It appeared on paper and, initially, in the ring to be one of those all-too-frequent boxing mismatches: The chiseled 32-year-old Krzysztof Wlodarczyk stood across from the, shall we say, pleasantly plump 44-year-old Giacobbe Fragomeni during fighter introductions at the UIC Pavilion in Chicago on Friday, and the bout seemed over before it had begun.
Age and aesthetics aside, Wlodarczyk had already proved how much he had learned since his first bout with Fragomeni -- a 2009 draw -- when he bested him in an eighth-round TKO win a year later. And if anything, Wlodarczyk, who had made five consecutive defenses of his cruiserweight belt going into Friday's fight, had only made forward progress from there.
And although Fragomeni (31-4-2, 12 KOs) would walk away bloodied and Wlodarczyk (49-2-1, 35 KOs) would take each round Friday leading up to a seventh-round TKO triumph, before the lights were dimmed and Chicagoans trudged off into the chilly night, Fragomeni gave them, and Wlodarczyk, more fight than any thinking fan had a right to expect.
Key moment: Late in Round 4, Fragomeni got caught and cut by a left hook on the break when he seemed to think he was out of harm's way. With Fragomeni's left arm hooked behind his neck and his body pinned to his opponent, Wlodarczyk pushed out of the semi-clinch and cuffed Fragomeni with a left hook that opened a deep, bloody cut on his left cheek and sent him to the canvas. Fragomeni rose and survived the round, but it dashed his best hope for an upset: hanging on for the full 12 rounds and stinking out Wlodarczyk.
Instead, after the sixth round (and several more minutes of Fragomeni's cheek being tenderized), referee Rocky Burke consulted with the ring doctor and decided to call an end to the challenger's night.
We've got your number: Three. Wlodarczyk, who speaks passable but stilted English, and who shifted between English and Polish in his postfight interview, was asked about the possibility of his unifying the cruiserweight titles in the near future, and the trio of fellow belt-holders were rattled off one by one: Yoan Pablo Hernandez, Marco Huck and Denis Lebedev.
His answer, shot back in a heartbeat: "Why not?"
Last word: It wasn't an A-plus performance for Wlodarczyk, who for extended moments fought Fragomeni's fight, standing in the pocket and letting the shorter, less-rangy man fire short-arcing uppercuts and hooks to the body through and around Wlodarczyk's guard.
But there was enough to like -- a sharp jab, heavy combinations and surprisingly deft footwork and head movement from a 200-pounder -- to concur with Wlodarczyk that the time is right to match him with another cruiserweight titlist. Why not?