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Boxing Mon Aug 19 2013

Fight Night Comes To Chicago


It had been a little over 50 years since an outdoor boxing event took place on the South side of the city. That was on September 25, 1962, when Sonny Liston won the world heavyweight title by knocking out Floyd Patterson in the first round. The capacity crowd witnessed what eventually would be a long drought of outdoor boxing for rest of the millennium.

Fast forward to 2013 and with the help of three promoters, Round 3 Productions, 8 Count Productions and Warriors Boxing, you get a decent crowd in U.S. Cellular Field, on a beautiful evening and a solid card.

Fight one featured one woman making her pro debut and the other 1-0-0 with one KO. The four-round bout got started right on time at 7:00pm, just as the afternoon glow began to subside, washing a shade across the exploding scoreboard.

WomensFight.jpgThe light smattering of the early crowd cheered with pride as Kristin Gearhart made her way to the ring for her pro debut. The first round was close, but Gearhart showed a little more aggression and speed with a mix punching combos, most of which Cooper was able to evade.

Both righties came out with a series of power punches in the second round, one of which came from Gearhart that nearly floored Cooper. Gearhart's reach slowed Cooper a little in the third, with short left-handed jabs, which proved to be too quick for Cooper.

The fourth and final round started with Gearhart going for broke, as she swung mightily with her right, while Cooper lumbered about. After the bell, the judges deemed Gearhart the clear winner, thus vaulting her to her first win while putting the first blemish on Cooper's record. (40-36, 39-37, 39-37, Unanimous.)

Fight two featured two middleweights from the area with Ramiro Bueno (2-3-0, 1 KO) from South Bend, IN, took on local Trinidad Garcia (5-3-2) in a four-round match. Round 1 was as slow as the sunset, with both boxers trying to measure up one-another, which appeared lethargic to the unsatisfied masses within booing distance.

Round 2 was a carbon copy of the first three minutes, with Garcia starting to taunt Bueno by sticking his jaw out in an effort to get him to bite. Instead it turned into a staring contest, which cued the crowd to hit the facilities and reload on their refreshments. Another slow round led to another uneventful fourth. And by the time the lights turned on at U.S. Cellular Field, the judges decided this one was a draw, scored (39-37, 38-38, 38-38).

After the second fight, there was a bit of a delay, as ESPN2 was airing live coverage of the ATP Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer eating up precious minutes before the network could beam live to the South side. Once Nadal dispersed of Federer in three sets, it was time to go live in Chicago. Announcers Joe Tessitore and Teddy Atlas set the crowd up by introducing a replay of the Artur Szpilka and Mike Mollo fight from February 3, in which Szpilka scored a sixth-round knockout in what was considered a classic battle of two titans.

After the replay, both boxers came out to a mixed reaction of cheers and boos for either party. Szpilka with the Polish contingency, while Mollo, the local kid, receiving just as much praise, especially trotting out in a White Sox jersey. Round 1 ended with Mollo as the aggressor, fighting his way through the taller Szpilka and trying to make some noise over the Polish contingency who kept chanting, "Let's go, Szpilka, let's go" in his native language.

The south-pawed Szpilka was caught off guard at the open of the second round, when Mollo connected with a shot to the head, followed by a barrage of body shots from Mollo. Mollo continued to charge at the start of Round 2, but Szpilka regained composure and began head hunting on Mollo, who became vulnerable by not getting into a shorter stance for leverage.

The third, and by far best round, had Szpilka continuing his charge with strong shots to Mollo's head, much like in their first fight. Then, out of nowhere, Mollo once again landed a shot square to Szpilka's head -- a left-cross to the chin -- and down he went. Szpilka recovered and the two traded barbs the rest of the way until the bell rang.

PolishFlag.jpgRound 4 was a little slower as both fighters looked a little tired, but also appeared to settle defensively so as not to make a crucial mistake that could end the fight. Then, at 1 minute, 41 seconds into the fifth, Szpilka landed a solid left-handed shot on Mollo's jaw that nearly knocked him onto the Dan Ryan Expressway. The shot to Mollo's jaw was so smooth and clean, it almost appeared effortless on behalf of the still undefeated pride of Polska.

