Story and photos by John DiSanto – Philly Boxing History (.com)
This Saturday we will finally get the long-awaited rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham. Added to this excitement is that the fight (along with one preliminary bout) will be televised on network television – not PPV, not pay cable, not basic cable. This one will be televised by NBC on a throwback Saturday afternoon TV broadcast. Besides being on regular “free” TV, the fight is special for a number of reasons.
Recently Philly Boxing History spoke to Team Cunningham about these key factors of the bout, and got their opinion on how they might impact things.
THE OPPORTUNITY & THE TIMING
This fight is special because of its unlikely timing and sudden manifestation. After hopes of this rematch were almost completely dashed, the fight suddenly materialized. So here we are on the brink of the second go, just like we always wanted to be. They say that timing is everything. This certainly holds true for this fight. If just the right combination of variables did not align, there would be no Adamek-Cunningham II, certainly not this weekend.
STEVE CUNNINGHAM, Heavyweight Boxer:
“Much quicker than we thought. I know the business. I know that if we built it up more, the fight would have been more attractive to HBO or Showtime, but the fight being on NBC? That makes it even more special. The first fight in 20 years on network television. That’s enough hype right there. Sometimes the opportunity outweighs everything else. This fight is going to be in everyone’s home. Everybody will be able to turn to Channel 10 (the Philadelphia affiliate) and watch.”
BROTHER NAAZIM RICHARDSON, Head Trainer of Cunningham:
“The thing about regular TV is, a guy can walk into a bar and hit the channel and there’s boxing on. I can be at the airport and there’s boxing on.”
“Not only is it an opportunity, sometimes when you work a few more fights in, the other guys get to see some of your changes and some of your aspects at heavyweight, and then they can make adjustments. Now they don’t get the chance to make those adjustments. All they can do is go on what they saw you do as a cruiserweight.”
“Right now, you ain’t at your house, I ain’t at my house. If somebody wants to be in there (to break in), they got a much better chance being in there, while we’re here (and not at home). And that’s how we’re going to do it in the heavyweight division. We’re going to catch cats while they not home.”
LIVVY CUNNINGHAM, Manager & Wife of Cunningham:
“It was a culmination of things that came together. It was a series of events that lead to this fight even being offered to us. Probably in a perfect world, we would have said (it should happen) down the road. But it came up, and what comes along with the fight is huge.”
“It’s basically a jump to the top of the IBF (heavyweight) rankings. We’re participating now in the heavyweight box-off that puts us in the #2 spot, and allows us to step right into an eliminator. So to me, it was like a red carpet rollout to the top of the heavyweight division. As a manager, I couldn’t have planned it or strategized anything better than that. So I love the opportunity.”
“It’s not just a fight. It’s not just the revenge fight. It’s a strategic move to fulfill a goal we have. And that’s to become world heavyweight champion. And it’s a fight we feel good about. So all of those pieces combined it was an opportunity that we couldn’t refuse.”
Both fighters have since moved to the heavyweight division. Adamek has already had 10 fights in the division. This will be just Cunningham’s second at heavyweight. None of us are certain how this will affect the match up on Saturday. Opinions vary. But the fact that both boxers will weigh over 200 pounds, adds excitement and luster to the rematch. Everybody loves a heavyweight fight – especially between two well conditioned big men. This is the case with both Cunningham and Adamek. In fact it feels like there should be an asterisk by the phrase “big men.” These are not two sloppy heavyweights with just size going for them. They are both complete fighters.
“We definitely thought about it, but not very long. It wasn’t something we had to chew around and weigh out. But we did, and we went through that. It felt like the right move, and it’s not like we’re going in to fight one of the giants of the division. They’re very close in size. So I don’t think it’s going to be too much of a jump for Steve. I know he feels great in camp. I think he’s going to feel very comfortable in the ring, and I think he’s going to do great.”
“It’s still new territory, but I’ve really seen a difference. I was a workaholic, and I think it was hurting me at cruiserweight. That’s why my weight was so low (at cruiser). I was training like a fighter who has to lose weight. Our game plan now is just as much rest as hard work. I’ve been resting. It’s helping me. I feel comfortable. I totally feel stronger than ever before in my career.”
“In the Gavern fight, I felt very comfortable at 207. I’ll come in where I come in (weight), but I’ll try to do 210. That’s my goal weight.”
