Hard-hitting light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. (22-1, 18 KOs) delivered a shocking upset with a first round stoppage of crowd favorite Andrzej Fonfara (28-4, 16 KOs) Saturday night in the main event of Premier Boxing Champions on NBC from UIC Pavilion in Chicago.
It was a short night for the heavily favored Fonfara, who was rocked by a roundhouse right from Smith Jr. that immediately sent the Polish fighter to the canvas. Fonfara stumbled to his feet, but never regained his composure.
Smith Jr. sensed his moment and attacked, connecting with a cross-hook combo that put Fonfara back on the ground. Fonfara was able to get to his feet, but was too shaky to continue, forcing referee Hector Afu to stop the fight at 2:32 into the first round.
The opening bout of the night saw Rau’shee Warren (14-1, 4 KOs) earned the bantamweight world championship as he defeated Juan Carlos Payano (17-1, 8 KOs) in a rematch of their August 2015 world title bout.
The three-time Olympian Warren became the first member of the 2012 U.S. team to earn a world title when he was awarded the majority decision over the two-time Dominican Olympian Payano.
Payano was the aggressor throughout the night, as he threw 882 punches to Warren’s 514. While Payano out-landed Warren 162 to 160, it was the new world champion who threw cleaner punches all night on his way to a 31 percent connect rate to Payano’s 18 percent rate.
The southpaws went toe-to-toe again for much of the night, but it was Warren who had more success catching the champion as he lunged in. Payano picked up the aggressiveness as the fight went on, as he battled through a rib injury suffered in the early rounds.
In round 11, Warren was able to seriously stagger Payano early on and won the round on all three judges’ scorecards. In round 12 he had more success early in the round as he opened up a cut under Payano’s right eye. In the end, the judges scored the bout 115-113 for Warren twice and 114-114.
Further televised action on NBC featured rising star Erickson “Hammer” Lubin (15-0, 11 KOs) earn a third-round stoppage of Mexico’s Daniel Sandoval (38-4, 34 KOs) in their super welterweight contest.
The Orlando-born fighter looked to cement his status as a contender as he picked apart Sandoval over most of the first three rounds before delivering a fantastic flurry that ended the fight. It was a combination of hooks and a strong straight right hand that staggered Sandoval.
Referee Danny Nelson quickly jumped in and called a halt to the bout at 2:36 into the third round. The punch stats told a similar tale as Lubin connected on 80 of his 161 punches thrown while Sandoval only landed 43 of 203 punches.
In the final televised bout on NBC, Polish middleweight Maciej Sulecki (23-0, 8 KOs) defeated Hugo Centeno Jr. (24-1, 12 KOs) by 10th round stoppage in their battle of previously unbeaten fighters.
Sulecki controlled much of the action throughout the fight, using a strong jab that eventually opened up a cut over Centeno’s right eye in the ninth round. Sulecki was the better conditioned fighter, as he consistently beat Centeno to the punch, following up on his jab with strong power punches. His biggest advantage came in the power punching department as he landed 127 to Centeno’s 47.
In the final round, Sulecki connected with a powerful straight right hand that dropped Centeno to the canvas. While Centeno was able to get to his feet, he was deemed unable to continue by referee Danny Nelson, who halted the bout 1:06 into the final round.
In live action on NBCSN, Chicago prospect Alex Martin (13-0, 5 KOs) remained undefeated with a split decision victory over Juan Carlos Abreu (19-3-1, 18 KOs) in their eight-round welterweight bout. Martin controlled much of the action with his jab and clean punching, but it was Abreu who scored a late knockdown in the final round with a straight right hand.
Abreu’s aggressive style made it a competitive fight as one judge scored it 76-75 for Abreu, but he was overruled by scores of 78-74 and 77-74 for Martin.
Here is what the fighters had to Saturday night:
JOE SMITH JR.
“There’s no feeling like this. I’m happy to take this victory back home to New York to all my fans.
“I’ll talk to my promoter but I’m hoping for another big fight to get myself to a world title.
“Now everybody knows who I am. This is the best thing that could have happened.
“Once I started hitting him and pushing him back he fell away and left himself open for the right hand.
“I thought this would be more of a fight, but I took him out early and it feels great.
“He was punching and I knew he leaves himself open. I was just looking for the punch and it landed.”
“He is a heavy puncher. He hit me with a great punch. It happens.
“I threw some good punches, but I got too comfortable. I didn’t see the punch coming. That made it a great punch.
“I’m disappointed because I thought I would win the fight but it is boxing. I will rest and get back in the ring. I’ll get back to work.”
“I was comfortable that I had won the decision. He came to fight and he stayed active. My corner just told me I had to answer back.
“We wanted to make him miss and make him pay. I definitely made him miss a lot. He was just staying busy. I bobbed and weaved. I pressed him enough to where I could take over. Barry Hunter told me I had to take the last round and I got him cut.
“My corner just kept telling me to work. I knew I was in control but I just had to step on the pedal at the right time.
JUAN CARLOS PAYANO
“I wasn’t able to completely follow my game plan. At moments, I was able to do what we trained for, but not enough. I hurt my rib early in the first two rounds and it made it difficult to grab and breathe. I take nothing away from him.
“Rau’shee was pretty much the same as last time. I fought his pace and I didn’t follow my plan. I wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do and he was able to prevail. I think I gave the fight away and Rau’shee won the fight.”
“I felt great. He’s a veteran so I wanted to take my time and get him out of there by chipping away. I saw that he was hurt with a hook. I saw that it cut him and I wanted to rush him. A flurry of punches and the ref stopped it.
“I’m looking at going higher in the rankings. 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.
“I’m still working. I feel great right now. I’m excited to get back in the gym. I didn’t hurt anything. I just want to keep going from here.
“I will fight anybody. I’m not a ‘turkey,’ I’m a ‘pilgrim.’ Everybody is on my radar.”
“He threw a good combination and I stopped throwing punches, so the referee did what he had to do.
“The referee had the best vantage point and I agree with his decision. Lubin was the better fighter tonight.”
“It was a milestone fight for me. This could give me a chance to fight for the middleweight world title.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a technical fighter. I just needed a small adjustment to move the technique to power. That is exactly what happened when I moved to America.
“This is unbelievable. It’s hard to put into words. Fighting on the biggest stage in American television is amazing.
“I knew from the beginning that I was going to dominate. I needed a couple of rounds to get my timing. Once I got my timing, I knew that I was physically and mentally better than this guy.
“I want to fight Daniel Jacobs. I think that would be a great fight.”
HUGO CENTENO JR.
“I had trouble making weight. I don’t want to make excuses. He did what he had to do, but I felt like I couldn’t do what I wanted to do.
“I felt sluggish by the fourth round. The fatigue set in hard. I wanted to finish the fight. I work hard for it. It is what it is, but I can’t wait to get back in the ring again.”