Fonfara's path to title has stop at Cell

CHICAGO -- Trainer Sam Colonna had a few weeks to work with and evaluate a group of boxers from Poland six years ago in Chicago.

Some had skill. Some had size. Some had experience.

Andrzej Fonfara possessed the least of all three attributes. But it was Fonfara whom Colonna desired to train going forward.

"It was like if there was a litter, he'd be the runt of the litter," Colonna said. "He was the skinniest and the most inexperienced. Out of all of them after two to three weeks, I told the manager I want to keep him. That's the one I like.

"He looked at me like I was crazy. 'Why would you want him? He's got the least experience, the youngest, the weakest.' But I go, 'He's the hardest worker. This kid wants to learn. The other ones think they know it all. This is the guy I want.' That's the guy I kept. I believed in him. I knew that he would grow into something."

Fonfara has undoubtedly grown into something. Six years later, now 25 and a Chicago resident, Fonfara still trains with Colonna and still has that same work ethic and thirst for boxing knowledge he arrived with, but he's no longer raw. H has added weight, power, skill and experience, plus a nickname, while building a 23-2 pro record with 13 knockouts.

And now, Fonfara, known as "The Polish Prince," is on the verge of taking his career to another level. When he steps in the ring against Gabriel Campillo (22-5-1) on Friday at U.S. Cellular Field, he'll be making history with the first major fight at a Chicago ballpark since Sonny Liston knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round at Comiskey Park on Sept. 25, 1962, and it will also be an elimination bout to challenge for the IBF light heavyweight championship belt, which is currently owned by Bernard Hopkins. The fight will be featured on ESPN's "Friday Night Fights."

Fonfara, who is No. 4 in the IBF light heavyweight rankings, understands what's at stake.

"I want to be the world champion and I must win this fight," Fonfara said outside U.S. Cellular Field on Monday. "It's a great thing to fight here and in this stadium. It's a great feeling. I feel good and I'm ready for this fight."

Fonfara has had plenty of time to get prepared for Friday. He hasn't fought since a TKO win over Tommy Karpency at the UIC Pavilion on Nov. 16, 2012.

Fonfara injured his right hand in the first round of the fight and fought through the pain. He reinjured his hand during training and required surgery in March, which forced him to cancel a fight with Nicholson Poulard.

"He was disappointed," said Frank Mugnolo, president of Round 3 Productions, which promotes Fonfara's fights. "He was supposed to fight in March. The best thing [for his hand] we had to do is make him wait. His hand is fine. He's just 25. Let's do the right thing."

Fonfara's extra time off did allow Mugnolo to work on returning boxing to a Chicago ballpark and making Fonfara the main attraction. Mugnolo hopes to fill a majority of the 12,000 seats available Friday with Fonfara's fans, who are greatly from Chicago's Polish community.

"You just can't go to the ballpark to go to the ballpark," Mugnolo said. "You have to have the right fighter. We think we got that in Fonfara. We have the real thing. I think he's the best light heavyweight in the world, period. He's going to prove that."

Fonfara doesn't lack confidence either, but he isn't overlooking Campillo, who was previously the WBA light heavyweight champion. Campillo is coming off a TKO win over Ionut Trandafir Ilie after losing his previous two fights to Sergey Kovalev and Tavoris Cloud. Kovalev and Cloud are ranked among the top 10 in ESPN's light heavyweight rankings. Fonfara and Campillo are not ranked by ESPN.

"He's a very good fighter, for sure," Fonfara said of Campillo. "He's top of the world, too. I must win this fight. He wants to win this fight. This is a chance for him, too. It should be a great fight."

Within a five-minute interview on Monday, Fonfara said repeatedly he wanted to be the world light heavyweight champion. It's something he and Colonna have been striving for together, and they view Friday's bout as a key step toward achieving that goal.

"Without this step, we wouldn't get to where we want to go," Colonna said. "You have to take this step. Each step is very important. This is one of his most important steps right now. We have to win this fight. If we don't win this fight, we're back to the drawing board. We don't want to be back at the drawing board. We want to be on top of the drawing board."