I’m about to reverse myself, or appear to, on all kinds of things about this cruiserweight championship fight between divisional king Tomasz Adamek and challenger Johnathon Banks Friday night on Showtime:
- I know I said earlier this week that I expected this to be an excellent fight. I’m no longer convinced it will rise to that level. I’m not saying it’s going to turn everyone into Rip Van Winkle, because I expect some good action early. But “excellent” is a bigger word than I’m comfortable using here.
- I’m saying straight up that I don’t give Banks much of a chance of winning. I usually try not to telegraph my prediction, for suspense’s sake.
- And I’m going to go ahead and say it’s because I doubt the career achievements of Banks thus far. Often, I harp in this space against people who shrilly diminish a fighter’s accomplishments.
Now your only incentive to read is as follows: How do you explain this hypocrisy, sir? What has caused you to come to these dismissive conclusions? Think of it like a mystery where you know the ending, but don’t know how the plot winded through to its denouement.
Also, before going forward, I want to say that this fight is ultimately a good thing. I’d have preferred to see Adamek in a rematch against Steve Cunningham, but any Adamek fight has the chance to turn into a Fight of the Year candidate, and this could help build interest in a do-over of last year’s against Cunningham. It could further stir up Newark, N.J., into a regional boxing hotbed, and the more of those, the better. Adamek is on the cusp of being considered one of the elite fighters in the sport, and this will assist on that front. And young Banks has some power and a pedigree that could make him an exciting force in the sport one day, be it now or later. It’s not some easy defense for the newly crowned cruiserweight champion at all. It’s just that… well, allow me to explain myself.
Adamek, a Polish fighter popular in that joyously decibel-abusing boxing community, had a terrific 2008 after a bad 2007. In 2007, as a light heavyweight, he got completely outclassed by ultra-talented Chad Dawson, and only a late knockdown by Adamek prevented the fight from turning into a shutout. But then he moved up to cruiser, where, after an easing-in period, he took on the recently deposed lineal cruiserweight champion O’Neil Bell in 2008. It was a dangerous fight. But it changed everything.
You see, Adamek, in 2005 and 2006, had waged a two-fight series with Paul Briggs that really was a pair of street fights in disguise. Both were Fight of the Year finalists. Of the two men, Adamek was the boxer, if anyone was. But he got coaxed by Briggs into crazy brawls, and by the time he fought Dawson, his boxing skills, such as they were, appeared non-existent. But as a cruiserweight, Adamek had to be more intelligent. Bell was the bigger man by far. Adamek, as it happened, carried a good deal of his power up with him, but he used it precisely against the puncher of the two. Anyone who saw Adamek force Bell to call it quits thought, “OK. Maybe all this talk of ‘going back to his amateur days’ wasn’t bull.” Just because he could fight like that, though, didn’t mean he had to. The less talented boxer but bigger hitter of the two in the Cunningham fight, Adamek lured the slickster into stretches of brawling. Sitting ringside for that one, I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was the definition of a seesaw battle. Adamek came out on top, winning the lineal championship belt, and combined with the Bell win, it was enough to win him honorable mentions for Fighter of the Year.
Banks, at this point, is really still more a prospect than anything. At 26, big men do still tend to be prospects. An attempt to move up in class in 2006 nearly backfired when Eliseo Castillo decked him twice in the first round. Banks showed good heart to come back and knock out Castillo in the 4th, and sometimes, that happens to prospects, getting knocked down. After a two-year retreat in level of competition, Banks in 2008 fought Vincenzo Rossitto, a distinct upward move. I did not see that fight, but by all accounts, Banks was awful. Nonetheless, he pulled out the win to preserve his perfect record.
The problem here is that Rossitto, coming in to that fight, had been fish food for elite cruiserweights. A who’s who of the division had knocked him out, sometimes quite early. Banks is a boxer-puncher, according to his legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward, but shouldn’t Banks have also knocked out Rossitto? I’m not saying Banks can’t punch. But if Banks doesn’t score a knockout by the 5th round, he doesn’t. He hasn’t yet, anyway. And while he can box, he has a lot of vulnerabilities — like a really, really wide stance. He talks a good game about wanting to be one of the best cruiserweights ever, but he appears to overestimate his abilities. He calls the cruiserweights a “step down” from frequent sparring partner Wladimir Klitschko, which is true in one sense, but that’s sparring. And Banks protests the notion that he’s never been in with anyone as good as Adamek by citing the name of Imamu Mayfield, a former beltholder he beat… neglecting to mention that Mayfield had lost four of five coming in to their 2008 meeting, three by knockout. Mayfield isn’t a “step down” from Adamek — he’s a plunge down a set of stairs of the kind you see in screwball comedies where the fall is so unbelievably long you have to laugh. Steward thinks the sparring with Klitschko has really honed Banks’ jab and overall boxing skills, but Banks has been sparring with Klitschko and Lennox Lewis before him for a long time, and 2006 Banks doesn’t look like he has a better jab than the 2008 version I witnessed when I saw him fight Mayfield live.
Adamek’s trainer Andrzej Gmitruk — thought to be underrated by the Polish press — appears to have Banks pegged perfectly. He thinks Banks is a threat early, with his fast hands and power in both gloves. That said, he thinks reports of Banks matching the punching power of Klitschko are overheated. He thinks Adamek needed to work on speed, stamina and defense for this fight, and be patient to start. I’ll second all that and add a couple of my own observations: When and if Adamek decides to make Banks fight going backwards, Banks isn’t going to like it. And Banks may have power, but Adamek has one of the best chins in the game.
It is possible, as everything is, that Banks flowers overnight and shows something he’s never shown before. If any fight would motivate such a performance, this is it. It is likewise possible Adamek’s ring wars catch up to him, as may have happened with indestructible welterweight Antonio Margarito last month, and that Banks outspeeds and outboxes Adamek where Cunningham could not. I just really doubt it.
Now, back to my reversals or apparent reversals:
I watched some more Banks fights. I saw what Gmitruk saw. I looked more closely at Banks’ record, and the record of his opponents. I didn’t like what I saw. And while I’m quick to defend fighters with a number of high quality wins against people who jump on those same fighters over one loss, I’m also cautious about jumping on the bandwagon of a hyped fighter who has very few quality wins. It’s the same principle at play: Let’s not overreact, gang. (Except for when I was foolishly and somewhat tongue-in-cheek leading the bandwagon of featherweight Yuriorkis Gamboa, where I still have about a 50-50 chance of coming out smelling like roses.)
My prediction: Adamek by mid-round knockout.
Confidence: 95%. Because I’ve been way wrong before.
My allegiance: Adamek.