By Keith Idec
Steve Cunningham underestimated Tomasz Adamek before their first fight.
Cunningham came into that December 2008 cruiserweight championship match with complete confidence in his ability to out-box and out-slug Adamek. The Philadelphia native’s slight mental mistake cost him in a highly entertaining slugfest during which he got off the canvas three times, only to lose a 12-round split decision at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs) has avoided making that mistake again in preparing for their 12-round rematch Saturday at Sands Casino Resort’s Events Center in Bethlehem, Pa. (4 p.m. ET; NBC).
Over the past 15 months, the 36-year-old Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs) has been beaten down by WBC heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko (45-2, 41 KOs), was almost out-boxed by a one-armed Eddie Chambers (36-3, 18 KOs) and was hurt badly by Travis Walker (39-8-1, 31 KOs). Cunningham, also 36, still considers himself an underdog against an opponent much more experienced in the heavyweight division than him.
“Travis Walker is a big puncher,” Cunningham told BoxingScene.com. “That happens. That’s what Travis Walker does. I see Adamek as being the best Adamek we’ll ever face. That’s the way we’ve looked at it.”
He looked at Adamek differently during the fall of 2008, as he prepared for what emerged as one of the best action fights of that year.
“It was a combination of things,” Cunningham recalled. “First, I was coming off my 12th-round TKO of Marco Huck, in Germany. So we were won on a high. Me and my trainer at the time, Anthony Chase, we were on a high, a KO high. Getting that stoppage in the 12th round [in December 2007] was unbelievable, so we were still riding that high 12 months later. But looking at Tomasz, you can’t judge his power or his chin. No one really expected that out of him. No one really brought that out of him. No one really hit him with the shots I did in that fight, so that people could see he had such a chin.
“We knew he was a warrior from the [Paul] Briggs fight, and even from the Chad Dawson fight, which he lost but he still put Chad down. But we still thought at the time that his boxing skills weren’t better than ours and we could out-box him. But in the fight I messed around and got suckered into his fight because he was able to be hit and I was hitting him with some good shots, and I felt he was going. I went in a lot, went in a lot, went in a lot, and I was right there for him. That’s how we underestimated him. I’d say we underestimated him just a little bit, but that’s all it takes to lose a title.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.