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No place like home for Wolak

Story by Alex Dombroff
Photos by Marty Rosengarten /

For fighter with a worldly name and top-10 talent, Pawel Wolak has taken the road less traveled. Which is to say, he hasn’t traveled much at all. Born in Poland, but residing in New Jersey, when Wolak steps in the ring Saturday night at Yankee Stadium, it will mark the 27th time in 28 fights that Wolak has plied his trade in, either, his home state, or neighboring New York.

“There’s no place like home,” said Wolak. “If I have to go out of state and it makes sense, of course, I will travel. But I want to sleep in my bed the night of the fight. New York City is perfect for me.”

It is a career path that has worked well for Wolak, 28, who sports a 26-1 record, with 17 knockouts. Much like Andrew Golota and Tomasz Adamek, former and present heavyweight contenders, respectively, Wolak has built a following in the northeast which has a dense Polish population.

Wolak has been seen as a value to promoters who put him on big fights cards in order to boost ticket sales. Three of his last four fights have been on the undercards of nationally televised shows at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday he fights on the undercard of the WBA junior middleweight title bout between Miguel Cotto and Yuri Foreman in what is the first boxing event to take place in the year old facility, and first at any facility bearing the name Yankee Stadium since Muhammad Ali defeated Ken Norton in 1976.

“I definitely take a lot of pride in [fighting at Yankee Stadium],” said Wolak. “It’s also added pressure. I want to look good. I want to win in a good way. I want to come back for more fights, maybe again in Yankee Stadium.”

His one setback came not as an undercard attraction, however, but in the main event of a nationally televised show in Brooklyn, NY. In against Ishe Smtih of The Contender fame, Wolak lacked the offensive adeptness to deal with his slick, better tested opponent.

Following the loss, Wolak purged his camp and hired a new set of coaches, including hiring Aroz Gist, most famous for his work with fellow Jersian Kendall Holt, as his head trainer.

“Aroz has me fighting perfectly,” said Wolak. “I am 28 now, and I feel like I’m coming into my peak and now I’m learning new things. When I was an amateur, I was learning all by myself. Now I’m with the right people with the right experience.”

Experience, which is exactly what Wolak blames his one career misstep on. Before taking on Smith, Wolak had been in with plenty of fighters with good-looking records, but no one who offered any resistance to his unbeaten record. Smith, who had fought professionally only once more than Wolak before their showdown in 2008, had already been in with several former world champions, future world champions, and top contenders in amassing his 19-3 record.

Since the loss, Wolak has been working on building his resume into more than just glossy numbers. Last June he defeated another former member of The Contender cast, Vinroy Barrett. Four months later, he stopped former world title challenger Carlos Nascimento in five rounds.

In against James Moore at Yankee Stadium, Wolak takes on someone with whom he shares a lot in common. Before losing two of his last four fights, including a 10-round decision to Foreman in 2008, Moore had started his career with fifteen straight wins over non-descript opposition. He also built a fan base similarly to Wolak, using his Irish roots to sell tickets in New York and New Jersey.

“I know James pretty well,” said Wolak. “It will be weird right before the bell, but it’s just what we do. I’ve sparred some of my best friends in boxing. We have to fight.”

Fight they will. And like usual, he won’t have to go far to do it.

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