|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY December 22, 2012||
By John DiSanto
Tomasz Adamek won his long-awaited rematch with Steve Cunningham Saturday at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA. Like their first bout at cruiserweight in 2008, this heavyweight contest was another excellent battle between the two, filled with clean punching, a grinding pace, tons of drama, and high quality fighting.
Cunningham was the boxer, controlling the action with his stiff jab, sharp right hands, and a concentrated game plan. Adamek pressed forward, hoping for a repeat of their first meeting when his punches produced three knockdowns and provided the points edge needed to take Cunningham's cruiserweight crown. But in this battle, Cunningham did not allow Adamek's power punches to rule the scorecards.
Or so it seemed.
After twelve terrific rounds, and what appeared to be a clear-cut victory for Cunningham, the three official judges returned a verdict that gave Adamek a split decision win, and left Cunningham stunned.
"I boxed my brains out today," Cunningham said after the fight. "I boxed his brains out today. It's sad and it's disappointing."
When Cunningham made the move to heavyweight earlier this year, long lost hopes of this rematch were renewed. After one fight at the new weight, the rematch suddenly materialized, and although it came a little sooner than expected, Cunningham grabbed the opportunity to meet Adamek again.
Conventional wisdom said that Cunningham needed more time to adapt to the heavyweight division before taking on a foe as formidable as Adamek. However, in this fight, Cunningham proved that he is ahead of the curve when it comes to conventional wisdom.
Along with his trainer Brother Naazim Richardson, Cunning-ham devised the perfect plan to accentuate his strengths in the ring, and keep the questions that lingered about his readiness as a heavyweight at bay. Cunningham came in at a sprite weight of 203.5 pounds (19.5 less than Adamek), and from the opening bell used movement and an active jab to pile up points and stay out of trouble.
The fighters split the first two rounds. Cunningham won the opener, which was little more than a feeling-out session, but in that session he loosened up his jab and flicked a few shots to the body. Adamek followed Cunningham around the ring, and then turned up the heat in the final few seconds of the round.
Tomasz continued his work in the second, landing well to Cunningham's head a few times. Cunningham fans held their breath when Tomasz hit the target, but Cunningham didn't budge.
Beginning in round three, Cunningham fully fleshed out his plan. He snapped Adamek's head back with stiff jabs, moved out of range and then swooped in with sharp right hand punches. Adamek took the shots and kept coming toward his rangy opponent. Once again, at the end of the round, Adamek pressed his foot on the gas and flurried in the final ten seconds. Steve wavered a little when one right landed, but the bell ended the scare.
Adamek tried to pull Cunningham into a full-fledged war in round four. He closed the distance and moved Cunningham into the danger zone. Adamek tested him with his heavyweight right hand, but Cunningham fired right back. They traded for a spell before Cunningham coolly pulled back out of the pocket, and then from the outside, drilled Adamek with a sharp right that snapped his head back.
The back and forth continued in the fifth, which was perhaps the best round of the fight. Cunningham landed with a left hook, and Adamek fired back with the right. Cunningham looked fazed by the punch, but it was clear that he was taking Adamek's hard shots and NOT going down this time.
These middle rounds were close but throughout, Cunningham was landing more often, and more than holding his own when it came to power shots. In the sixth, he struck with a lightning bolt right that stunned Adamek and brought the crowd to its feet. Cunningham was fresher and clearly in control, while Adamek grew frustrated with Cunningham's sturdiness. Consistently, as each round wound down, Adamek flurried in an attempt to make a last minute impression.
As the rounds rolled by, the pattern of the fight was set. Cunningham boxed smartly, while Adamek pressed forward and tried to turn the tide. However, Adamek could not land anything hard enough to seriously hurt Cunningham. Adamek's punches did raise a swelling around Cunningham's right eye in the seventh. The injury continued to worsen, but never played a major part in the fight.
Cunningham continued to box effectively, outworking Adamek and banking rounds. He began to look a bit weary in the eighth, but kept jabbing and moving, and stayed out of trouble.
