By Jake Donovan
It’s going to be a busy and emotionally draining next couple of days for 8 Count Productions and its founder and president, Dominic Pesoli. Not that he’s asking for a pity party, mind you.
“This is a big weekend for our company,” Pesoli remarks as the finishing touches are applied to Friday night’s ‘Windy City Fight Night 22’ card at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago. Headlining the event is light heavyweight prospect Andrzej Fonfara (20-2-1, 11KO), who endures his toughest test to date when he takes on former super middleweight champion Byron Mitchell (29-9-1, 22KO).
While all of his efforts are placed into the local show, an even bigger moment for the Chicagoland company comes one night later. Donovan George takes a massive leap in competition as he faces unbeaten super middleweight contender Edwin Rodriguez in New York City. Their 10-round bout airs live on HBO, marking George’s debut on the network.
“I have Fonfara fighting for the USBO title and then George the following night in a fight that can open up huge opportunities with a win. It’s exciting times for us,” Pesoli notes.
The leading promoter in the Midwest has seen plenty of big moments through the years, but perhaps not this much going on back to back. Last month marked the 14-year anniversary for 8 Count Productions, though refusing to rest on its laurels as another big card is in store tonight.
While alphabet title are viewed as a dime a dozen these days, that Fonfara is in position to challenge for a regional belt marks what Pesoli refers to as the start of a new chapter in his rising young career.
“Ever since he’s moved up to light heavyweight, it’s been a series of milestones,” Pesoli states, pointing to his struggles in making middleweight and even super middleweight before moving up into a division more befitting his huge frame. “He’s a totally different fighter these days. We have big goals in mind for his future but can’t look past Byron Mitchell.”
Fonfara serves as the centerpiece of a big evening that also includes unbeaten Viktor Polyakov (10-0, 6KO) in his first regional title fight as he faces Derrick Findley in a 10-round middleweight bout. Findley was the last fighter to hang a loss on the career of Fonfara, who has won ten straight since suffering the shocking knockout loss in their nationally-televised ESPN2 bout in July ’08.
The loss confirmed Pesoli’s worst fears, that the Polish fighter was perhaps more suspect than prospect as long as he was starving himself to make a weight that didn’t fit his body frame.
“I’ve certainly had my opinions – you can even say reservations – on Andrzej early on,” Pesoli admits. “Sam (Colonna, Fonfara’s trainer) told me early on that this kid is a beast in the gym. I’ve had him since his second pro fight, but I didn’t see that same beast fighter when I watched him early on. Some guys are better in the gym then they are on fight night. I was worried that was the case with him.
“More troubling to me was these weight classes he was fighting at. Now at light heavyweight, he’s a completely different fighter. He’s no longer at a weight he’s struggling to make. He now has power and is back to knocking people out.”
That’s no sales pitch as Fonfara has scored eight straight knockouts since growing into the light heavyweight division in 2009. Most of the run has taken place at the UIC Pavilion, where he now fights for the 10th time in his last 11 fights and has become a huge draw in the process.
The growth of a fighter like Fonfara – in the ring and at the box office – is the stuff that helps Pesoli get out of bed in the morning. Being in the boxing business for more than a decade will surely include its share of disappointments and deceit. It’s the success stories, though, that make it all worthwhile.
“Boxing is a tough business,” Pesoli states. “When I first began, I was around the sport for quite some time but wasn’t really educated quite well on it. I learned a lot of important lessons, but recognized what would and wouldn’t work in making a show successful.
“Kids like Andrzej truly allow me to enjoy my job. I’ve had him nearly his entire career. He couldn’t get more than 10 people to see him fight when he first began; now he’s selling more than 1,000 tickets per show. He’s the talk of the Polish-American town. We had Andrew Golota come through here and Tomasz Adamek a few times. Andrzej is now stepping into those shows.”
Those are massive shoes to fill, but there’s plenty of time to allow the 24-year old Fonfara to continue to grow. In the meantime, his next ring appearance tonight marks a different kind of milestone – this one for Pesoli himself, even amidst the career-changing moments for his company that can potentially take place throughout the loaded boxing weekend.
“This show will mark my favorite moment in 14 years as a promoter,” Pesoli reveals. “My son is already a fight fan; (tonight) I get to take him to his first fight.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter at twitter.com/JakeNDaBox or submit questions/comments to [email protected]