Story and photos by Gary Purfield
Here we go again, finally. It took four years for Tomasz Adamek (47-2, 29 KO) and Steve Cunningham (25-4, 12 KO) to have their rematch. When they first fought back in 2008 they put on a thrilling battle for Cunningham’s cruiserweight title and true supremacy of the division.
The two talented and proud fighters put on a memorable bout that was a fight of the year candidate. Cunningham boxed well and controlled more rounds, but Adamek’s power and tenacity resulted in scoring several knockdowns and gave him the edge, winning a split decision. Considering Cunningham was the champ and the bout was a close, competitive fight, a rematch seemed guaranteed. However, both fighters went in very different directions, causing the rematch to wait until this Saturday where they will renew their rivalry from the Sands Casino in Bethlehem.
Adamek, for his part, had plenty going for him that he didn’t need to bother with the rematch. He had a growing fan base of Polish faithful in North Jersey that would pack the Prudential Center for his fights. He had the frame and chin to make the jump that all cruiserweights imagine., moving to heavyweight where they get far more attention and much bigger paychecks.
So, after two defenses of his cruiserweight title, Adamek moved to heavyweight and blasted out former Polish heavyweight contender Andrew Golota in five rounds to begin his heavyweight career. Adamek would win six consecutive heavyweight bouts including wins over Chris Arreola and Michael Grant. The wins and his large fan following set Adamek up for the opportunity he craved since jumping over 200lbs. He signed to fight one half of the two headed heavyweight monster known as the Klitschko’s taking on Vitali Klitschko for his WBC title.
The fight would take place in a soccer arena in Adamek’s homeland of Poland in front of a packed stadium of rabid fans. Despite the fans and a gutsy effort, it was not even close to enough to overcome the giant size differential. Klitschko beat on Adamek for ten rounds before the fight was brought to a merciful ending.
Since then Adamek has bounced back with three wins. Included were a close call and disputed win over Eddie Chambers as well as an action-packed fifth round stoppage of Travis Walker. Against Walker, Adamek hit the canvas during the fight for the first time in years but bounced back to score the knockout. Adamek has not been quite the same fighter since the Klitschko loss, but still has the solid chin, underrated skills, heavy hands, and the raw toughness that made him a fan favorite in the first place.
Meanwhile, Cunningham had a far different road to this Saturday. Not having the fan following like Adamek, Cunningham has fought most of his career on the road and this continued post-Adamek. Cunningham rebounded from the Adamek fight with a win and then went to Germany where he regained a cruiserweight title, defeating Troy Ross.
Cunningham signed with Germany based promoter Sauerland Events in the hope of finally cashing in on his success. Despite being from Philadelphia, where boxing can still thrive, and being a former military soldier in the Navy, Cunningham knew that he was not going to get big money fights in the states where the cruiserweight division is ignored. So he made the difficult decision to put his chips into the Euro-Germany market where cruisers have done well.
For Cunningham it would turn out to be a tough learning experience. He has said he has no regrets and enjoyed his European tour even though it did not work out as planned. Cunningham lost his belt in his first defense in an extremely controversial fight against Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Cunningham got an immediate rematch but again came up short, this time more convincingly.
With no desire to continue in Europe or with Sauerland and knowing he had no future financially at cruiser in America, Cunningham did what he felt was his only option. He announced earlier this year he would become the next in a line of many cruiserweights to try his hand with the big boys at heavyweight. Cunningham made a successful debut winning a wide decision over Jason Gavern in September of this year. Cunningham’s skills carried him, but it was also clear that he likely would lack the power to hurt any real heavyweights.
Now with both Cunningham and Adamek in the later stages of their career they have decided to have round two. Cunningham probably could have benefited from a few more fights at heavyweight to get acclimated. He will be facing an Adamek who has ten bouts at heavyweight and his frame has matured into a true heavyweight over 220lbs. Cunningham will likely barely touch 210lbs and probably weigh less.
However, the fight makes sense for both. Each has little else coming over the horizon for options. Adamek has already been put down by a Klitschko while Cunningham has little chance of overcoming the size differential he would face against a brother K. While younger up and coming heavyweight giants such as David Price could benefit from taking out one of these two veterans, a low money fight against young ins will do little for these two at this point of their career.
So they will meet up again. It should be just as good if not better than their first bout. Both are still at a high level, but with aging have probably lost just a slight step that will force more standing and trading then their first action- packed bout. Plus Adamek and Cunningham will get a significant added bonus in the history books. Their first meeting was on little known Vs. TV, which later became NBC Sports. Saturday’s afternoon bout will be broadcast on NBC. Not talking NBC Sport, MSNBC, or CNBC. It will be shown on the real deal network NBC in an old fashioned throwback afternoon bout.
While the fighters will likely say they don’t feel added pressure, they should. If the broadcast is successful it could lead to more bouts on network TV for other fighters. Adamek and Cunningham have their own careers riding on this fight but also need to deliver a great fight for the betterment of the whole sport.
The NBC televised card goes on air at 4pm. The broadcast opens with another heavyweight bout scheduled for eight rounds between Tor Hamer (19-1, 12 KO’s) of New York, N.Y and Vyacheslav Glazkov (13-0, 9 KO’s) of Langansk, Ukraine.
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