by Cliff Rold
For boxing, it was a successful return to network television on NBC.
Then the scores were read.
Two-time former Cruiserweight titlist Steve Cunningham appeared to have done enough to secure revenge in his long awaited rematch with former Light Heavyweight titlist and Cruiserweight champion Tomasz Adamek. Two of the three judges disagreed.
Where they disagreed is as worth scrutiny as that they disagreed at all.
While much was made of the mis-read scores at the bouts conclusion, that was much ado about nothing. Michael Buffer isn’t perfect. He had a moment when he announced a draw. That the final score read aloud, ultimately 115-113 from Debra Barnes for Adamek, became the focus meant what seems the worst score of the night got a little off the hook.
That score, 116-112 for Adamek from Dave Greer, was a head scratcher. There have been, in the aftermath of the fight, a spattering of folks who saw it close or even. Almost none can be found who think Adamek won the fight.
Greer scored eight rounds for Adamek. Among those eight, and the seven from Barnes, was a tenth round scored for Adamek in what might have been one of Cunningham’s best frames. Quality judging can be hard to come by sometimes in boxing.
Adamek winning eight rounds, and winning the tenth, indicates quality may have been in short supply on Saturday.
Let’s go the report card.
Pre-Fight: Speed – Adamek B; Cunningham B/Post: B; B+
Pre-Fight: Power – Adamek B; Cunningham C+/Post: B; B-
Pre-Fight: Defense – Adamek B-; Cunningham C/Post: C+; B
Pre-Fight: Intangibles – Adamek B+; Cunningham B+/Post: Same
None of this is to say Adamek had a terrible night. Round for round, the scoring of this fight wasn’t dramatically different than the first. Cunningham got off the floor a couple times to earn a split decision the first time and may have won more rounds that night. This time, he stayed off the floor.
A big part of that was game plan. Cunningham was sound behind his jab from the start and kept his gloves high and tight. His right hand was coming well behind the stick. A sometimes lax defense that has had him in trouble in the past was clearly a focus of his camp. Through four rounds, it was hard to find a frame to give Adamek and Cunningham looked to have a lead.
Adamek, as has been his way for years, kept grinding and got into the fight with a clear fifth but he struggled all night to land consistently. While punch stats said he landed more power shots, the button mashers didn’t allow for much context. There were lulls in the action in the second half where Cunningham elected to move and Adamek followed in straight lines. Neither was doing much then. When action opened up, it was often Cunningham landing the cleaner blows.
Adamek made a strong stand in the last third, winning the ninth and eleventh strong and making a case in a close, coin flip final round. Round ten was more than enough to seal the night for Cunningham.
Or it should have been.
It’s too bad Adamek gets caught up in this sort of debate. His has been a solid blue-collar career. He comes to fight, makes good fights, and consistently gives a money’s worth effort. After struggling with a one-armed Eddie Chambers last time out, a fight he deserved to win but marred by one of the worst scores of the year (Allen Rubenstein’s 119-109 remains inexplicable), he carries a cloud that is beneath him.
That Cunningham didn’t get the nod has to be considered a serious setback. At 36, and after a career at Cruiserweight, Cunningham’s chances to impact the Heavyweight class were always limited. Now, a fighter without much fan base has to hope for opportunity and moves backward in line. In terms of paydays, he loses the chance for an IBF final eliminator versus Kubrat Pulev.
Physically, Cunningham may have won for losing. Based on the form both men showed Saturday, the younger, bigger, talented Pulev would be seen as a prohibitive favorite against either. Adamek’s reward for Saturday’s dubious decision is likely to be a one-sided beating.
But it will pay well.
That is of course unless the IBF orders a return of this bout. The scoring was debatable enough to lodge a protest from the Cunningham side, though those rarely go well. It would be better for fans if it did.
Adamek and Cunningham mix extremely well and have given fans two excellent contests. A third would be a more enticing option than Adamek-Pulev in terms of viewing.
Christmas came early for Tomasz Adamek. For the twelve rounds before the scores were announced, U.S. fight fans and curious viewers who caught the fight on NBC, got a nice holiday epilogue to an overall strong year for the sport.
That it ends on a scoring controversy was simply a reminder that, no matter how good it gets, boxing will always be boxing.
Report Card Picks 2012: 64-23
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]