Adamek's only consistent tactics were his forward motion and round-ending flurries. As the fight moved down the stretch, Adamek was behind on my scorecard, and in need of a game-changer, but he could not find one. Cunningham was easily landing his one-two, and at the end of round ten ripped Adamek with a left hook that hurt him.
Adamek came on strong in the eleventh round. He landed two hard rights to gain control of the action. Cunningham speared Adamek once early in the round and once near the end, but in between, the action belonged to Adamek.
In the final round, Adamek stayed in control while a tired Cunningham boxed carefully. Adamek chased Steve, but ran out of time to land the knockout blow that most of us felt he needed to win.
In the immediate aftermath of the fight, Cunningham raised his hands and soaked in the roar of the crowd. He kept his arms in the air and the look on his face showed that this was his most satisfying, and perhaps career-best, victory. It was a great moment.
But a moment is all that it lasted.
When the decision was announced, Cunningham's career-redefining victory was given to Tomasz Adamek in an outlandish decision. Although the verdict was originally announced as a draw, after a quick correction, Adamek was awarded a split points win.
Judge Tom Miller had Cunningham ahead 115-113, but judges Dave Greer and Debra Barnes overruled with their scores for Adamek, 116-112 and 115-113, respectively.
My score favored Cunningham 117-111, and a quick poll of the other ringside media found scores favoring Cunningham by varying margins. One writer scored the fight a draw, but a card in favor of Adamek could not be found on press row.
"What else do I have to do?", Cunningham asked. "It saddens me. I go to Europe and this happens in Europe. I come back to America and this happens in America. I can't be cheated like this. This is ridiculous. What needs to be done to get these judges on the right path?"
Adamek saw it differently.
"The fight was good," Tomasz said. "I'm very happy. I wanted to make it more of a war, but his tactic was to run. I hit him more and harder, and I won this second fight."
"Adamek was waiting for the fight he got (from Steve) the first time," said Brother Naazim Richardson, Cunningham's head trainer. "When he didn't get it, the dude tried to force it, but Adamek wasn't allowed to do what he wanted to do. That's why it's called boxing."
The win raised Adamek's record to 48-2, 29 KOs, retained his IBF North American heavyweight title, and earned him the #2 spot in the IBF world rankings. Now Tomasz can elect to fight a final elimination fight with the #1 contender, with the winner getting a shot at Wladimir Klitschko.
Steve Cunningham goes back to the drawing board with his frustrating career once again in limbo. He's been tested before by politics and unfair treatment, and he's always rebounded.
Cunningham is correct that things like this have happened to him before (more than once) in Europe, but today there was a major difference. This time, everyone saw the fight - the sold out crowd in Bethlehem and the national broadcast television audience watching on NBC. We all saw what Cunningham did. He displayed his ability and his class. He also showed everyone except two of the three judges that he won the fight - something he was not expected to do.
Sometimes in boxing, that's all you get.
This is not the end of the line for Cunningham, and it's not the end of his run as a heavyweight. He proved himself against Adamek, and deserves another important fight. However, the sting of this one will last for quite a while.
In the semi-final bout, Ukraine heavyweight Vyacheslav "Czar" Glazkov (above left) forced New Yorker Tor Hamer to quit on his stool between the fourth and fifth rounds.
Hamer jumped out to a good start in round one. He shot his left jab in Glazkov's face, while the undefeated visitor swung and missed with wide punches. However, by the end of the round, Glazkov started to close the distance, and the fight began to heat up.
Slowly but surely, Glazkov began chip-ping away at his mobile opponent with hard shots. His right hand started to find the mark, and Hamer was rattled a few times in round two. It was more of the same in rounds three and four.
Glazkov began mixing in an effective left hook and scored well to the body, especially in round four. Hamer appeared to be tiring, but still managed to poke Czar with a solid right hand. Everyone took it as a signal that the New Yorker had plenty of fight left in him for the second half of the scheduled 8-rounder.
