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Gritty Adrian Granados is battling his way up the boxing charts

Adrian Granados (left) hits Kermit CintrFriday March 22 2013 Chicago's UIC Pavilion. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

Adrian Granados (left) hits Kermit Cintron on Friday, March 22, 2013, at Chicago's UIC Pavilion. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 24, 2013 6:41AM

The high-spirited Polish fight fans who formed an exuberant, thirsty majority among 8,231 spectators at U.S. Cellular Field last Friday night got what they’d come for.

Polish fighters were crowd-pleasing winners in the two main events on ESPN’s Friday Night Fights, the first card staged in a Chicago ballpark in 50 years. Light-heavyweight Andrzej Fonfara rallied for a ninth-round stoppage of Spanish dancer Gabriel Campillo and heavyweight Artur Szpilka toppled local mauler Mike Mollo like an imploded building in Round 5.

Spectators who eschewed the beer stands between those bouts saw the fight of the night.

Cicero-born Adrian Granados, the pride of St. Joseph’s High School, got off the floor twice to score a sixth-round technical knockout of gnarly-tough Mark Salser, who’d been undefeated in 15 previous pro fights.

Granados, more boxer than brawler, used his fast hands to dissect the immobile Salser through the first two rounds. But he got careless just before the bell ending Round 2 and walked into a straight right that nearly finished his night.

“I’d never been hit that hard in my life,” Granados said, grimacing as he recalled the thudding impact six days later.

Granados survived the round, used the break to clear his head and regained control by the middle of the third. He went down again in the fifth, off balance and vulnerable to another right after a wild swing.

More angry than hurt, Granados banged away and finished Salser with a crippling body shot in the sixth round. He walked away a smarter fellow.

“I had too much energy,” he said, recounting the evening over breakfast at a Berwyn restaurant. owned by the family of a St. Joe’s classmate. “The ballpark — what an awesome setting. I walked out of the tunnel and felt the buzz. I thought, ‘I’m makin’ it, I’m really doing this.’

“It’s not my style to just keep coming forward, but that night, I did. I’ve got that machismo Latin blood. I need the mental discipline to contain it.”

Connie Mantis, the restaurant owner, has known Granados since he was a boy and stopped by his table. “When you get hit,” she told him, “it hurts me.”

Granados smiled. He is a proud representative of his community and his high school, and the feeling is mutual.

A three-sport athlete growing up, Granados went to St. Joe’s in part because of irs basketball tradition and was a classmate/teammate of Dimitri McCamey and Evan Turner.

“We were practicing on the freshman team and Dimitri’s nodding toward the basket, like he wants me to throw him an alley-oop,” Granados recalled. “I’m thinking, ‘We’re 14 years old.’ But I put it up there, and he went up and threw down this tomahawk dunk … I’m thinking, ‘I might need another sport.’ ’’

Little did he know that sport would be boxing. It was a frequent presence in the Granados home, where his father, Jose, and friends would gather to watch Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez’s televised fights.

“JC Chavez is the reason I box,” Granados said. “Other kids’ heroes were Spider-Man, Batman, mine was JC Chavez. My dad and his friends would watch him on TV, and I’d be over in the corner imitating him.”

Granados was a starting guard on the sophomore basketball team, but the course of his life was altered that year when Brother Peter hung a makeshift heavy bag in a storage room at St. Joe’s and invited aspiring boxers to take their whacks. Channeling Chavez, Granados was so impressive that Brother Peter put him in touch with trainer Rico Gonzalez. Within a month Granados was competing as an amateur, eventually compiling a 75-10 record and turning pro after a near-miss at the 2008 Olympic trials.

Granados, 24, is 12-2-2 after stopping Salser. His style has him in demand as a sparring partner — he worked with Juan Manuel Marquez before Marquez’s demolition of Manny Pacquiao. ESPN likes him, as do the big-shot promoters who can promise big-money fights and title shots.

But Granados has been with local promoter 8-Count Productions from the beginning. Gonzalez, George Hernandez and Robinson Ayala have been in his corner for every one of his fights on U.S. soil. He made $10,000 for Salser, “the best check of my life,” Granados said. But he returned to his part-time jobs at a South Side pizza place and a downtown gym. Emulating JC Chavez is a process.

“I’m still working my way up. I can’t be greedy,” he said. “Everybody loves a winner. If I keep winning, the money will come.”

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