Chicago resident and boxer Andrzej Fonfara works out on Michigan Avenue… (Michael Tercha / Chicago…)
One can't blame baseball fans if they're frustrated by the lack of hits at U.S. Cellular Field this season. That might change Friday, however, when ESPN brings its "Friday Night Fights" series to the home of the White Sox.
According to promoters, it's the first time a Chicago baseball stadium has hosted a professional boxing card since Sept. 25, 1962. The lineup features two boxers with Chicago ties: Andrzej Fonfara and Mike Mollo.
Fonfara is on the rise in the boxing world. The 25-year-old Polish immigrant and Chicago resident is just two wins away from competing for the IBF light-heavyweight world title. On Friday, he will be featured in the main event in a title eliminator bout against Gabriel Campillo of Spain.
Tell us about your journey as a boxer.
I came here [to Chicago] six years ago to begin my boxing career with [trainer] Sam Colonna. Chicago is a very nice city with a big Polish community. Of course two of my countrymen, Andrew Golota and Tomasz Adamek, both came to this city and found great success as pros with Sam. It wasn't easy. I lost twice, I broken my hand in my last fight and had surgery, but now I'm two wins away from a world championship.
Have you fought outside before?
Two or three times back in Poland. I've learned in Chicago the temperature and weather change hour to hour. But there's more oxygen outside too, so it should be good. I've been training outside a lot. We went to Florida and trained on the sand at the beach.
What does your opponent bring to the table?
He is very sneaky and dangerous. I have to watch him. He adjusts to his opponents and can turn a fight around that he is losing. He has class.
You've knocked out nine of your last 10 opponents. How do you plan to beat Campillo?
My plan is [to get a] knockout. [Smiles.] But if that doesn't happen, I'll box him. But yes, I want to knock this guy out.
Mike Mollo has a lot to prove. After going almost three years between bouts because of licensing issues, the 33-year-old Oak Lawn resident lost to heavyweight Artur Szpilka at the UIC Pavilion in February. Now Mollo has another shot at Szpilka.
Have you ever fought outside before?
No, not in the ring anyways. [Smiles.]
You're a South Sider—what's it like to be fighting in at U.S. Cellular Field?
It's amazing, man. I'm just really looking forward to it. My family's from Bridgeport so we'd always sit at my uncle's house and watch the [baseball] game. A lot of my childhood memories are there.
Even though you lost, you knocked Spilka down twice in the last fight. Does that give you a psychological advantage?
Of course! The guy got no chin. I'm gonna hurt him to the body and the head.
For a mainstream sports fans who might have turned their backs on boxing, why should they give it another chance?
This fight's gonna be a show-stopper. We're gonna light that stage up! There ain't gonna be no patty-cake out there. I understand what the public wants and it's easy to give them what they want. … They want to see a guy who's fearless and is gonna take punishment and give punishment.
Bill Hillmann is a RedEye special contributor.
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FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS
What: Andrzej Fonfara vs. Gabriel Campillo, Mike Mollo vs. Artur Szpilka
When: Gates open at 6 p.m. Friday at U.S. Cellular Field. ESPN2 will begin televising the event at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $41 to $272, available at ticketmaster.com
TALES OF THE TAPE
Here are the vital stats heading into Friday's fights at U.S. Cellular Field. (Source: boxrec.com)
Hometown: Warsaw, Poland; lives in Chicago
Record: 23-2-0 (13 knockouts)
Height: 6 feet, 2 inches
Reach: 77 inches
Hometown: Madrid, Spain
Record: 21-5-1 (8 knockouts)
Height: 6 feet, 1 1/2 inches
Reach: 76 inches
Hometown: Oak Lawn
Record: 20-4-1 (12 knockouts)
Height: 6 feet, 1 inch
Reach: 76 1/2 inches
Hometown: Wieliczka, Poland
Record: 14-0-0 (11 knockouts)
Height: 6 feet 3 inches