By Jake Donovan
A raucous crowd was on hand for the first ballpark-themed show in Chicago in more than five years. In fitting fashion given the baseball stadium, the entire televised portion of the show knocked it out of the park.
In the evening's headliner at U.S. Cellular Field, Andrzej Fonfara survived anxious moments early on to score a stoppage of former champion Gabriel Campillo in the ninth round. The win came on the heels of fellow Chicago-based transplants Artur Szpilka and Adrian Granados snatching knockout victory from the jaws of defeat in their separate televised undercard bouts.
There was a touch of irony to Fonfara's late rally, as he actually jumped out to a quick start. Campillo was believed to have enough left in the tank to possibly pull off the upset on the road. The former light heavyweight titlist was on his way, but not before being outboxed in the opening round by the Polish contender.
Campillo, a southpaw from Spain who has traveled the world in his hard-luck career, hit his stride in round two and served up a boxing lesson over the next several frames. Fonfara's best moments through the first half were limited to the opening three minutes and then an occasional flurry that was usually quickly defused by his more experienced foe.
The threat of an upset was in the air, only for Campillo to suddenly hit a wall once the bout entered the second half.
With a mandatory title shot at stake for the winner, Fonfara dialed it up a notch in round seven and never looked back. Campillo struggled to keep up, fighting in reverse before going down and out when Fonfara capped a flurry with a right hand to the body. The count of ten signaled an end to the night, with the official time of 1:37 of round nine.
Campillo was ahead on two of the three scorecards at the time of the stoppage.
Fonfara picks up by far the best win of his career, as he improves to 24-2 (14KO). The feat marks his third victory over a former world champion, all of which have come in his last four contests.
Despite holding his own for a good portion of the fight, Campillo appears to be done at the top level. The former light heavyweight titlist has endured his run of controversial losses, but has now suffered back-to-back knockouts as he falls to 22-6-1 (9KO).
It's tradition for Fonfara to take a stay busy fight during the final stretch of the year once ESPN2 Friday Night Fights seasons end, where he has become a fixture in the past few years. He might have no choice but to return for the sake of fighting while awaiting his next big fight.
The win earned Fonfara a future shot at the light heavyweight title currently held by Bernard Hopkins. His turn will have to wait, however, as the 48-year young champion is slated to defend against current mandatory Karo Murat on October 26 in Atlantic City.
Roughly 30 minutes after the conclusion of their first fight replayed on ESPN2 airwaves, Artur Szpilka and Mike Mollo offered a virtual replica in their televised co-feature.
Szpilka once again climbed off the canvas to knockout Mollo, this time ending it one round sooner as a left hook forced the stoppage midway through round five.
As was the case in their unforgettable brawl in February, defense was at a minimum while the bombs continued to fly for as long as the fight would last. Szpilka jumped out to a strong start, attempting to pick up where he left off in their first fight and - if he could help it - avoid the drama that preceded his flattening of Mollo last time out.
He couldn't avoid it.
Mollo pulled a rabbit out a hat late in the third round, somehow summoning the wherewithal to land a left hook that produced a delayed reaction knockdown. Szpilka was flurrying and in the process of landing his own left hook, but was clocked to the point of his eyes scarily moving in all directions before stumbling to the canvas.
The sequence was eerily identical to the pattern which produced the first of two knockdowns in February's bout. Szpilka avoided an exact repeat, though it required fending off a Mollo surge with a highlight reel left hook that put his fellow Chicagoan heavyweight flat on his back.
Unlike the first fight, Mollo somehow managed to peel himself off of the canvas. His bravado was for naught, as referee Gerald Jones correctly deemed him unfit to continue, waving off the contest at 1:41 of round five.
For the second time in as many fights with Mollo, Szpilka survived a major scare to preserve his unbeaten record. The Polish southpaw advances to 16-0 (12KO), scoring his fourth win of 2013.
Mollo suffers his second straight knockout loss as he falls to 20-5-1 (12KO). The 33-year old is 1-4-1 in his last six contests.
Not to be outdone by the co-feature, Adrian Granados brought drama of his own in his televised swing bout. Two days after celebrating his 24th birthday, the local lightweight spoiler scored perhaps his best win to date, twice climbing off the canvas to stop previously ubeaten Mark Salser in six rounds.
Granados was down and nearly out late in the 2nd round, after having outboxed Salser in nearly every exchange to that point. The two fighters frequently traded shots, with defense strictly a rumor with each passing round.
Salser appeared to have turned a corner after flooring Granados for a second time in the fight. A shot on the inside forced Granados to touch his glove to the canvas midway through the fifth round, correctly ruled a knockdown.
Momentum swayed back and forth, including the sudden ending produced. A body shot by Granados forced Salser to a knee, where he remained long enough for referee Celestino Ruiz to wave off the contest.
The official time was 0:56 of round six.
Granados improves to 12-2-2 (8KO), scoring his 4th career win over a previously unbeaten fighter. Salser heads back to Ohio with his first official loss as he falls to 15-1 (9KO).
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as the Records Keeper for the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board and a member of Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox