Monday, March 27, 2023  |



Joe Smith Jr. demolishes Andrzej Fonfara in shocking upset

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

CHICAGO — Boxing has heard of Joe Smith Jr. now. All it took was two minutes and 32 seconds.

More precisely, all it took was one right hand.

Smith (22-1, 18 knockouts) connected with a thunderous punch Saturday that crashed light heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara to the canvas in the middle of the first round. Fonfara, clearly dazed, got up, but it was too late. Smith jumped on him again and sent Fonfara (28-4, 16 KOs) down like a rag doll for a shocking knockout.

In Fonfara’s hometown of Chicago, the Polish Prince was stunned. For just a brief moment, there was silence.

And then cheers.

“It feels great. I’m very excited,” Smith said. “There’s no feeling like this.”

In the lower hallways of the UIC Pavilion, Smith afterwards was swarmed from members of his friends and family, each wanting a hug or a picture. Each decked in a black “Team Joe Smith” shirt, Smith’s supporters repeated variations of “I knew it would happen, but I didn’t think it would be that quick.”

It seemed almost unfathomable until it wasn’t.

Here was Smith — a construction worker for his full time job away from boxing, and a virtual unknown in boxing to those outside of the local New York scene. While he was anonymous, Smith said in the lead-up to the Fonfara fight that he was motivated for a better life.

For nearly seven years, Smith had worked up to that point. He suffered the lows, breaking his jaw against Eddie Caminero, and wondered if boxing was even for him, and even his previous highs still hadn’t caught the radar of anyone else.

“Don’t ever underestimate Joe Smith’s punching power,” Jerry Capobianco, Smith’s trainer, said. “I’m proud. My father’s proud. He’s up in heaven now, but he’s watching. I’m so happy.

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

“I love this kid,” he added. “He gave his father a great Father’s Day gift.”

Fonfara, meanwhile, sat stunned in his locker room. Silence consumed the air until Fonfara tried to explain what happened. He said he never saw it coming, and indicated he would like a rematch.

Fonfara had only been stopped once before, losing in two rounds to Derrick Findley at middleweight in 2008. Fonfara had rebounded since and had established himself as one of the top light heavyweights in the world, giving champion Adonis Stevenson a competitive fight and beating names like Glen Johnson, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Nathan Cleverly.

“I wouldn’t say it was shocking, but I didn’t see it coming,” Fonfara said. “I hit the canvas, opened my eyes and said ‘F—, I’m down.’ What happened, you know? I don’t know what happened.”

For a moment, Smith didn’t even realize what happened. After the fight, he made his way to Fonfara’s locker room to exchange signed gloves. As the two embraced, Smith told him, “I put my head down and just threw. I didn’t know it landed at first.”

But Smith will now find out how quickly things can change. In his locker room, he was handed a piece of the stool he sat on from his corner. Tommy Gallagher, one of Smith’s friends, wanted him to sign it.

“This is your stool, sign it for me!” Gallagher shouted, Smith laughing in disbelief. “That’s J-O-E.”

Smiling more than anyone was Star Boxing CEO Joe DeGuardia. In the Thursday press conference, DeGuardia tried to compare Smith to Chris Algieri and his upset over Ruslan Provodnikov, but said afterwards that Smith’s win “raised the stakes tenfold.”

“This is what boxing’s all about,” DeGuardia said. “It changes your life. This will be a life-changer for him.”

As Smith made his way back to his locker room after collecting his paycheck, one of the children in his entourage asked, “how much money did you make?” His father, laughing, replied, “He’s about to make a lot more now.”

“This will open doors for me,” Smith said. “I’m at the top now. I’m looking to fight the best at the top. It’s gonna help me where I want to be in my life.”

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions


Rau’Shee Warren went to the Olympics three times — a total of 12 years of his life committed to the amateur system. Each trip he failed to win a fight, and admitted Thursday that he still occasionally thinks about not getting a gold medal for his country.

For consolation, Warren can hold up his first world title instead.

Warren (15-1, 4 KOs) captured the WBA bantamweight title and avenged a previous loss to Juan Carlos Payano, earning a majority decision. The judges had the fight 115-113 twice and 114-114.

As he was announced the winner, Warren fell to the mat and wept. A title was finally his.

“I’m still trying to sink it in as far as winning a world title,” Warren said. “Like I said, it was very emotional for me and my family. My whole town of Cincinnati was out there cheering for me.”

It was a fight Warren had to fight like a professional to capture the title.

In the first fight from August 2015, Warren lost a split decision in an ugly, but entertaining affair. But despite knocking down Payano in the final round, Warren lost two crucial points in the ninth round for hitting Payano on the mat after a slip.

Both fighters had plenty of time to dwell on the fight — going 321 days before facing off against each other again with no fights in between. But when the bell rang, it was Warren who remained composed, boxing from a distance.

Adrien Broner, who was there to support Warren as they’re both from Cincinnati, routinely yelled, “Make him miss, make him pay!” and that’s what Warren established early.

In Round 4, Warren stunned Payano with a crisp right hook that started to change the pace of the fight. Warren pressed the action in the fifth and his confidence grew by the second ÔÇö shaking his head between Payano misses.

“When I hit him with that hook, I let him know I was stronger than him,” Warren said. “I was coming to get that belt. When I shook my head, I let him know you had to do more than that.”

Payano, however, gained ground in the latter half of the fight. As he marched forward all night, Payano smothered Warren against the ropes, limiting his output. Warren remained tentative at times, letting Payano work his way back into the fight.

But unlike maybe he would have as an amateur, Warren dug deep and opened Round 11 with a large flurry.

“I let him know that I was here,” Warren said. “All that smothering, pushing he was doing, I wanted to let him know I wasn’t having it. I came through and let go of my punches. ”

Warren was concise, landing 31 percent (160-of-514) of his punches, according to CompuBox. Payano landed just 18 percent, 162-of-882. Warren said he’d be open to a trilogy with the series being tied at 1-1. Meanwhile, he’ll get to enjoy his title, even if it hasn’t sunk in.

“Maybe when I go to sleep and wake up, I’ll be like, ‘Damn, I’m a world champion,'” he said. “But right now it still feels like a dream.”

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions

Photo: Premier Boxing Champions


It was quick. It was simple. It was impressive.

Junior middleweight Erickson Lubin took care of Daniel Sandoval (38-4, 34 KOs) in just three rounds and further cemented why he’s one of the most talented prospects in boxing.

Lubin (15-0, 11 KOs) had no trouble with the extra weight on Sandoval, who came in five pounds over the limit. Fighting for the victims of the mass shooting in his hometown of Orlando, Lubin ended the fight with a series of crisp combinations.

“I’m looking at going higher in the rankings,” Lubin said. “My team knows I’ll fight everybody. They have to stop me from fighting people cause I’ll say yes to anyone. I just want a title and I’ll do anything to get there.”