NEWARK, N.J. — Greetings from not-Asbury Park. As I write this, I sit in the Gateway Center near the Prudential Center, which will host a televised Versus show Thursday night headlined by a battle for the real cruiserweight (200 lbs.) championship of the world. I’ve just returned from the weigh-in for the card, consumed a Dr. Pepper and a candy bar, and maybe won’t sit here too long because I’m getting a lot of weird looks, like maybe people don’t file boxing blog entries from this building very often.
Everyone was in pretty good spirits at the weigh-in, which, as Sean and I have learned first hand, isn’t always the case, what with fighters starving themselves left and right. But the presense of an enthusiastic Polish media and the fact that (most) everyone was on weight meant I was able to chat up some of the fighters sans grumpiness between Jersey-accent laden announcements. So: photos, quotes, a preview of the undercard and a brief kerfuffle note await you after the jump.
First, a note on the program Wednesday evening. The televised show starts at 8 p.m., and Steve Cunningham-Tomasz Adamek for the lineal Ring magazine championship belt is, of course, the headline bout. Bantamweight (118 lbs.) Joseph Agbeko will defend his alphabet title belt for the first time against William Gonzalez on the televised undercard. Depending on whether those fights end in early knockouts, bouts between junior welterweights (140 lbs.) Jeremy Bryan and Khristian Geraci and welterweights (147 lbs.) Henry Crawford and Maximino Cuevas could fill dead air time. (NOTE TO THE FOLK AT HBO PAY-PER-VIEW: Knowing that some of the undercard fights this past weekend for the welterweight Manny Pacquiao-Oscar De La Hoya showdown might have wrapped up quickly, would a contingency plan like this have been so goddam hard?)
We’ll start with Cunningham and Adamek pics and quotes; the preview and prediction for that fight, we’ll save until early tomorrow.
A Polish television station asked Cunningham, who weighed in at 197, whether Adamek is his best opponent to date. He answered: “He is a good fighter. He’s got a good resume and a good pedigree. But I’ve to make him look like he’s the worst fighter, you understand?” By the way, I love that saluting thing he does, what with him being a Navy man and all.
Adamek, who recently moved to the United States, was a little bigger at 198. He was skittish about his English, but told me he expected to be faster than Cunningham (!). “I want to be two-time champ,” he said, referring to his old days as a light heavyweight (175 lbs.) title-holder. “I feel very strong and very fast at this weight.”
Agbeko, on the left, is getting back into the ring after a tremendously long layoff — since September of 2007. Anything you can think of that might derail his return to the ring, it’s probably happened: His last scheduled appearance was cancelled because he came down with malaria, for crissakes. At any rate, he told me that he’d have no ill effects from the malaria because it was long-gone. “I missed the ring,” he said. “I missed my fans.”
It’s too bad he’s had a momentum-killing delay like this, because he looked like a very nice fighter in the televised Showtime bout where he won the title off Luis Perez. But it was hard to tell if Agbeko was the goods, or if Perez had just been through one too many wars. Agbeko has a nice blend of speed and power — in 25 wins, he has 22 knockouts, but it was more the accumulation of swift shots that led the doctor to stop the Perez fight.
I’m not going to say Agbeko’s opponent is the goods; I haven’t seen Gonzalez fight, but he’s not ranked in the top 10 by Ring magazine, and the biggest name on his resume is Jhonny Gonzalez, who knocked him out in three rounds to establish that he, Jhonny, was the superior Gonzalez. Jhonny’s an excellent fighter, but the quick nature of the loss gives me pause about whether William will be able to put up a challenge. The biggest question is whether the layoff will work to Agbeko’s detriment.
(Incidentally: “King Kong” is not just Agbeko’s nickname. I mean, it is that, too. But King Kong is his actual birth name. If I had seen his parents, I would have done a blowout feature interview with them about why they named their kid King Kong. Whatever their motive, it was a wholly commendable thing of them to do.)
Devon Alexander, on the left, is the junior welterweight prospect-turning-contender who’d been the best young fighter in the Don King stable but, like a lot of Don King fighters, found himself more inactive than he wanted to be, and he and his team went public with their complaints to try and shake things loose. It seems to have worked, because Alexander is fighting for the second time in two months. His opponent, Christopher Fernandez, has the air of a “stay busy” opponent’s record (15-5-1), but maybe that’s sensible, since Alexander is in line for a title shot against Timothy Bradley. Alexander’s pleased by the new busy-ness in his career. (If only everyone wanted to fight more often, huh?) “I’m ready to rock and roll,” Alexander told me. “I’m always ready. I’m glad to be fighting… We’re a big family and we all have misunderstandings. But I had to make my voice heard.”
One last note involving the above fighter on the left. Patrick Farrell, also a cruiserweight, was supposed to make his pro debut Thursday. But something very strange happened (a kerfuffle, you might call it): He weighed in at 197, and his opponent weighed in at 170.5. Everyone was raising an eyebrow over this. How does something like that happen? Why would someone even WANT to weight 27 pounds less than his opponent? The New Jersey Commission went to pull the plug on the fight, fearing for the smaller man’s safety. Then, the smaller man, Joe Njau, got back on the scale. Suddenly, it read 178, which is three pounds more than he would need to weigh. He put on a shirt, but I doubt the shirt weighed eight pounds. Some dudes who wanted the fight to go through began shouting at the Commission, all the while insisting they didn’t screw with the scale. It was all very strange, and some private chats ensued away from the media. All the while, Farrell just chilled out about it all. Last I saw him, he was eating a sandwich very casually.
(All photos taken, ineptly, by me.)