By Jake Donovan
Everything is back to normal in the long and storied career of Tomasz Adamek.
The former light heavyweight and cruiserweight king wasn’t in a good place around this time last year. A career-worst performance in a failed heavyweight title bid with Vitali Klitschko was followed by a brief split with American promoter Main Events, with whom Adamek became a huge attraction in the United States and more specifically in the Northeast region upon signing in 2008.
The loss to Klitschko apparently had Adamek and his handlers in second-guessing mode, not quite sure in which direction to take his career. The Polish star eventually came to his senses earlier this year, rejoining the Main Events stable just as the company was in the process of building up its NBC Sports Fight Night series.
Saturday afternoon will mark his fourth fight in nine months, when he faces Steve Cunningham at the Sands Resort Casino in Bethlehem, Penn. That the rematch headlines boxing’s return to NBC (4PM ET) for the first time in nearly a decade is a fitting development; it was their first fight – just over four years ago – that began Adamek’s run as a star attraction on the East Coast.
From there, Adamek became something of a rare breed – a top fighter staying busy. The first bout with Cunningham – in which Adamek earned the lineal cruiserweight championship – kicked off a run of 10 fights in the span of 28 months.
Everything came to a grinding halt when he was dominated by Klitschko last September. The lone silver lining to come of the night was the magnitude of the event. More than 45,000 fans piled into the brand new Stadion Miejski in Wroclaw, Poland, his first fight in his native country in nearly two years.
Adamek hasn’t been back since that night; Saturday’s bout marks his fourth straight in Northeastern United States. Still, the past isn’t just the past to the fighter, but a reminder of the journey that led to his next destination.
“My dream is still to be heavyweight champion, to become a world champion in three divisions,” insists Adamek (47-2, 29KO). “I lost my heavyweight title fight last year but Roger (Bloodworth, chief trainer) and I have worked on everything we did wrong.”
Part of the rehabilitation process includes revisiting old business in the form of this weekend’s rematch with Cunningham. It wasn’t the first choice for his NBC showcase; Odlanier Solis was lined up as the original opponent. The former heavyweight title challenger foolishly withdrew from the sweepstakes when it came time to put pen to paper, opening the door for a more desirable alternative.
“When you’re dealing with live television in this context, you don’t have the luxury of just pushing it off to another date,” explains Kathy Duva, Main Events CEO. “There is always a Plan B and Plan C in the works. Steve was Plan B from Day One. It came down to Solis was rated higher and we were doing an eliminator.
“When Solis couldn’t do it, Jolene called Livvy, Steve’s wife and manager. She called Steve, who called us back within a couple of hours to accept the fight.”
The winner of this weekend’s fight will be steered towards a final eliminator with unbeaten Kubrat Pulev sometime in the first part of 2013. From there will come the next mandatory challenger to Wladimir Klitschko, assuming the current heavyweight king still reigns supreme at that point.
“Whoever wins goes forward, whoever loses will go fishing,” acknowledges Ziggy Rosalski, Adamek’s longtime manager. “May the best man win.”
There are still questions that remain of Adamek, which tends to be the case when you lose nearly every round of a heavyweight title fight. The 36-year old insists that there is still time to right the ship, something he has been working on for the 15 months that followed his second career loss.
Adamek was successful and popular in title runs at light heavyweight and cruiserweight, thanks to a never-say-quit attitude no matter how troubling the situation. The size advantage he enjoyed over most of his opponents in those divisions allowed for his balls-to-the-wall approach the moment the opening bell rang.
The mistake Adamek now realizes he made was that he attempted the same approach at heavyweight, where he generally serves as the smaller man at the division’s top level. With that have come adjustments made, which means that even an old foe like Cunningham should expect to see a new fighter this weekend.
“I have a different style,” Adamek reveals of the differences between then and now. “Four years ago, my approach was different. I changed my style; we’ve added more side-to-side movement. I’m a different fighter.”
The jury is still out on that belief. A stay-busy win over Nagy Aguilera in March marked Adamek’s first run in Main Events’ newly formed NBC Sports Fight Night series. His appearance on that card came in undercard capacity, added at the last minute to a show in Brooklyn topped by Zab Judah’s career-resurrecting knockout win over Vernon Paris.
Adamek received his own series headline three months later, facing Eddie Chambers in the comfy confines of the Prudential Center in Newark. The crowd was rocking but Chambers was able to expose some still-existing flaws in the Pol’s armor.
The shot at a major upset was compromised, however, when Chambers suffered a bicep tear in the opening round. Adamek seized the opportunity to the best of his ability, but was still forced to sweat out the results at fight’s end. The surprisingly wide scores provided opportunity to exhale, though there was reason to panic in his quick ring return less than three months later.
Adamek eventually dispatched Travis Walker in the 5th round of their September bout, once again at the House that Adamek Built. The moment didn’t come without first climbing off the canvas, suffering a knockdown earlier in the second round. Walker failed to capitalize, and was floored by round’s end before taken out three rounds later.
Some will view that fight as Adamek remaining a vulnerable fighter. Adamek himself sees it as a fighter who continues to grow, even as he heads towards the twilight of his career.
“I started at 2009 at heavyweight. In my experience, I feel better now than I did back then,” Adamek believes. The heavyweight run officially began with his 5th round stoppage of countryman Andrew Golota in a major event in their native Poland. “I have full confidence in my team, and my new style is helping me more than when I moved up.”
Further helping his cause has been the exposure that has come with the move up in weight. Four years ago, Adamek beat Cunningham in a cruiserweight war that – ironically – served as the final night of a boxing series on Versus. More fights like that would’ve kept the network in the boxing business, rather than sitting out for three years before returning under its new NBC Sports identity.
Since that night, Adamek has grown into a huge attraction on two continents. Now comes the next step in the star evolution, when he fights on free TV.
“I’m very happy with the attention paid to me,” Adamek states. “My fight in the U.S. is on a network where everyone can watch me fight. It’s different than it was four years ago. I’m very happy that I can fight here in this part of my career in front of so many fans. I’m from Poland. In New Jersey and Chicago, there is a big Polish population. But with each fight, I’m gaining more American fans.”
Even with another loss, it’s unlikely his popularity diminishes. Action fighters tend to retain their fan base through thick and thin. Adamek has always appreciated the fan support, but knows that in his continued support for heavyweight paydirt, the chief task is still to win. It matters little that he owns a win over his presently awaiting opponent; nothing can be left to chance at this stage in his career.
“Anything can happen in any fight,” Adamek acknowledges. “My job is to go in there and fight on Saturday afternoon. That’s the next step for me, to win this fight and then move towards fighting for the title again in 2013.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox