Prior to Saturday night, Andrzej Fonfara appeared well on his way to a lucrative rematch with 175-pound champion Adonis Stevenson. All that stood in his way was Joe Smith Jr., a 26-year-old from Long Island, New York, who was a construction worker by day and had never set foot in a ring against anyone the caliber of Fonfara.
Turns out the construction worker threw a monkey wrench into Fonfara’s career plan.
As much as a 14-to-1 underdog and fighting on his opponent’s home turf, Joe Smith Jr. (22-1, 18 KOs) earned a stunning first-round stoppage of Andrzej Fonfara (28-4, 16 KOs) at UIC Pavilion in Chicago, where Fonfara has lived since immigrating from his native Poland a decade ago.
After knocking Fonfara down with a pinpoint right to the temple barely a minute into the bout, Smith unleashed a 14-punch flurry near the end of Round 1 to score another knockdown. With Fonfara lying on his backside against the turnbuckle, referee Hector Afu stepped in and ended the proceedings at the 2:32 mark.
The upset affirmed Smith’s pre-fight assertion that he was better than most everyone thought heading into the contest.
“I came here to prove a point that I belong in here with the best, and I proved that tonight,” said Smith, who was fighting outside of his home state for just the third time and the first since 2012. “Fonfara has fought the top [175-pound] fighters in the world, and no one has dominated him the way I [did]."
Dominate might be understating things.
With a large Polish contingent in the crowd cheering on Fonfara, it was Smith who came out and dictated the action, unleashing a double-handed attack as soon as the bell rang. Even when Fonfara threaded the middle and staggered him with an overhand right, Smith kept pressing the action.
Smith, 26, then found pay dirt with a crushing right hand that landed flush to the side of Fonfara’s head, dropping him to the seat of his trunks.
“Once I started hitting him and pushing him back, he fell away and left himself open for the right hand,” Smith said. “As [he] punches, I knew he [tended to] leave himself open. I was just looking for the punch, and it landed.”
Although Fonfara made it to his feet in the center of the ring, he was clearly badly dazed, as he stumbled into the ropes. As the fight continued, Smith immediately resumed his attack. Then as the round wound down, he went in for the finish.
Smith’s 14-punch assault was bookended by right hands to the jaw, the last once again depositing Fonfara on his backside. This time, Afu didn’t give the 27-year-old a chance to get up.
“When I see somebody hurt, I don’t let them off the hook,” said the 6-foot Smith, who outlanded the 6-foot-2 Fonfara 22-21 in overall punches. “I’m a finisher and I was determined to get him out of there, and nothing was going to stop me from doing that.
“I thought this would be more of a fight but I took him out early, and it feels great.”
Smith was a massive underdog for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which was the fact Fonfara had won 18 of his previous 19 fights, the only blemish being a competitive loss to Stevenson in May 2014. In that contest, Fonfara was knocked down twice early and lost a unanimous decision, but not before flooring the champion in the ninth round.
Then there was the fact that Fonfara entered Saturday undefeated in 14 previous bouts at UIC Pavilion, the most recent triumph being a thrilling 12-round unanimous decision over former 175-pound champion Nathan Cleverly in October.
That fight established records for most punches thrown and landed in a 175-pound affair.
This fight made history for an entirely different reason.
“I threw some good punches, but I got too comfortable,” Fonfara said after the loss. “I didn’t see the punch [that led to the first knockdown] coming. That made it a great punch. He is a heavy puncher. He hit me with a great punch. It happens.
“I'm disappointed, because I thought I would win the fight, but it’s boxing. I will rest and get back to work.”
Smith, who won his 16th fight in a row (12 KOs), also intends to get back to work. Only not on a construction site, but in a gym, as he’s determined to prove the biggest night of his life wasn’t a fluke.
"There's no feeling like this,” Smith said. “I'm happy to take this victory back home to New York to all my fans. Now, everybody knows who I am.
“I’ll talk to my promoter, but I’m hoping for another big fight to get myself to a world title.”
Lubin, Sulecki remain unbeaten with impressive TKO victories
In other televised action, rapidly rising 154-pound contender Erickson Lubin (15-0, 11 KOs) of Orlando, Florida, dominated Mexico’s Daniel Sandoval (38-4, 35 KOs), winning by third-round TKO. The 20-year-old Lubin, a lifelong resident of the Orlando area, dedicated his victory to those affected by last week’s mass shooting in his hometown.
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