How about this for history repeating itself: The Polish kid who worshipped the ‘‘Foul Pole,” Andrew Golota, and was inspired by him to take up boxing finds himself living in and fighting out of Chicago and being trained by the same guy who helped develop his idol.
Andrzej Fonfara was left stranded here in 2006 when the Polish boxing promotion that had signed him to a pro contract as a teen sent him to Chicago for a fight and promptly went belly-up. Stung once, the young Fonfara and his family rationalized he had a better chance of making it in the cutthroat boxing business in America than he did back home. They relocated here, confident of support from Chicago’s substantial Polish community, a group known for its passionate and loyal backing of its sporting native sons.
Sam Colonna had history of success with Polish fighters, so Fonfara hooked up with the longtime Chicago trainer. During the last couple of decades, Colonna has worked with a who’s who of boxers, including multiple world-title challenger Angel Manfredy and Polish imports Tomasz Adamek (a two-time world champion) and the controversial Golota, a huge name in the heavyweight division who fought Lennox Lewis, Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe. Now Colonna has another rising star.
‘‘As a youngster, I would watch Andrew Golota’s fights,” said Fonfara, who took up the sport at age 12, trained at boxing clubs in Warsaw and developed into one of Poland’s top amateurs, fighting about 120 matches and winning a gold medal at the Polish junior championships in 2005. ‘‘He is a national hero in Poland, and I wanted to be just like him.
‘‘Now I’m lucky to call [Golota] my good friend. He has come to a lot of my fights, which is pretty cool.”
Not that all has been rosy for Fonfara since he turned pro as an 18-year-old. He was stopped quickly in a nationally televised bout in 2008, had a TKO victory stripped when he tested positive for steroids in 2009 and frequently frustrated his handlers by looking far better in the gym than he did under the lights. His Achilles heel was Âmaking weight as his lanky 6-2 frame filled out.
But a few years older and some 30 pounds heavier, he is hailed as ‘‘The Polish Prince” by his growing legion of fans. Ranked No. 7 in the world among light heavyweights by one of the alphabet-soup sanctioning bodies of boxing, Fonfara (20-2, 11 knockouts) stands on the verge of breaking into the big time. On Friday at the Pavilion, Fonfara, 24, will face a significant hurdle when he fights 38-year-old Byron Mitchell in a 10-round bout for a minor sanctioning body’s steppingstone 175-pound U.S. belt.
Fonfara has stopped his last eight foes, and his fan base has grown with each knockout. His promoter, Dominic Pesoli of 8 Count Productions, says Fonfara moves more tickets than any boxer he has had in his stable.
Mitchell (29-9-1 with 22 KOs) once was a fearsome warrior, stopping Frankie Liles to win the World Boxing Association super-middleweight title in 1999 and holding the distinction of being the first man to knock down Joe Calzaghe, in 2003. But at this stage of his career, Mitchell is a classic ‘‘gatekeeper,” having lost four of his last five and having been stopped in all those defeats. Bottom line: If Fonfara can’t handle Mitchell, he slips from contender to pretender.
‘‘This is a huge test for me,” Fonfara said. ‘‘[Mitchell] is very experienced. This will show whether I’m ready for top fights.”
Colonna said a big reason for his pupil’s recent string of knockouts is that, ‘‘He doesn’t have to starve himself. With that kind of body, making weight [at 160 pounds] took way too much out of him.”
Fonfara, who speaks passable English, summed up his power surge simply: ‘‘This weight is good for me. I feel a lot better. I’m just as fast, but I’m a lot stronger.”