Once a slender 145-pound fighter, Andrzej Fonfara has developed into a powerful force at 175 pounds

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Adonis Stevenson can hear the whispers of his critics as though they were broadcast over a loudspeaker above his head. “People say I face bums,” says the 175-pound world champion. “But [Andrzej] Fonfara can fight and box.”

Andrzej Fonfara and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Since moving up to 175 pounds, Andrzej Fonfara, right, has become a more dangerous fighter, as Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. found out in April when he was stopped in the ninth round.

On this topic, Stevenson speaks with plenty of authority, having barely escaped a 12-round war with Fonfara back in May 2014.

In that contest, Stevenson dropped Fonfara to his knees with a first-round straight left, floored him again with a fifth-round left to the gut and staggered him with a sixth-round body shot. But then Stevenson hit the deck himself from Fonfara’s right hand in the ninth.

Although Stevenson retained his title with a unanimous decision (116-109 and 115-110 twice), Fonfara hardly was psychologically damaged by the defeat. He rebounded with November’s unanimous decision over Doudou Ngumbu and April's nine-round beatdown of ex-champ Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., who was stopped for the first time in his career.

“Look what he did to Chavez,” says Stevenson, whose string of 10 straight knockouts ended against Fonfara. “I beat a good, exciting fighter.”

Former two-division champ-turned-ringside analyst Paulie Malignaggi, who worked the Fonfara-Chavez fight, concurs.

“Andrzej showed solid boxing skills against Chavez. But he’s not afraid to go to war and has skills to fight in the trenches,” Malignaggi says of Fonfara, who is 15-1 with 13 knockouts in his past 16 fights. “Andrzej showed character by getting off the canvas and giving Stevenson all he could handle.

“He’s an entertaining, well-schooled, world-class fighter with the intangibles to be a champion.”

Andrzej Fonfara (27-3, 16 knockouts) returns to action Friday night with his 14th appearance at Chicago’s UIC Pavilion, a scheduled 12-round bout against former champion Nathan Cleverly (29-2, 15 KOs) in a 175-pound clash (Spike TV, 9 p.m. ET/PT).

“Fighting Cleverly is the next step toward achieving my goal of becoming a world champion,” says Fonfara, 27, whose run of 15 straight wins (12 by KO) ended against Stevenson.

“I’ve become a better, more powerful boxer, fight after fight. I showed that against Stevenson. With Chavez, I showed I can fight inside or outside. Now I’m focused on beating Cleverly, and after that, I’ll be ready for a rematch with Stevenson.”

Fonfara is an entertaining, well-schooled, world-class fighter with the intangibles to be a champion. Former two-division champ Paulie Malignaggi

Fonfara has literally grown into his role as one of the world’s most dangerous 175-pound fighters. The 6-foot-2 Polish boxer weighed 145.5 for his pro debut, a four-round majority decision over Czech boxer Miroslav Kubik in Ostroleka, Poland, in June 2006.

Fonfara left his native Warsaw with his parents in 2006 for Chicago-based trainer Sam Colonna, who has coached fellow Warsaw fighter and four-time heavyweight title challenger Andrew Golota, as well as Polish two-division champ Tomasz Adamek.

“Andrzej was a hardworking 138 pounds when I first got him,” Colonna says. “But being 6-foot-2, he was starving and killing himself to make weight.”

Fonfara’s supporters say those weight issues contributed to his first two losses—a unanimous decision against Eberto Medina at 147 pounds in December 2006, and a second-round TKO by Derrick Findley at 160 in July 2008.

“Andrzej was drained and weak for Findley after losing 10 or 12 pounds the day of the weigh-in,” says promoter Dominic Pesoli.

After winning consecutive decisions at 168 pounds, Fonfara rose to 172 for a fourth-round technical knockout of Adan Leal, who entered their January 2010 bout at 7-1 with six knockouts.

“My physical strength improved,” Fonfara says. “I was more powerful and believed more in myself.”

By 2012, Fonfara had settled in comfortably at the 175-pound limit, and it showed in the results, as he won all three of his fights that year, including a pair of stoppages. He followed that with two knockout victories in 2013 over Gabriel Campillo and Samuel Miller before running into Stevenson.

“He’s strengthened and developed power in his jabs and left hooks,” Colonna says. “Now he has power in either hand, whether it’s a body shot, jab or the hook he used against Chavez."

Says Pesoli: “Andrzej can take a punch as well as deliver one. He stops Stevenson if they fight again, and we’d welcome fights with [175-pound champion Sergey] Kovalev or [contender Artur] Beterbiev.”

Of course, Pesoli and Colonna are a tad biased toward their fighter. Malignaggi, however, is not, and his objective opinion is that Fonfara is a 175-pounder on the come.

“Fonfara’s live against anybody, even super-heavy punchers like Beterbiev and Kovalev,” Malignaggi says. “He’ll definitely go into those not just to survive, but to give his best and win.”

For complete coverage of Fonfara vs Cleverly, visit our fight page.

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