By Cliff Rold
Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi I.
James Toney-Vasily Jirov.
Tomasz Adamek-Steve Cunningham I.
They are the arguably the three defining wars in the history of the Cruiserweight division. Saturday night, at Heavyweight, the last of them gets its sequel.
Long and often still regarded as Heavyweight’s bastard spawn, Cruiserweight has many times been a greater source of entertainment over the years than the more storied class. In the 2000s, as Heavyweight action fights seemingly went the way of the dodo bird, Cruiserweight filled the void.
Adamek and Cunningham were a memorable part of that decade and continue to ply their trade in exciting fashion. After falling short in a second fight with Yoan Pablo Hernandez in Cruiserweight title action earlier this year, Cunningham made his move up.
Adamek has been there since 2009, winning all but once. His lone defeat, at the hands of Vitali Klitschko, was no shame.
Both in their mid-30s now, Adamek and Cunningham are past their prime but still not past it. Boxing’s second U.S. network T.V. main event in just three weeks could be just what the sport needs to begin carving a niche again outside the cable ranks.
Can they possibly live up to their first fight? Wouldn’t even half of that still be one hell of a show?
Let’s go the report card.
Previous Titles: WBC Light Heavyweight (2005-07, 2 Defenses); Lineal/Ring/IBF Cruiserweight (2008-09, 2 Defenses)
Height: 6’1 ½
Weight: 223 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 220.1 lbs.
Hails from: Jersey City, New Jersey (Born in Poland)
Record: 47-2, 29 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 6-2, 3 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 4 (Chad Dawson L12, O’Neil Bell TKO8; Steve Cunningham SD12; Vitali Klitschko TKO by 10)
Previous Titles: IBF Cruiserweight (2007-08, 1 Defense; 2010-11, 1 Defense)
Weight: 203 lbs.
Average Weight – Last Five Fights: 199 lbs.
Hails from: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Record: 25-4, 12 KO
Record in Major Title Fights: 4-4, 2 KO
Current/Former World Champions/Titlists Faced: 7 (Guillermo Jones SD10; Kelvin Davis UD10; Krzysztof Wlodarczyk L12, MD12; Marco Huck TKO12; Tomasz Adamek L12; Wayne Braithwaite UD12; Yoan Pablo Hernandez L12, L12)
Pre-Fight: Speed – Adamek B; Cunningham B
Pre-Fight: Power – Adamek B; Cunningham C+
Pre-Fight: Defense – Adamek B-; Cunningham C
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Adamek B+; Cunningham B+
Has it really been since 2008 that their first fight took place? Time never stands still in boxing and both men have taken different roads to get to this rematch. Adamek’s explosion as a New Jersey franchise was born in the first Cunningham fight and fueled his rise to Heavyweight. To date, he’s failed to find a third divisional crown. He needs this win for another chance.
Cunningham remained at Cruiserweight with mixed results. He was on the deck against Troy Ross and in both fights with Yoan Hernandez. So far, he’s always risen.
He did it against Adamek too.
Before looking harder at the rematch, a trip down memory lane and a recap of the first encounter:
Cunningham came out at the opening bell circling the ring to his left, flicking the jab. A lead left hook and left to body crashed home for Cunningham just past the first minute and a minute more would pass before Adamek landed a clean right lead along the ropes. Cunningham slammed a right-left combination to the head of Adamek in the final thirty seconds, punctuating with another right immediately.
Adamek increased the pressure in the second, ripping a left and right which caused Cunningham to drop his hands before firing back with a left hook of his own. Both fired and landed sharp, fast punches but Adamek’s were harder. With less than a minute to go, a right hand jarred Cunningham to the temple and in the final ten seconds an exchange of blows ended with a counter left, again to the temple, to deposit Cunningham on the floor. Cunningham rose quickly to hear out the mandatory standing eight-count before heading to his corner.
The rabid crowd’s echoing chants of “Adamek” went up another notch to start the third as their favorite continued to stalk. Cunningham bounced, moving side to side but only sporadically firing his jab early. A left from Adamek landed to the chin and Cunningham clinched before moving away. A pair of long rights landed to the head and body for Cunningham late but control remained Adamek’s.
Right away in the fourth a right slammed into Adamek’s chin and Cunningham came forward with a bevy of left hooks and uppercuts. Adamek reeled from one set of ropes to another, covering and barely keeping his feet. The crowd gasped and Cunningham came forward with fury for close to two minutes before the assault left him arm weary. Stepping back and looking for the next opening, Cunningham instead gave one to Adamek, lazily leaving his left hand hanging and eating another right hand to the temple, toppling to the floor with some thirty seconds to go. Cunningham rose with far unsteadier legs then had been the case in his first trip to the floor. Adamek came forward, landing another right hand, and then another, but Cunningham would not relent and the bell ended a round of the year candidate.
