By Jake Donovan
A single loss doesn’t necessarily ruin a career, just as a win or several doesn’t always make one.
Andrzej Fonfara learned the game at a very young age in his native Poland. He turned pro at just 18, and won some and lost twice all before his 21st birthday.
More important than the wins he racked up were the lessons learned in defeat.
The more disastrous of his two losses came in front of a live televised audience on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights. Then a beanpole middleweight who had already shot up from welterweight in his short time as a pro, Fonfara was matched with scrappy local middleweight Derrick Findley.
Two rounds in, he suddenly realized just how badly he was in over his head, a concern that had next to nothing to do with the man standing across from him in the ring. On that night, it could’ve been any given middleweight and the chances are the result plays out the same way.
“My punches didn’t have any power at 147, 154 and 160 when I was coming up,” Fonfara (19-2, 10KO) admits of his last days prior to adulthood. “I went struggled at those weights, but thought it was where I belonged. Now I’m three years older and 15 pounds heavier and feel really good.”
In a nutshell, Fonfara just needed to grow up. At 24 years old, the Polish import – who relocated to Chicago in 2006 – has transformed from a budding prospect, to a never was, back into a work in progress. Having now won 10 straight, Fonfara seeks the 20th win of his still young career when he takes on Phil Williams this Friday evening at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
All but two of his fights to date have taken place in his adopted Chicagoland hometown, with this weekend’s headliner marking his ninth fight at the UIC Pavilion in his last 10 fights. Fonfara has proven to be a huge hit, hardly a surprise considering that Chicago boasts the largest Polish-American population in the United States.
Still, ethnicity alone isn’t enough to draw ‘em in. Somewhere along the way, you have to know how to fight, or entertain at the very least.
Fonfara has proven the ability to do both, as far back as when he first stepped into a boxing gym in Warsaw, Poland. His talent was evident at an early age, so early that he never had a chance to make a legitimate run towards the Summer Olympics. He instead settled for a trophy case full of accolades, including a Junior National Championship in 2005.
Chances are that three more years in the unpaid ranks would’ve earned him a trip to Beijing for the 2008 Olympics, but he decided to instead turn pro in 2006 as an 18-year old. His pro debut came in his native Poland before relocating to the United States immediately thereafter.
Three weeks later, he was appearing on a Chicago show presented by local promotional group 8 Count Productions. Thus, the love affair began.
“Every fight I have more and more fans,” Fonfara notes of the continued rise of his fan base in the area. “That makes it more work for me to please them. I know I have to win and be at my best to make them happy.”
Even through the losses, Fonfara remains a cult favorite on the local scene and has developed into a light heavyweight prospect on the rise. The results are hardly of any surprise to his handlers, who were impressed the moment he stepped foot in a Chicago ring. There was a hunch the fans would like what they saw as well.
“With the huge Polish community, over a million in Chicago, we knew that if he could fight we could draw big crowds with him,” states Bernie Bahrmasel, who handles all publicity matters for 8 Count. “So far, it has worked well. We’re hoping it can turn into what Main Events have done with (Tomas) Adamek.”
Ironically, it was an undercard appearance on a show headlined by Adamek in 2008 that produced Fonfara’s last loss. Adamek remains a hero in town despite having not appeared in the Windy City since that evening. The same can be said for Andrew Golota, who has tried and failed more often than any other heavyweight in recent memory yet is still held in high regard by the area’s rabid Polish boxing fan base.
Fonfara hasn’t yet come close to what either fighter has achieved in their respective careers, but there’s still plenty of time. For now, he’s happy to just continue to gain the experience, be it in actual fights or in the gym.
Included among his training for this weekend’s fight was a trip to Australia to serve as a sparring partner for Danny Green. The role called for a fighter who could best help simulate what Green would be facing in his November 30 cruiserweight title challenge against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk.
The returns suggested Fonfara did a great job – so great that he was accused of being a spy.
“I asked my American contacts for a sparring partner who would mimic Wlodarczyk,” noted Green’s trainer Angelo Hyder. “Same size, same style, same power… but I wasn’t expecting them to send his f***in’ twin brother!”
The talk turned out to be pre-fight jabber, floated by a very unreliable source most likely for the purpose of further keeping the fight in headlines.
The talk certainly helped float Fonfara’s name, though the humble fighter is hardly a fan of ‘bad publicity is still publicity.’ He spent most of fight week denying such ridiculous rumors, though remains grateful for the opportunity to train and spar with a fighter of Green’s ilk.
“It was a great camp,” Fonfara says of his time spent Down Under. “I’ve been training the past three weeks at home, to total eight weeks after spending five weeks with Green. It was a great experience for me. It went very (well). I feel good for this fight.”
Hopefully he feels better than his sparring partner, who was surprisingly ahead on the cards before being dropped and stopped late in the fight. At age 38 and now having lost two straight, Green is most likely looking at the end of his career.
Meanwhile, Fonfara is still looking forward to the point when he hits his stride and fully grows into his lean 6’2” frame.
“I still learn from every fight. The smartest thing I’ve done (so far) was move up to light heavyweight. I don’t walk around heavy at this weight, and can spend training camp focusing on getting stronger and sharper, instead of trying to get down to fight weight. That is the key for my success.”
That and the knowledge he gains from every night – good or bad – he spends as a prizefighter.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]