By Graham Houston
Photo: Rich Graessle
If the rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham is as good as the original, Saturday’s return of boxing to the NBC network will be a rousing success. In the first fight, in the cruiserweight division four years ago, Adamek scored three knockdowns to take a hard-earned win by split decision. Now they meet as heavyweights in a scheduled 12-rounder. Last time Cunningham was favourite, this time Adamek is favoured at about -350.
Cunningham amazingly finished their first fight looking the stronger man, with Adamek appearing to be almost exhausted in the last round. Cunningham swept the last round on all three judges’ cards but he had lost too many points in the earlier rounds. In two of the knockdown rounds, Cunningham got caught right at the end of rounds, — the second and fourth — and these were rounds that Cunningham would likely have won if he hadn’t got dropped. In the fourth, in particular, Cunningham had dominated the round until the flooring.
Adamek will come into the rematch as the bigger, stronger fighter, weighing 223 pounds to Cunningham’s 203.5 pounds — a surprisingly light weight for Cunningham seeing that he weighed 207 pounds for his heavyweight debut three months ago.
We know that Adamek will be the puncher in the fight, and the Polish fighter definitely has the better chin. The crowd at the Sands casino hotel in Bethlehem, PA, will be solidly behind the very popular New Jersey-based Adamek even though Cunningham is from Philadelphia, about 60 miles from Bethlehem.
Also, Cunningham is coming into the fight as a substitute for Odlanier Solis.
So, on paper just about everything points to Adamek winning.
Still, I can see another competitive fight here. Cunningham has the speed advantage and I believe he has the better jab. It is possible for Cunningham to win rounds, but Cunningham backers will be on tenterhooks because of the chin factor — Cunningham has been dropped seven times in his last seven fights.
Last time, Cunningham went into the fight riding high after a tremendous, upset win over Marco Huck in Germany. Cunningham broke down Huck and stopped him in the last round, and he seemed to be trying too hard to stop Adamek.
Cunningham says that this time he will box a smarter fight. He told New Jersey boxing writer Keith Idec that he underestimated Adamek’s boxing ability and durability going into the first 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,” Cunningham said.
If Cunningham can stick to a clever-boxing, constantly moving style, using the jab, opening up in spurts and using his legs to get away, he can enjoy success. Adamek will be pressing forward throughout the fight, though, and when he closes the distance he is likely to be hurting Cunningham. What stood out to me in the first fight was that Adamek’s punches had so much more effect on Cunningham than vice versa, and this time Adamek will be the heavier man. Cunningham, though, will be faster and more athletic than the big men that Adamek has been meeting lately.
While both men are 36, Adamek might be the more ringworn. Adamek took heavy punishment in his loss to Vitali Klitschko in September 2011 and he struggled to beat Eddie Chambers last June even though Chambers fought from the opening round with an injury to his left biceps and was unable to use his left jab. While Adamek stopped Travis Walker in the fifth round in his last fight the Polish boxer suffered a heavy knockdown in the opening round and looked just two or three clean shots away from being stopped — but an over-anxious Walker couldn’t land the blows that might have finished the fight.
So, I do see Adamek as starting to look vulnerable. His weight advantage in tomorrow’s fight could be significant, though. I’m sure that Cunningham will be the faster man, and if he boxes a rigidly disciplined fight, doesn’t get caught by a heavy shot and doesn’t get involved in exchanges he could box his way to a win by decision. Those are three “ifs”, though, which make me back away from endorsing Cunningham to spring the surprise. Frankly, the weight disparity worries me. I had been expecting Cunningham to come in around the 208-pound mark. Really, we have a cruiserweight against a heavyweight in this fight — and we do have to consider Adamek a legitimate heavyweight seeing that he has been boxing in this division for three years.
I can picture Cunningham winning rounds and quite possibly going into an early lead on points, but sometimes Cunningham can be a bit too game for his own good and if he gets hit and hurt I think his instinct is to fire back — and a punch-for-punch type of fight will suit Adamek, who doesn’t want to be chasing his opponent around the ring for 12 rounds. If this fight develops into the same sort of war of attrition as the last one, I believe that, with a near-20-pounds weight advantage, Adamek is likely to prevail, quite possibly inside the distance.
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