The next fight pitted Adrian Granados from Chicago, via Cicero, against Mark Salser out of Mansfield, Ohio. Salser came in with an unblemished record of 15-0-0, while Granados sported an 11-2-2. However, after scoping out Salser's opponents, most were paper weights with less than impressive records.

That notwithstanding, he seemed to hang tough after the first round, defending against a much quicker Granados. The second round proved otherwise, as Salser battled his way out of the corner to drop Granados with a right-cross to the chin. Granados stumbled around and barely made it back to his corner, where he was able to convince the ref that he was in fact alright.

Salser smelt blood and went for the final blow, to which he had Granados reeling against the ropes. Finally, Granados was saved by the bell in what was probably 10 seconds on time for his sake. Granados recovered for Round 3, which witnessed both fighters trading blows in the corner as time expired.

In Round 4, Granados seemed to get back into his body and fight his style, which is to say, he moved quicker side-to-side and flashed punches where he could to wear down Salser. Salser connected with another shot to Granados' head, nearly knocking him to the canvas yet again. It seemed Granados was frustrated with himself by leaving himself that open for Salser to take advantage.

Finally, Granados struck a vicious blow to Salser that clearly hurt him. After the ref gave the OK to proceed, Granados went in for the kill, throwing a series of headshots and body blows that left Salser looking out in a daze towards right field. Ultimately the ref stopped the fight at 56 seconds into the sixth round for the TKO.

After the ring cleared, Jim Cornelison came out and sang the National Anthem, which brought the crowd to its feet. Fireworks blasted from the exploding scoreboard in center, just as though Paul Konerko hit one out to the left-field stands.

After the smoke from the fireworks subsided, it was time for the top-billing fight of the evening. It featured Andrzej Fonfara from Poland, via Chicago, versus Gabriel Campillo from Spain. Outside of the Szpilka fight, this is one that filled the stadium.

The light heavyweight 12-round match was a title-eliminating fight, which meant whoever won would be in line for the belt. Coming in, Fonfara, who is ranked as the number four contender for the IBF and IBO Light Heavyweight title, had a record of 23-2-0, while Campillo sported a 22-5-1 record.

As Round 1 got under way, chants of "Polska! Polska!" rang out through Sox Park. The "Polish Prince" sized up "El Chico Guapo" in a rather defensive first round. That trend continued through Rounds 2 and 3, until the fourth when Campillo stayed the aggressor the entire three minutes. Fonfara was rocked a few times in the fifth with shots from Campillo coming to the body and head. However, something must have kick -started in Fonfara, as he had his best round yet, countering with headshots of his own.

Rounds 6 and 7 were slow in that both fighters still were trying to not make the last mistake. It seemed every time Fonfara would get Campillo against the ropes, the Spaniard would counter and escape.

Then, with 10 seconds left in the eighth round, Fonfara connected a right-handed shot on Campillo's chin, and then followed it up with a charge that lit up stadium. Finally, in the ninth round, both fighters got right to unloading punches by traded shots until Fonfara landed squarely on Campillo's head, which dropped "El Chico Guapo" to the canvas. By the time the ref counted to 10, the capacity crowd was on its feet and waving red and white flags. And in the words of Ken "The Hawk" Harrelson, "He gone!"

RingCloseup.jpgYou could tell that after the main event ended, the fans witnessed a treat -- if not at least witnessing great competition in the squared circle, but for sure being a part of something historic. Fans brimming with pride, most of whom were of Polish descent, for not only their fighters winning the evening, but also for those whose parents or grandparents were around to witness the last live boxing match, which took place across the street.

It would appear that Chicago is on the comeback trail for hosting more boxing events of such high profile with ESPN2 Friday Night Fights (the network previously has aired other events in town, primarily at UIC Pavilion).

The "Second City" has dropped in the rankings in previous decades for being a host city for a big fight. With consistent gates, top-tiered fighters in its back yard, and the will to once again be the go-to place for championship fighting, there's no question the Windy City can once stake its claim as a go-to city for top-notch prize fighting.

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