By Jake Donovan
The full details of the June 18 edition of Premier Boxing Champions (PBC) on NBC have been formally announced on Friday, with Andrzej Fonfara set to face Long Island's Joe Smith Jr. in the main event of televised tripleheader live from the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois.
Supporting the scheduled 10-round light heavyweight bout are a pair of feature attractions previously reported by BoxingScene.com. In the chief support, unbeaten bantamweight titlist Juan Carlos Payano faces Rau'Shee Warren in their long awaited rematch.
Opening the show, unbeaten super welterweight prodigy Erickson Lubin will now face Mexico's Daniel Sandoval. The red-hot prospect from Orlando was originally due to face Victor Lupo, who has since been moved to the June 3 PBC on Spike TV event, where he will face another fast rising talent in Emmanuel Rodriguez.
As for the opponent switch, the opportunity still remains the same.
"It never matters to me who I fight," Lubin told BoxingScene.com upon learning of his new foe earlier this week. "Fighting on NBC in primetime is a great opportunity for my career, and the next step in my pursuit of winning a world title. Whoever they line up for me is just another man in my way that I need to get past."
Fonfara (28-3, 16KOs) returns for the first time since his non-stop thriller with Nathan Cleverly in this very same venue last October. A popular attraction in the Chicagoland area, the Polish light heavyweight slugger was rumored to next move towards a second career title fight. That opportunity may still come, but he welcomes in the meantime the next threat with which he is presented.
"I think that this fight Smith is a great challenge for me and I do not underestimate him," Fonfara said in a statement released through the PBC press office. "He is young and hungry and he wants to use this fight and my name to show the world his skills. 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."
Naturally, the visiting opponent has every intention of upsetting the apple cart.
Smith Jr. (21-1, 17KOs) steps way up in competition while also fighting away from the East Coast for the first time in his career. However, the 26-year old boxer proved his worth in a minor upset win over Will Rosinsky last December and believes he's ready for the present day challenge.
"I've been working very hard and for many years towards an opportunity like this," said Smith Jr. "I am grateful to Joe DeGuardia and Star Boxing for helping to get me here. This fight is going to change my life and no one is going to keep me from winning."
The co-feature slot is a long time coming for both Payano (17-0, 8KOs) and Warren (13-1, 4KOs), who have been forced to wade through numerous delays in seeing their rematch finally materialize. The two collided in the main event of the inaugural installment of PBC on Bounce TV, with Payano claiming a 12-round split decision in Winter Park, Florida.
Plans for a rematch have been in place from the moment the final decision was announced, as there remains a strong contingent of fans and boxing luminaries who believe Warren – the only boxer in U.S. amateur history to compete on three Olympic teams (2004, 2008, 2012) – deserved the nod, which would have made him the first from the Class of 2012 to capture a major title.
The diminutive southpaw from Cincinnati still has a shot at that claim, although he’s been essentially in training for nearly a year in waiting on revenge. There were talks of staging the sequel last November, only for Payano to be placed on the injured list to heal a wrist that was broken in several places.
"I knew this rematch would be offered and it's been a waiting game since I beat him the first time," said Payano. "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. Fighting on NBC is a great privilege and it's a great place to showcase my talents. I am coming in humbled by this opportunity."
Talks once again surfaced for a potential placement in February, only for a major portion of the 2016 PBC schedule to be shifted around. As the pieces now fall in place to fill up what should be a loaded summer of boxing, there now exists the opportunity for the pair of little big men to finally settle up on past business.
A sticking point in the rematch, however, was that it took place in a neutral location. Earlier talks had the fight destined for Miami, but Warren was hesitant to return to any location in Florida, where he’s not convinced he’d get a fair shake in light of officiating and final scoring from their first fight. Warren – who owns a win over Payano in the amateurs – was docked two points in the 9th round on a strangely-ruled intentional foul after pushing the defending champ to the canvas.
The deduction along with the scoring in general – both fighters receiving winning tallies of 113-111, with Carlos Sucre’s far-too-wide 115-109 card giving Payano the win – left him reluctant to believe it’d be any different a second time around. With that came the executive decision to bring the fight to Chicago.
"I've been waiting for this rematch since the moment we got out of the ring the first time," said Warren. "I'm happy it's finally coming up on June 18. Until that day is here, there is nothing else on my mind. I'm real sharp right now. I'm going for the knockout. It didn't go my way last time, but I'm bringing home the belt this time.
Payano – who won the title with a technical decision win over the excellent Anselmo Moreno in Sept. ’14 – fights for the first time in the Windy City. Warren has fought here just once, in this very venue but in a brief affair that didn’t produce a winner. A Dec. ’14 bout with Javier Gallo ended on an accidental headbutt after just 66 seconds of ring time. Warren won the rematch three months later in Las Vegas.
The winner of Payano-Warren II will then be mandated to next face Jamie McDonnell, as part of the continued title consolidation efforts of the World Boxing Association (WBA). Payano is the recognized WBA super champ, while McDonnell is the “regular” champ.
Jake Donovan is the managing editor of BoxingScene.com. Follow his shiny new Twitter account: @JakeNDaBox_v2