By Jeremy C. Herriges
Yesterday, Andrzej Fonfara (27-3, 16 Kos) had his media day workout in anticipation of his bout with Nathan Cleverly (29-2, 15 KOs). Fonfara worked the mitts and gave a few sound bites, but several weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive exclusive access to his training camp.
I got to Sam Colonna’s boxing gym about 40 minutes before Fonfara arrived. Several upcoming prospects, like heavyweight Nick Mazurek, were in the middle of their daily workouts. Sam Colonna’s gym looked like a boxer’s version of a business office. The same faces come in early every day, warm-up, and quietly get to business, then punch-out at the end of the day. There’s no doubt that Sam Colonna’s gym produces fighters that are all about taking care of business.
When the other fighters are starting to wind down, that’s when Fonfara’s day begins. Before he arrived, Colonna meticulously laid out hand wrapping materials on a small bench near the ring in the middle of the gym. We talked for a while about the general state of boxing. It’s always fascinating to get a legendary trainer’s perspective on the nature of the sport.
The next member of Team Fonfara that entered the gym was Bogdan Maciejczyk, who is Fonfara’s co-trainer. We started talking about the specifics of Fonfara’s strength and conditioning program. Their main focus during camp was on Fonfara’s mobility and maintaining his strength. Fonfara’s power has increased greatly over the last several years. He has used a mix of CrossFit and Olympic-style weight lifting in order to increase his power.
Bogdan assured me that Fonfara’s strength is at a premium for his matchup with Cleverly. He then started to list the number of advantages other than strength that Fonfara has over Cleverly. He pointed out that Cleverly stands with his head lowered into his chest, which he believes will give Fonfara a distinct height advantage during the fight.
He also disclosed that the game plan against Cleverly is to start fast. Fonfara is known to be a second-half type of boxer, but his team is looking for him to set a blistering pace and outwork Cleverly from start to finish. He’s convinced that Fonfara is the best conditioned fighter in the light-heavyweight division.
Andrzej Fonfara entered the gym in the middle of my discussion with Bogdan. We were quickly introduced and I started interviewing Fonfara while he wrapped his own hands in preparation for the day’s workout. My initial perception of Fonfara was that he seemed much taller than his listed height of six feet, two inches. I’m about six feet tall myself, but he towered over me. He also looked chiseled. He must be no more than six percent body fat.
We started talking about his last fight with Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Fonfara believes that he’s in even better shape now, than he was against Chavez.
“After my last fight [with Chavez], I think I’m a stronger fighter, a smarter fighter, and a better fighter,” said Fonfara. “Beating him gave me a boost. I had strong motivation because I was the underdog. All the experts said I would lose that fight, but that’s why I trained harder and I wanted to show everyone that I’m better than Chavez.”
I asked Fonfara to assess Cleverly skills as a boxer. He was very complementary of his opponent.
“I think Cleverly prepared for this fight well because this is a chance for him too,” said Fonfara. “This is a big deal for him coming here [to the U.S.] to fight me. We both give good fights.”
Fonfara quickly added, “A lot of people pick me to knock out Cleverly, but we must remember that Cleverly was the WBC world champion. He’s a very experienced guy. This is not an easy fight for me. If I want a rematch with Stevenson I must win this fight.”
Fonfara’s words intrigued me. His respect for Cleverly proved to me that he is not overlooking this fight. This also tells me that he might approach the start of the fight a bit more cautiously and even-paced than his trainers would like. He still has Stevenson on his mind. A rematch with Stevenson is the ultimate prize that Fonfara covets, but Cleverly is in his way.
On paper, Fonfara and Cleverly are evenly matched. They have similar heights, builds and records, but Fonfara believes that he possesses a distinct advantage over Cleverly.
“I think physically I’m stronger. He’s powerful and physical for sure, but I think I’m the stronger fighter,” said Fonfara.
The other advantage Fonfara has over Cleverly has nothing to do with physicality or boxing skills. The advantage is location. Fonfara will be fighting in his adopted home Chicago.
“I love boxing in Chicago,” proclaimed Fonfara. “I have a lot of supporters here and boxing fans who come and watch my fights. I’ve lived here almost 10 years. Chicago is my hometown right now.”
Once he was finished wrapping his hands, I got to see Fonfara go to work. He substantiated Bogdan’s proclamations of his superior physical fitness and conditioning. Fonfara’s entire workout lasted for nearly three hours, and he rarely took breaks during that time. He moved fluidly from shadow boxing, to jumping rope, a sparring session, numerous rounds on the speed bag, and concluded with core work. Fonfara was an absolute beast in the gym. By the time he was finished, he looked like he could do it all over again.
I’ve seen several top-rated boxers during their workouts, but Fonfara’s daily gym routine during training camp is the most impressive I’ve seen. Fonfara is unquestionably in the best shape of his life which spells trouble for Nathan Cleverly. All I can say is that I hope Cleverly has put everything he has into his training as well, or else this fight is not going to last very long. This bout should be an entertaining one. It may even be a fight of the year candidate by the time it’s over. Tune in tomorrow, Friday, October 16th to Spike at 9PM ET for the fight.