By Cliff Rold

While far from the busiest month on the 2008 calendar, December produced the richest fight of the year (Pacquiao-De La Hoya) along with three spectacular wars.  On December 11th, an old-school Don King card broke out with the best fights of the year in both the Cruiserweight and Bantamweight divisions.  On the same day as the described mega-show, Carl Froch and Jean Pascal tore into each other to produce the best Super Middleweight battle of the year.  Add in an appearance by leading Heavyweight Wladimir Klitschko and a noisy controversy at the end of Nicolay Valuev-Evander Holyfield, and December provided a fitting end to a second consecutive solid year for fistiana.

This is the month in review.

Fighter of the Month:  Manny Pacquiao

There will be more on Pacquiao in the looming Year in Review.  For now, Pacquiao gets full credit for an excellent outing in December.  Boxing fans have known about the Pac-Man for years; it looks like the mainstream is finally in on the show.  By demolishing Oscar De la Hoya in eight rounds, Pacquiao opened up possible superfights with Ricky Hatton and Floyd Mayweather in 2009 which would single-handedly keep Boxing in financial high cotton.

For now, stopping Boxing’s biggest star some eight divisions removed from where he won his first World championship is enough to make Manny the standout player in December 2008. 

Fight of the Month:  Steve Cunningham-Tomasz Adamek

Already selected as BoxingScene’s best Cruiserweight Fight of the Year, this classic battle was easily the top brawl of the December and a leading candidate for Fight of the Year.  As described after the fight here at BoxingScene (https://www.boxingscene.com/?m=show&id=17428):

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.  

Adamek wouldn’t address whether he was surprised by the split decision having scored three knockdowns.  “Don’t question me.  This is a question for the (judges).  I show fight.  I am champion.  I am very happy.”  Asked if he’d been hurt by Cunningham in the fight, Adamek responded, “He is not strong.  He is good with much punches but he is not strong.”

The obvious question of a rematch was addressed indirectly, but the new champion did not say no.  “This was a mandatory…I am ready to have a fight with every fighter in my division.”  Cunningham was more open about a return engagement.  “I think the fans want to see a rematch.  That was an awesome fight…I would love to fight him again if he’ll have me…I could box more and I know I could get him out of there.” 

Cunningham was gracious in defeat even as the Adamek partisans showed poor class in booing during his interview.  “I give honor to my God, in Jesus’ name.  It’s an honor to be a champion and defend the title.  I thank God…a little ring rust but no excuses.  I didn’t use my jab as much.  Those flash knockdowns are what did it and it’s my fault.”  The former champion regretted missing a big chance in the fourth.  “I hit him and I thought I could get him out of there and I spent myself and that’s how he got that last knockdown.  That was totally my fault.  I should have let off a little.  I stuck to my game plane a little and then veered off from it.”

Another scheduled twelve rounds would be welcome by all who love the sport of Boxing and if veering from plans is what it takes to produce a classic, then so be it.

Critical Results

Using a formula inspired by the college football BCS, quarterly divisional ratings have been compiled at Boxing Scene since the beginning of the year.  The fourth quarter lists were published, just a little later than normal, on October 16th and these are the critical results from the month of November with the pending December schedule for contenders and champions schedule thrown in for good measure.  Full ratings can be found at: https://www.boxingscene.com/forums/view.php?pg=boxing-ratings

Heavyweight (201 lbs. – Unlimited)

12/13: #1 Wladimir Klitschko (52-3, 45 KO, IBF/WBO) TKO7 Hasim Rahman (45-7-2, 36 KO)

12/20: #4 Nicolay Valuev (50-1, 34 KO, WBA) MD12 Evander Holyfield (42-10-2, 27 KO)

Cruiserweight (176-200 lbs.)

12/06: #7 Enzo Maccarinelli (29-2, 22 KO) TKO2 Matthew Ellis (20-6-1, 9 KO)

12/11: #3 Tomasz Adamek (36-1, 24 KO, IBF) SD12 #1 Steve Cunningham (21-2, 11 KO, IBF); for the vacant World Championship

Light Heavyweight (169-175 lbs.)

No BoxingScene rated fighters scheduled to compete in December

Super Middleweight (161-168 lbs.)

12/06: #8 Carl Froch (22-0, 14 KO) UD12 #9 Jean Pascal (21-1, 14 KO); vacant WBC belt

Middleweight (155-160 lbs.)

12/05: #8 Sebastian Zbik (25-0, 9 KO) UD8 Christophe Karagoz (17-14-4, 4 KO)

Jr. Middleweight (148-154 lbs.)

12/13: #10 Yuri Foreman (27-0, 8 KO) UD10 James Moore (16-2, 10 KO)

Welterweight (141-147 lbs.)

12/6: #1 at 135 Manny Pacquiao (48-3-2, 36 KO, WBC) TKO8 #5 at 154 Oscar De La Hoya (39-6, 30 KO)

Jr. Welterweight (136-140 lbs.)

12/13: #3 Kendall Holt (25-2, 13 KO, WBO) UD12 Demetrius Hopkins (28-1-1, 11 KO)

Lightweight (131-135 lbs.)

No BoxingScene rated fighters competed in November; Manny Pacquiao, #1, scheduled to compete at Welterweight.

Jr. Lightweight (127-130 lbs.)

12/12: #6 Urbano Antillon (25-0, 18 KO) KO4 Juan Ramon Cruz (15-6-1, 11 KO)

12/13: #7 Roman Martinez (21-0-1, 12 KO) UD10 Walter Estrada (34-8, 23 KO)

12/20: #1 Humberto Soto (46-7-2, 29 KO) UD12 Francisco Lorenzo (33-5, 14 KO) for vacant WBC belt

Featherweight (123-126 lbs.)

No BoxingScene rated fighters competed in November or are scheduled to compete in December.

Jr. Featherweight (119-122 lbs.)

12/6: #3 Juan Manuel Lopez (24-0, 21 KO, WBO) TKO1 Sergio Medina (33-2, 18 KO)

Bantamweight (116-118 lbs.)

12/11: #4 Joseph Agbeko (26-1, 22 KO, IBF) MD12 William Gonzalez (21-3, 19 KO)

12/31: #10 Sasha Bakhtin (22-0, 9 KO) UD10 Sung-Kook Kim (11-5-1, 6 KO)

Jr. Bantamweight (113-115 lbs.)

No BoxingScene rated fighters scheduled to compete in December.

Flyweight (109-112 lbs.)

12/23: World Champion Daisuke Naito (33-2-3, 21 KO, Lineal/WBC)

12/31: #5 Denkaosan Kaovichit (46-1-1, 20 KO) TKO2 #3 Takefumi Sakata (33-5-2, 15 KO, WBA) 

Jr. Flyweight (106-108 lbs.)

12/6: #9 Omar Nino (27-3-1, 11 KO) UD10 Sammy Gutierrez (20-4-2, 12 KO)

Strawweight (105 lbs.)

12/13: #3 Raul Garcia (25-0, 15 KO, IBF) UD12 Jose Luis Varela (15-6, 7 KO)

Cliff Rold is a member of the Ring Magazine Ratings Advisory Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America.  He can be reached at roldboxing@hotmail.com