Following his record-setting, all-out war against Nathan Cleverly in mid-October, Andrzej Fonfara looked like he’d need at least year of recovery time before getting back in the ring. Turns out the 175-pound contender is a pretty fast healer.
Fonfara (28-3, 16 KOs) will return to action June 18 when he takes on Joe “The Irish Bomber” Smith Jr. (21-1, 17 KOs) in the main event of an exciting Premier Boxing Champions prime-time card from UIC Pavilion in Fonfara’s adopted hometown of Chicago (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
Leading into the 12-round Fonfara-Smith scrap will be a 118-pound world title rematch between champion Juan Carlos Payano (17-0, 8 KOs) and three-time U.S. Olympian Rau’shee Warren (13-1, 4 KOs). Also, 20-year-old knockout artist Erickson “The Hammer” Lubin (14-0, 10 KOs) puts his perfect record on the line against hard-hitting Mexican Daniel Sandoval (37-3, 34 KOs) in a 154-pound contest.
The last time fight fans saw Andrzej Fonfara, the Poland native was slugging it out with England’s Nathan Cleverly for 12 brutally violent rounds. In what was widely considered one of the top fights of 2015, Fonfara and Cleverly established 175-pound records for most punches thrown (2,524) and landed (936).
Fonfara took a lot of that punishment, but dished out more—including busting Cleverly’s nose—and won by unanimous decision. It was the 28-year-old’s third consecutive victory, which included a ninth-round stoppage of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (then 48-1-1).
Since the start of 2009, Fonfara is 18-1 with 13 knockouts, the only misstep being a hard-fought unanimous decision loss to 175-pound champion Adonis Stevenson in May 2014 in Stevenson’s hometown of Montreal.
Although he’s got an experience edge over Smith and has faced a tougher slate of opponents, the 28-year-old Fonfara says he will not take this fight lightly.
“Smith is young and hungry, and he wants to use this fight and my name to show the world his skills,” said Fonfara, who improved to 16-0 at UIC Pavilion and 27-1 in the state of Illinois with his triumph over Cleverly. “He’s coming to Chicago for victory and glory. I have to show him that I am stronger, more experienced and, most importantly, a smarter fighter.
“I have to win this fight, because it will open the door for me to rematch Adonis Stevenson.”
Smith will carry a 15-fight winning streak (11 KOs) into this match. The 26-year-old from Long Island, New York, has stopped six of his last seven opponents, including a second-round TKO of Fabiano Pena in his last bout on April 23.
That was Smith’s fourth fight in a span of 53 weeks. One of those was a 10-round unanimous decision over Will Rosinsky in December, the longest fight of Smith’s career and only the second time he’s gone more than six rounds.
“I’ve been working very hard and for many years toward an opportunity like this,” Smith said. “This fight is going to change my life, and no one is going to keep me from winning.”
Payano and Warren both return to the ring for the first time since their entertaining 12-round brawl on August 2 in Winter Park, Florida. Payano, a 32-year-old native of the Dominican Republic who fights out of Miami, survived a 12th-round knockdown to prevail by split decision in the second defense of the 118-pound title he won from Anselmo Moreno in September 2014.
Having tasted defeat for the first time as a pro, Warren insists things will be different the second time around.
“I’ve been waiting for this rematch since the moment we got out of the ring the first time,” said the 29-year-old Cincinnati native. “I’m happy it’s finally coming up on June 18. Until that day is here, there is nothing else on my mind.
“It didn’t go my way last time, but I’m bringing home the belt this time.”
Said Payano: “I knew this rematch would be offered, and it’s been a waiting game since I beat [Warren] the first time. I feel like I won convincingly, but some people feel otherwise. I’m very excited about fighting him again, and this time I’ll beat him even more easily.”
Lubin has put on a power display since turning pro two months after his 18th birthday in 2013, with only four opponents making it to the finish line against the southpaw from Orlando, Florida. One of those was veteran Jose De Jesus Macias, whom Lubin defeated by lopsided 10-round unanimous decision January 31.
Prior to defeating Macias, Lubin had stopped four consecutive opponents, with two falling in the first round and one in the second.
“Every fight is big for me, whether I’m televised or not, because I always give it my all,” Lubin said. “But fighting in prime time on NBC is a big opportunity, and I know it will bring something out of me.
“Daniel Sandoval is a veteran who can prepare me for a world title shot, [for which] I’m more than ready. This fight will put me one step closer.”
Like Lubin, Sandoval possesses iron fists, as the 25-year-old from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, has earned 34 of his 37 wins by knockout. That includes consecutive TKO victories in his last two fights against Francisco Villanueva (September 2014) and Grady Brewer (February 2015).
Sandoval has fought just once outside of his homeland, defeating Richard Gutierrez by unanimous decision in Carson, California, in September 2013.
“I know if I come to the U.S. and beat Lubin, my name will be big and there will be another great Mexican fighter on the map,” Sandoval said. “I know Lubin is the top prospect in the U.S. right now and a very fast southpaw. He is all the things you wouldn’t want to go up against, but it’s boxing and I’m Mexican—I’ll fight anybody, anytime, anywhere.”