However, before the fifth round bell, Hamer let his corner know that he had had enough, and asked for the fight to be stopped. Referee Steve Smoger complied, calling it a TKO at the end of round four. The sudden ending surprised everyone, except maybe Glazkov, who found Hamer's resignation easy to explain.
"Too many hard punches," Glazkov said after the fight.
The win improved Czar's record to 14-0 with 10 KOs. It was just his second appearance in the USA. Hamer slid to 19-2, 12 KOs. The fight was part of the NBC national TV broadcast.
Philly lightweight Naim Nelson (above left) fought off a game and busy Osnel Charles to win an 8-round unanimous decision. Charles started fast, outhustling and jabbing Nelson in the early going, and continued landing in the second round before Nelson opened up to the body. Nelson's shift downstairs changed the momentum of the bout and ignited a lively punch-out for the next few rounds.
The third round was the best of the fight, with both lightweights trading flashy punches. As the fight went on, Nelson began landing with more authority, and began building a solid lead in the fight.
Turning upstairs, Nelson drove home solid left hooks, but his right hand found Charles' chin more than once. Charles stayed in the fray, but fell increasingly behind on the cards. The difference seemed to be that when Nelson landed, he kept his hands moving, which turned a good shot into a relentless combination. For most of the way, Charles could not match the output.
With his back against the wall, Charles did his best to turn the fight around in the seventh. He slammed a straight right hand through the middle of Nelson's defense. However his momentum was interrupted by a low blow that had him rolling on the canvas. It was the third stray blow by Nelson in the fight. Charles recovered and went back to work, even wobbling Nelson near the bell.
The final round was close with Charles trying to capitalize on his seventh round success, but once again, Nelson was back on track, doing everything just a little bit better.
All three judges gave the fight to Nelson. Dave Greer and Steve Weisfeld scored 78-74. Dave Braswell had it 77-75. My score was 78-74, or 6-2 in rounds.
Nelson upped his record to 9-0, 1 KO. It was the second fight down at 135 for Nelson, and it looks like this is the correct weight for him. Charles slipped to 9-5-1, 1 KO.
In a battle of junior welterweight southpaws, Jerome Rodriguez of Allentown, PA, halted Philly's Edwardo Stith at 2:56 of round two. Stith (above right) was making his professional debut, but Rodriguez did not give him a moment's rest. He jumped out at the opening bell, and administered a heartless beating.
About halfway through the first round, Rodriguez trapped Stith in a neutral corner and pounded away. Referee Gary Rosato took a look, but did not step in. Perhaps he should have. Stith survived the round, but could not reverse his slide.
In the second, Rodriguez picked up where he left off the previous round. Rodriguez drilled Stith with a hard left that sent his mouthpiece flying. Once it was replaced, Rodriguez went right back to work. A jagged left uppercut by Rodriguez staggered Stith. He pounded his helpless foe into the blue corner, and then dished an onslaught brutal enough to force the referee to stop the fight. It was the first KO for Rodriguez, 2-0-1, 1 KO. Stith returned to North Philly 0-1.
Popular Allentown, PA heavyweight William Miranda fought to a four round draw with David Williams of North Philadelphia (above right). Williams used a good jab to redden Miranda's left eye in the first round, but Miranda slammed home a hard left hook, and attacked Williams' body.
That red eye began swelling in round two, as Williams continued to find it with his jab. By the third, Williams was picking Miranda apart with an assortment of punches, but Miranda hung in there and kept moving forward. In the final round, Williams continued to box and was in control at the final bell.
The three official judges all saw the fight differently. Tom Miller scored 39-37 for Williams, and Steve Weisfeld saw Miranda the winner, 39-37. David Braswell called it even at 38-38, making the contest a split draw. I had Williams in the lead, 39-37. Miranda's record went to 6-5-2, and Williams' 6-6-2, 2 KOs.
In the walkout bout, welterweights Julio DeJesus, Millville, NJ, and Korey Sloane, Philadelphia, fought to a four round majority draw after the main event.
The show was a sellout with an attendance of 1,950. Boxing returns to Bethlehem in June 2013 with a nationally televised NBC Sports Network Fight Night show.