Round five would play out in slower, more dominant fashion as Cunningham played defense in search of his legs while Adamek’s right sought a final sweet spot. Again in the closing seconds, momentum would swing as a right and left from Cunningham would turn his back away from the ropes and turn him stalker for the closing seconds.
Marking the halfway point of the bout, Cunningham boxed intelligently for the full three minutes of the sixth, capturing his most decisive frame of the bout to then. Circling and using the jab he’d largely forgotten, Cunningham refused to stand still and trade. The tactic continued in the seventh but Adamek was unwilling to stay at distance. A massive Cunningham right seemed only to inspire Adamek’s urgency and the challenger pushed forward. Cunningham stayed with the right but it was an Adamek left and right hand in the closing seconds which reminded the fight was far from over.
The Cunningham right again landed early in the seventh; Adamek responded with his own. A series of flurries for Adamek along the ropes set Cunningham up with a minute to go for yet another right and Cunningham was down for the third time in the bout. Rising and shaking his head in disgust, Cunningham again hung on, slipping Adamek’s attempts to finish before landing two neck stiffening uppercuts. Adamek didn’t seem to notice, pulling his head back into place and returning to battle.
In yet another gutsy turn, the first two minutes and forty seconds of round nine would be all Cunningham. Boxing and circling, he landed jabs and right hands which seemed to stun Adamek, one driving him across the ring. With twenty seconds to go though, it was an Adamek right bringing another wobble to the knees to Cunningham. He stayed up and fired back right away, refusing to give any more ground to Adamek.
A right hand and left hook blistered the jaw of Adamek early in the tenth and again working off the jab proved effective for Cunningham. His right hand landed and left hooks followed while Adamek stalked. In the final thirty seconds, it was again an Adamek right birthing a violent explosion of action. Both men traded heavy power shots until the bell.
Three rights landed to start the eleventh for Cunningham and Adamek, swelling under the left eye, was moved forcibly to the ropes. Adamek gripped Cunningham beneath the armpits and swung him around, landing a right before Cunningham returned fire and snatched control back from the challenger. Each traded sporadically until the closing seconds again brought the action to a crowd-pleasing crescendo.
And there were still three minutes to go.
Touching gloves at center ring, Adamek probably ahead on the cards, neither man would play the shrinking violet. Both would land telling blows but with a minute to go, Cunningham caught Adamek with a whipping right to the chin. Adamek, exhausted, fought him off, taking the worst of it down the stretch but was the late rounds surge enough to save the night for Cunningham?
It was not.
Clark Sammartino’s 114-112 for Cunningham was overruled by John Stewart at 116-110 and Shafeeq Rashada at 115-112, all for the winner and new champion Adamek.
What a fight.
Despite the knockdowns he suffered, Cunningham clearly was well into the fight with Adamek as the final scores indicated. Can he stay off the floor and stay in the fight again?
The odds appear longer this time. Beyond the Klitschko fight, Adamek has had his struggles at Heavyweight. Jason Estrada gave him a long night. Eddie Chambers, with only one good arm, came close to topping him earlier this year.
Cunningham doesn’t fight much like either. Built like an Adonis, Cunningham can sometimes be awkward and rigid. He makes up for it with a solid jab and the ability to fight within himself. He also has a ton of heart. He’s not a huge puncher, but he’s better than his knockout percentage.
However, as he has aged, his legs have grown more consistently vulnerable. That could play into Adamek’s hands. While Adamek is slower now, and also less fluid given an explosion over the years from 175 to over 220 lbs., he still throws nice straight shots with a rough hook behind them.
Neither man is a defensive gem, but Adamek gets hit slightly less clean and takes a shot better. With a twenty-pound advantage on Saturday, that could be a big deal.
Cunningham is coming in at what will likely be his best weight. He’s aiming for speed and has long had the stamina to go deep. If he can get ahead of Adamek and make the Pole chase him, Cunningham has a shot at the upset.
But if Adamek can time the right bombs, as he was able to the first time, Cunningham’s legs will have their most stern test to date.
Adamek may not have the crowd advantage in this one he had in the first bout. Fighting in Cunningham’s home state rather than Adamek’s adopted “Garden State,” one might assume Cunningham will have the fans on his side.
Adamek might steal them away.
Given form in the first Adamek fight and since, there is a big chance of Cunningham suffering an early knockdown here. He’ll do what he always does and rebound but Adamek is a better fighter, and finisher, than Ross or Hernandez. It will only be a matter of time until he connects again and, at Heavyweight, it will prove a bridge too far. Adamek should put this away inside eight in a fight that falls short of the first but still provides enough thrills to make for a successful network showing.
Report Card Picks 2012: 63-23
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene and a member of the Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, the Yahoo Pound for Pound voting panel, and the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at [email protected]