By Mitch Abramson
Kathy Duva recalls the days when the survival of Main Events depended on the success of Tomasz Adamek. Duva, the CEO of Main Events, freely admits the company would have gone under if not for the huge crowds that Adamek was able to draw starting with his ascent in 2008 when his rise up the heavyweight rankings started. Adamek, buoyed by a rabid fan base, drew large, dedicated crowds to the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., as part of his development as a heavyweight, and it culminated with a game effort against Vitali Klitschko in defeat last September in Poland. But times have changed, and Duva, who recently signed a deal to broadcast boxing on the NBC Sports Network, isn’t as dependent on Adamek as she once was, back when she was laying off workers and her full time staff consisted of just three worker bees.
So when Adamek’s contract with Main Events was up following his bout with Klitschko in September, her heart didn’t sink as it would have a couple years ago. Adamek quietly signed a contract extension last week with Main Events, and will see action for the first time since his stoppage loss on March 24 at the Aviator Sports Complex in Brooklyn, NY as part of a triple header to be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network. He is scheduled to face Nagy Aguilera. The low-key nature of the negotiations was a reminder to Duva how times have changed.
“We’re in a very different place now than we were when we first started working with him and so is he,” Duva said in a phone interview. “We did a lot for each other. It was crucial to my company’s health when we first signed him. I didn’t even realize it at the time. I really thought we were going to wind the company down. We were just signing him as a favor to [Adamek’s manager] Ziggy Rozalski since he had a mandatory fight coming up. I really didn’t know what to expect.”
What happened was a boxing phenomenon, a boxer who through sheer force of personality and style endeared himself to a fan base who kept coming back to watch his fights. When he beat Steve Cunningham before a delighted crowd at the Prudential Center in December of 2008, it kick-started a run of successful promotions centered around Adamek, who was suddenly testing the waters in the heavyweight division.
While Adamek was building his name, Main Events was also developing into a force again. In November of last year, the company signed a significant deal with the NBC Sports Network to broadcast a series of boxing cards, starting with a Jan. 21 show in Philly. Duva has another boxing card on the NBC Network on June 16 and would like nothing more than to bring Adamek back in a show at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. She perked up at the mention of a possible fight involving Adamek and the WBA heavyweight titlist,
Alexander Povetkin in front of a raucous crowd at the Prudential Center. Povetkin makes a defense of his title against Marco Huck on Feb. 25.
“That would be amazing,” Duva said of a potential fight between the two. “I would love to see that. And who knows?”
When it comes to the heavyweight division, however, Duva wants to do more than just promote a big fight and make a splash. She has grander plans than that. She wants to rebuild the heavyweight division and make it appealing again, and she she wants to do it on NBC, she told BoxingScene.
“My goal, and NBC’s together, has been to put the glamour back in the glamour division,” she said of the heavyweights. “I feel that it’s really been ignored here for way too long and I think that casual fans are very fascinated with the heavyweight division and ratings bear it out. Joe fan, who doesn’t really understand about boxing, understands what a heavyweight is. There’s something about those big guys when they start throwing punches.”
With that in mind, Duva has designs of breathing new life into the division with a series of bouts, starting with Adamek’s comeback fight, as well as Sergei Liakhovich (25-4, 16 knockouts) facing Bryant Jennings (12-0, five knockouts) on March 24, as part of the triple header on March 24 at the Aviator, underneath the main event of Zab Judah and Vernon Paris.
“Part of our goal- and we talked with NBC about it- was, in trying to appeal to a much larger audience that is even possible at HBO and Showtime because NBC Sportsnet is now in close to 75 million homes- there are a lot of heavyweight fights that would be really good to watch, really competitive," she said. "But they don’t have a platform to do it on. They’re waiting their turn for a fight with Klitschko. And that’s all well and good but after they’ve had their turn, it’s like they don’t exist.”
She referenced talented heavyweights such as Chris Arreola, Kevin Johnson and Eddie Chambers as fighters whose star dimmed considerably after they lost to the Klitschkos. The more Duva spoke, it was clear she wants to build a platform, and perhaps further build her promotional firm, on the heavyweight division, on fighters such as Odlanier Solis, the aforementioned Eddie Chambers, Kevin Johnson and perhaps others like the Englishman David Price.
“If you match heavyweights properly, and that means don’t put two guys who are going to pose and look at each other but if you put one guy in the fight who’s going to make the fight, it’s going to be entertaining,” she said. “So that’s our goal.”
Duva believes the future of Main Events will be tied around the development of younger fighters and of the heavyweight division, and with that in mind, Duva will always have room for Adamek in the firm’s overall strategy, because of what the two have been through together.
“In a different way, we’re benefiting each other again,” she said. “And whatever happens going forward, it’s been a great association with him. We’re just very happy it’s going to continue and we’d love to work with him as long as he wants to work with us.”
She also believes that NBC was fascinated with Adamek’s ability to energize the Prudential Center and wanted to put on shows with a similar energy.
“We’re going to have the opportunity to rebuild his career on our NBC shows,” Duva said. “And he’s giving us a great attraction that the NBC sports fans should be really excited about getting to see.”
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.