BROTHER NAAZIM RICHARDSON:
“One thing we disagree on is him saying he wants to be at 210. I’m on board for that, but not for this fight. I asked him what were Adamek’s toughest fights? The kid who won the belt from him at light heavyweight – Dawson. Steve at cruiser. Eddie Chambers. It shows you, Adamek has problems with small men. Dawson, small man. Eddie Chambers, (who) really beat him, small man. Steve was a small cruiserweight. Everything under 200 pounds, 205 pounds gives him problems. Why would you want to get big? Why be big enough for him to figure out what’s going on? I understand the point he makes about 210, but I think 204-206 is perfect. I think that’s where we need to be. Now maybe when he steps up against Dimitrenko or Tyson Fury, then I’m on board with the 210, or around there. You need a little more girth on your butt for a big guy, just for the mauling and brawling. But a guy like Adamek? 204, 205, perfect. 210 is almost getting too big for him.”
The original get together by Adamek and Cunningham was more than memorable. Adamek captured Cunningham’s IBF cruiserweight crown with a thrilling split decision (December 11, 2008). Both fighters did well, but it was the three knockdowns scored by the popular Polish fighter that proved to be the difference on the scorecards. A rematch was warranted, but never happened until now, four years and eleven days later.
“We wanted the rematch for a long time. It’s a fight we feel good about. We’ve done it before. We want to do it again.”
BROTHER NAAZIM RICHARDSON:
“I always felt bad about the first fight (Richardson was not Cunningham’s trainer for the first matchup). We we’re friends, we trained at the same gym. We used to talk about all of his upcoming fights. But he was in the gym with me and I said nothing to him (about the first fight with Adamek). I didn’t think I needed to. I thought, ‘this guy is going to box Adamek’. I always took that for granted. And so I’m up in Big Bear watching the (first) fight, and I was shocked.”
“We’ve seen that he’s gotten better. He’s doing different things, seeing different things. I think he’s adapted a different style. That causes us to adjust some things in training camp. Then you have to deal with a guy whose chin is as solid as granite. So like I said, he’s a very good fighter. He’s where he is for a reason, but we want to be there. So we got to beat him.”
“I’ve had rematches in the amateurs. I’ve had a few rematches in the pros. It’s not different (the second time). Maybe a little more comfortable, but that’s dangerous. I don’t want to get comfortable, or think that I know what he’s got. But I do know a little bit of how he is, but it’s like my fight poster says, ‘Bigger, Better, Stronger!’ Both of us have gotten better, and it’s going to be a good fight. It might be a little different, but it’s going to be a good fight.”
Finally this match is special because of the characteristics of both men and how well those characteristics mesh in the ring. This was an intriguing fight four years ago at cruiserweight, and it is even more so in 2012 at heavyweight.
BROTHER NAAZIM RICHARDSON:
“Steve Cunningham is a very intelligent athlete, but he has that Philly heart in him. And sometimes that Philly heart can take over a situation. We can’t allow that to happen. He has to maintain his intellect for the entire fight. But one thing I teach every athlete I work with is that sometimes in a boxing match, a fight breaks out. You can go to a club just looking to have a good time, and a fight can break out. At any time, a fight can break out. So of all places, in a boxing match there is a high probability that maybe a fight breaks out, even if that’s not in the plan. We have to be prepared for that.”
“Fight night, fight day, it’s really hard for me. I’m 100% wife. It all goes out the window, which is fine. By then, all the details are done. It’s just the fight. I’m totally the wife (then). I’m a ball of nerves. I’m praying all day long, just trying to get through. Sometimes I feel like I need to be medicated. My nerves are that bad, but I make it through. Thank God.”
“What do I have to do? I have to fight my fight. I have to beat him at his fight. I got to be better than him. That’s basically the game plan. I have to be better than him. He’s a good fighter, and solid. But I have to be better than him.”
“Anything could happen, this is boxing. Especially in heavyweight boxing, anything can happen. That’s why we go to training camp for eight weeks; to make sure we steer it our way. Of course he’s doing the same thing. He’s a formidable foe, a good champion, a good dude, a good fighter. We respect that, and there is no underestimation this time. We’re going to get in there and I believe it will be one of those special things when two guys make special chemistry. We’ll see on December 22nd how special it is. I know I have to perform at my best, at my peak. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
To read more on the Philly fight scene – past and present – visit www.PhillyBoxingHistory.com.