NEWARK, N.J. — Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham fought each other to a standstill for 12 rounds to produce a strong finalist for the best boxing match of 2008. That Adamek won and became the lineal cruiserweight (200 lbs.) champion of the world ultimately proved secondary; this was an exceptional fight in every imaginable way, one of those contests that elevates both men and makes the entire sport worth all its heartache. Each round revealed a new dynamic and produced fresh drama in a fight that never once lacked for it.
The difference on the scorecards, it appeared, was that Adamek dropped Cunningham three times. One judge had it 116-110 for Adamek, but the other two had it a more sensible 114-112 for Cunningham and 115-112 for Adamek. I had it a draw.
The fight just screams for a rematch — Adamek and Cunningham are utterly made for one another. Cunningham wants a rematch, while Adamek’s team is playing “wait and see.”
Versus, which aired this card, should be proud. The first televised fight, a bantamweight (118 lbs.) alphabet title match, produced fireworks of its own as Joseph Ageko narrowly edged a very persistent William Gonzalez to retain his belt. It was a brawl that only presaged what was to come.
It took about a minute of the 1st round of Cunningham-Adamek to move from a jabbing contest to an all-out war. Cunningham edged the opening stanza, I thought, but every round thereafter was, as David said in the live blog, “crazy.” The only pattern that held throughout was that when Cunningham fought in the center of the ring, his superior speed and footwork carried the day, and when Adamek forced Cunningham against the ropes, Adamek had his way. Cunningham was unbelievably nimble for a big man, while Adamek was plenty sharp but hit harder.
How’s this for seesaw action: On my card, in the 2nd round, Adamek floored Cunningham at the bell, although he wasn’t badly hurt. Cunningham won the 3rd, then was winning the 4th after landing so many left uppercuts that you thought the universe might run out of them… whereupon Adamek roared back and floored Cunningham again at the end of the round. Adamek won the 5th, but Cunningham took the 6th and 7th. He was winning the 8th again before, wouldn’t you know it, Adamek decked him again. This time, there was more left in the round and Cunningham, hurt though he was, fought back like he wasn’t. Cunningham won three of the four remaining rounds, and the last one was good enough to even the score on my card. But it’s not like a ton of those individual rounds that went to each fighter weren’t close.
All the rest of the patterns shifted relentlessly, too. Sometimes Cunningham was the aggressor, and sometimes Adamek was. Sometimes Adamek seemed like he might go down instead of Cunningham, but he has some kind of chin and/or Cunningham doesn’t punch hard enough to have been able to finish him. Both men couldn’t take “no” for an answer, which is a recipe for a great fight — if Adamek landed on Cunningham, Cunningham felt compelled to respond, and vice versa.
Both men afterward didn’t exactly give each other a ton of credit. Adamek: “I knew after the 1st round he could not hurt me.” Cunningham: “He didn’t hit that hard.” At ringside, most members of the media either had it a draw or a win for Adamek, but everyone came away impressed by both men.
I knew this fight would be good, and as I said, it’s the reason I wanted to cover it live. I haven’t been able to say “I told you so” much of late, but if you watched this fight on my recommendation, I hope you’ll let me say “I told you so.” It was easily one of the best cruiserweight fights of all time — only Jean-Marc Mormeck-O’Neil Bell and Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi even compare, among the ones I’ve seen — and Cunningham said at the news conference, “I hope the fight helps boxing.” I thought it did.
Screw “next for the winner” and “next for the loser,” like I usually do. These two should fight each other again next, and every week, if possible.