 2014), Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (10th-round TKO, April 2015) and Cleverly, putting himself right back in the title picture.
In other words, Smith is aware of the challenge ahead of him, which is one reason his training included sparring with fellow New Yorker Marcus Brown ahead of the unbeaten 175-pound contender’s mid-April victory over Radivoje Kalajdzic.
“To this point, I’m sure that Fonfara is the toughest opponent I’ll face, so I’m definitely taking a step up,” said Smith, who will yield a two-inch height advantage to the 6-foot-2 Fonfara. “I trained with Marcus Brown, and he’s a tall southpaw. Throughout my career I’ve sparred a million guys, and I’ve got power in both hands.”
“ Fonfara is a busy fighter, but the busier he is, the busier I’m going to be, so I think it’s going to turn into a slugfest. ” Joe Smith Jr., on 175-pound opponent Andrzej Fonfara
Smith had stopped his first six opponents—the first four in the first round—before himself being knocked out in the fourth round by Eddie Caminero in his lone defeat in August 2010. Smith has since ripped off 15 consecutive victories, with 11 coming by knockout.
One of those wins came in December against Will Rosinsky by 10-round unanimous decision. Rosinsky is arguably the most accomplished fighter Smith has faced to date, having gone the distance in losses to title challenger Edwin Rodriguez in October 2011 and former 160-pound titleholder Kelly Pavlik in July 2012.
“I learned [against Rosinsky] that I can do 10 rounds or more with no problem, and that I can box rather than just brawl and take people out,” Smith said. “I’m an all-round fighter who can box when I have to or slug it out when I have to, depending on who I’m in with.
“I’m ready to do whatever it takes to come out on top.”
Sam Colonna, Fonfara’s longtime trainer, said he respects Smith’s power, but he doesn’t believe “The Irish Bomber” realizes what he’s signed up for.
“These guys are going to be throwing bombs, but deep down inside, I think Andrzej’s going to knock him out,” Colonna said. “This guy [Smith] is a legit 175-pounder, but Andrzej’s ready to go the distance if he has to.”
Fonfara has been in Smith’s position before—a decided underdog given no legitimate chance to win—so he knows what his opponent is thinking.
“I know how it feels to be the underdog with extra motivation. It was the same for me against Stevenson, and I almost won that one,” Fonfara said. “I respect Joe Smith. I know he didn’t come here just for the money. Joe Smith is going to be there to go to war, and so am I.”
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