Fonfara overcomes Clev in classic Chicago war
On Friday, Cefn Fforest’s Nathan Cleverly (29-3, 15KO) suffered the third defeat of his career in an action packed light-heavyweight classic against Andrzej Fonfara (28-3, 16KO).
Both met head-on in the opening rounds but it was Cleverly who was able to establish front foot position. As few expected, Cleverly was able to gain more leverage on his inside punching, mainly short uppercuts and hooks, while Fonfara’s replies were more forced arm punches that were caught on the guard.
It was also clear in the opening exchanges that Cleverly was targeting a left hook to the body, which his training team believed to be his best punch and a similar shot that has dropped Fonfara in previous fights.
The Welshman’s faster start clearly frustrated Fonfara, who was finding it difficult to hit the target flush as Cleverly ducked and weaved up close. Such was the frustration, Fonfara clearly hit Cleverly with a left hook after the bell to end the second round and would go on to do it numerous times later, all of which went unpunished by referee Hector Afu.
With Cleverly’s growing confidence, the former champion had the bluster to turn a combination in to a bolo punch and then solid right hand in the fifth round. At the halfway stage, Cleverly was ahead, using his full variety and the more diverse arsenal kept Fonfara guessing where the angles of attach were coming from.
As the second half of the fight began, Cleverly was off his stool early and waving Fonfara to his feet, urging the Pole to hurry up and get back to business – that’s exactly what he did. Taking advantage of Cleverly’s eagerness to push him backwards, Fonfara threw a perfectly timed uppercut as Cleverly lent over his front foot and it broke the visitor’s nose instantly. The incident awakened the previously subdued crowd as Fonfara then threw a steady barrage of unanswered, albeit also inaccurate, blows that drew a warning from the referee not to hit the back of Cleverly’s head.
After regrouping, a blood soaked Cleverly signalled his gamesmanship to Fonfara but he couldn’t reverse what was the fight’s major turning point. Sensing his opponent was wounded, Fonfara began the eighth round in the southpaw stance and his clubbing hooks caused a gross swelling of Cleverly’s left ear. The blood didn’t detain a brave Cleverly, who focused on quick flurries and closed the round with four solid right crosses, only to be hit after the bell again by Fonfara.
The doctor was called in to inspect Cleverly’s nose at the start of the 10th round and when the action was waved on, Fonfara made the effort to sit down on his punches and stop Cleverly in his tracks. Unable to deter the heavily injured Cleverly, Fonfara met his foe in ferocious shoulder-to-shoulder exchanges and the fight was in the balance with the championship rounds approaching.
Fonfara’s long term trainer Sam Colonna warned his charge that he needed the last two rounds to win the contest and he sent the reigning WBC International champion out early for the 11th round, as the doctor now inspected the growing haematoma on Cleverly’s left ear. The range increased in the closing exchanges, Cleverly bounced on his toes and snapped his jab out but it gave Fonfara the room he needed to step in to his shots and make a bigger mark.
The judges scored the contest a Unanimous Decision with 115-113, 116-112 and 116-112 cards in favour of Fonfara, who was applauded by Cleverly as the referee raised his arm. The final statistics were stunning with 2,524 punches thrown by the pair, the most ever recorded by CompuBox in a light-heavyweight contest in three decades. The win would have been the biggest of Cleverly’s 10 year career and it couldn’t have come on a much bigger stage than the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois as the headline attraction for the latest instalment of the Premier Boxing Champions [PBC] series, the brainchild of boxing’s most influential advisor, Al Haymon.
Although defeated, Cleverly provided a 12 round action packed war and he’s very likely to be asked back to America against the PBC’s deep pool of light-heavyweights. During fight week, it was thought that the winner was very likely to be given the opportunity to challenge Adonis Stevenson, the current WBC world champion. In 2014, Fonfara fought back from two early knockdowns to drop Stevenson and run the champion close in a close points decision loss. However, the Haitian southpaw, who is now based in Canada, has since seemed to run out of viable challengers to his claim as the lineal titlist.
The observation’s of many insiders of the American fight scene placed Fonfara as the third best light-heavyweight in the world, second only to the aforementioned Stevenson and WBA/WBO/IBF unified champion Sergey Kovalev, who ended Cleverly’s world title reign with a fourth round stoppage win in 2013.
Cleverly was almost forced to wear his second choice kit, the blue of his beloved Cardiff City FC, due to a kit colour clash with Fonfara. In the end, there were no objections from the Illinois State Athletic Commission or the broadcasters and both boxers were able to wear the red of their respective native countries, Wales and Poland.
Earlier in the week, Warrior Promotions, who hosted the PBC show, said that they were expecting a crowd of around 7,000 fans and the venue wasn’t set up for many more than that. However, there were hardly more than 3,000 fans in attendance but all were in Fonfara’s favour. Chicago has the highest population of native Pole’s outside of Warsaw, the country’s capital city.
The crowd included former unified light-heavyweight champion Antonio Tarver, who was working for American broadcaster Spike TV, and Pennsylvania’s Tommy Karpency, a former victim of both headliners.