- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Krzysztof Wlodarczyk of Poland was still five years away from winning his cruiserweight world title when he fought twice in Chicago in scheduled six-round preliminary bouts in 2005. He won both and returned to fighting in his home country, eventually winning his title in 2010.
Eight years after those bouts in Chicago, Wlodarczyk is returning to the city, where the large Polish community has a history showing big support to its fighters, to make the sixth defense of his world title when he faces Italy’s Giacobbe Fragomeni, a former titleholder, for the third time.
They meet Friday night (ESPN3.com, 9:30 p.m. ET) at the UIC Pavilion, and Wlodarczyk is pleased to be fighting again in Chicago, where he will be the clear crowd favorite.
“I'm here to show the world and the fans in Chicago how good I am,” he said through a translator at this week’s final news conference. “I'm here to prove I'm the best, like I did in Moscow in my last fight. Thanks everyone for coming. This is a great city.”
The 32-year-old Wlodarczyk (48-2-1, 34 KOs) has become one of the best 200-pounders in the world, having faced several quality opponents during his title reign, including that last fight he mentioned in Moscow -- an eighth-round knockout of 2008 Russian Olympic gold medalist and top contender Rakhim Chakhkiev.
Now Wlodarczyk owes a mandatory shot to the 44-year-old Fragomeni (31-3-2, 12 KOs). They have fought twice before. In 2009, Fragomeni retained the title when they fought to a disputed draw. One year later, almost to the day, Wlodarczyk dominated Fragomeni in an eighth-round knockout victory to win what had become the vacant title.
After two tough fights with Wlodarczyk, Fragomeni knows what he is up against, and he is also a fan of Chicago.
“I respect Krzysztof Wlodarczyk. He is a great champion,” Fragomeni said at the news conference. “I am honored to fight in this great city and hope it will be an exciting fight for the fans.”
Warriors Boxing promoter Leon Margules had been looking for the right spot to bring Wlodarczyk to the United States for a title defense, and this time it worked out.
“This is going to be a great show for a number of reasons. First of all, we've got Poland's only current world champion defending his title in a great fight,” Margules said. “He and his challenger are here to lay it on the line. I've been working with Wlodarczyk for years and that's what he always does in every fight.”
Another reason the show could be exciting is because it also includes Poland native and Chicago resident Andrzej Fonfara (24-2, 14 KOs), a light heavyweight contender who makes action fights, in the co-feature. Fonfara, who could get a shot at titleholder Sergey Kovalev in 2014, takes on Samuel Miller (26-7, 23 KOs) of Colombia.
“Assuming Andrzej gets by Samuel Miller, I predict a big year next year for him,” Margules said of Fonfara. “He will be world champion next year, doesn't matter who he ends up fighting for it. And he will make his HBO debut [possibly against Kovalev]. I see all great things for Fonfara.”