It was four years in the making, but ended up leaving a sour taste in the mouths of most who witnessed it, and certainly left that taste in Steve Cunningham's mouth.
Tomasz Adamek retained his IBF North American title and is that much closer to another shot at the world heavyweight title. However, most who viewed this bout will point out that Adamek didn't deserve this win. This writer agrees. It wasn't as though Adamek fought a bad fight, it's just that Cunningham fought a better fight and did much more to win rounds and win the fight than Adamek did.
These two fought four years ago when both were at cruiserweight. Adamek won a split decision primarily because of three knockdowns he scored during the bout. Cunningham had control of the majority of the fight, landed more punches, but because of those knockdowns, he ended up losing.
In the case of Saturday, the fight went almost the same way as their fight four years ago did: Adamek relying on his power and Cunningham working his jab throughout. The only difference was that there were no knockdowns the second time around. This should have eliminated any kind of controversy that could arise when the bout went to the judges. It didn't.
Cunningham's two best punches during the bout were his left jab and his overhand right. The jab in particular had tremendous success landing on Adamek often and throughout. It was the jab that Cunningham used at the beginning of the bout to warm things up and build an advantage on the scorecards, or at least this writer's scorecard. Cunningham would begin scoring with the right and ended up making it a frequent punch in the bout.
Adamek's strategy remained the same as it has been for his last few fights at heavyweight: to wait and get more and more aggressive and active as the fight went along. This is likely what won Adamek the fight as he was noticeably better in the final half of the fight and used his power shots to win the majority of those final six rounds. He got some assistance when Cunningham became more and more willing to get right in there and go toe-to-toe with Adamek.
Cunningham's strategy through most of this fight was to keep at a distance and work the jab. Simple enough. And this strategy worked as Adamek never had a definitive answer for how to stop the jab or that overhand right from Cunningham. Cunningham used this strategy to seemingly cruise through the first third of the fight without being hit more than a few times himself.
Neither fighter left this fight without some noticeable damage. Cunningham had decent swelling on his right eye from round seven on; that damage only increased when Adamek's head accidentally collided with Cunningham's on the right side. Adamek was cut inside of his mouth in round four from a Cunninham punch and had to taste his own blood for the majority of the bout.
There's no doubt that Adamek seized control of this bout in the final half. It seems to be part of Adamek's game now to ease into his bouts and finish them strong. Adamek also was trying to finish strong at the end of each round, throwing a big flurry during the final twenty or so seconds of the round. Did this sway judges in a similar fashion as Sugar Ray Leonard using the same strategy against Marvin Hagler in 1987? Maybe. This writer wasn't that swayed by the strategy as those flurries, more often than not, resulted in a lot of misses and little contact. Cunningham, on the other hand, did impress this writer with how he stuck to his strategy and made it work for almost the entire bout.
The final judges scorecards were 115-113 Adamek (Debra Barnes), 115-113 Cunningham (Tom Miller), and 116-112 Adamek (Dave Greer). The press consensus near ringside was 118-110 Cunningham. It's still pretty amazing to imagine that a judge could have found seven or eight rounds to give Adamek. It doesn't make a lot of sense considering the way this bout ended up being a tale of two halves: the first half going to Cunningham, the second half going to Adamek with Cunningham winning more rounds in total. Remember, there were no knockdowns this time around, so it's then about who wins more rounds. It really does seem that Cunningham got cheated here. But Adamek has always had some pretty good luck with the judges. That luck continued with this decision.
There is a rumor that the winner of this fight is going to get a shot at Wladimir Klitschko and the world heavyweight title. For those believing that the fix was in, this would give weight to those thoughts. Adamek is a bigger name within the heavyweight division than Cunningham and has been in the heavyweight division longer, this being only Cunningham's second fight at heavyweight opposed to it being Adamek's eleventh. Not to mention that Adamek fought Vitali Klitschko in a losing effort last September, but also never backed down during that bout, and it ended up being the referee that had to stop things.
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