by Keith Idec
Steve Cunningham will fight in the same ring as Tomasz Adamek on Sept. 8 in Newark, N.J.
The former cruiserweight champion hopes his heavyweight debut that afternoon at Prudential Center leads to them sharing that ring again. Cunningham (24-4, 12 KOs) signed with Main Events, Adamek’s co-promoter, last week with an Adamek rematch in mind.
It is a fight the Philadelphia native has wanted since he lost their all-action brawl by split decision in December 2008. Their entertaining slugfest marked the beginning of Adamek becoming a large draw in New Jersey’s biggest city, a short drive from the popular Polish contender’s home in Kearny.
Adamek has fought eight times at Prudential Center over the past 3½ years, but Cunningham’s heavyweight debut against a soon-to-be-announced opponent will be his first at the home of the NHL’s Devils since he and Adamek went at it.
“Being a heavyweight makes [an Adamek rematch] even more of a possibility,” Cunningham said. “Adamek’s a great guy. He’s a family man, like myself, but this is a business. If they pay for it, we’ll totally do it. I would like to do it because I felt like that fight was really close. I felt it was a great fight. I totally would like to do it. But if it didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be mad. I know boxing.”
Cunningham hoped the Adamek rematch would materialize immediately after their first fight. Adamek (46-2, 28 KOs), who’ll encounter Houston’s Travis Walker (39-7-1, 31 KOs) in the main event of an independent pay-per-view show Sept. 8, instead fought just twice more at cruiserweight before embarking on his own heavyweight journey against fellow Pole Andrew Golota (41-8-1, 33 KOs, 1 NC) in October 2009.
“I’ve never wanted to go to heavyweight just to chase Adamek for a rematch,” Cunningham said. “That’s why I stayed at cruiserweight, because I wanted to be a two-time champion. Actually, I wanted to be a three-time champ, but financially and time-wise, I don’t have that kind of time. Being a heavyweight is everyone’s dream, especially a guy my size, 6-3 and 200 pounds. So I’m just going to go ahead and take a stab at it.”
After one more fight with Don King, Cunningham signed with German promoter Wilfried Sauerland in the Adamek aftermath. He stopped Canada’s Troy Ross (25-2, 16 KOs) in the fifth round on cuts and out-pointed Serbia’s Enad Licina (21-4, 11 KOs) over 12 rounds in his first two fights with Sauerland Events.
Cuban southpaw Yoan Pablo Hernandez (26-1, 13 KOs) defeated Cunningham in Cunningham’s last two fights, the first of which ended in a controversial technical decision due to a Hernandez cut. Following the Hernandez defeats, Cunningham couldn’t secure a lucrative rematch with German cruiserweight champion Marco Huck (34-2-1, 25 KOs), had trouble luring Antonio Tarver (29-6-1, 20 KOs) into a fight and was insulted by the high-risk, low-reward proposition of fighting Russian cruiserweight contender Denis Lebedev (24-1, 18 KOs) in Moscow.
That’s when Cunningham decided it was time to move up to heavyweight.
“It’s kind of like I’m getting elbowed out of the cruiserweight division, so I have to go heavyweight,” Cunningham said. “I can’t go light heavyweight. That wasn’t going to happen. I’ve got to go to heavyweight.”
The 36-year-old Cunningham isn’t considered a big puncher and will be a small heavyweight in terms of weight, but he isn’t intimidated.
“Me and Eddie Chambers worked together in the gym,” Cunningham said, referring to another small heavyweight from Philadelphia that Adamek defeated by unanimous decision June 16 at Prudential Center. “We’re like brothers. And I see the success he’s had. I’m real close with Chris Byrd, and I’ve seen the success he’s had. A lot of the guys I’ve sparred with are heavyweights, so I’m like, ‘Why shouldn’t I go see what I can do?’ And I feel I can be pretty successful.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com.