(The crowd at Tomasz Adamek’s fight is almost as interesting as the fights themselves.)
The streets of Newark were a sea of red as I approached the Prudential Center for the heavyweight bout between Tomasz Adamek and Michael Grant. Adamek’s legions of supporters are nothing like the Hollywood-esque fans that stroll in only for main events in Las Vegas. There were lines of Polska-clad fans eagerly awaiting entry into the Prudential Center when I arrived, nearly an hour before the first bell of the opening bout.
7:30 – It took me a hell of a lot longer to find my auxiliary press seat – not a bad view, but the lack of a power outlet made my laptop more of a liability than an asset – than it did for the first fight to take place. Debuting junior lightweight Tyrone Luckey scored a knockdown of Larry Yanez (also making his debut) before the echo of the first bell subsided, and followed up with a barrage of punches that forced a stoppage early in the 1st round.
With time to kill, the ring card girls were introduced to the crowd. Of course, the girl from Poland received the most rousing ovation. Like the vast majority of the jarringly attractive Polish women in the crowd tonight, she deserved the applause.
7:45 – Like the Cerebral Assassin, Tiple H, junior welterweight Osnel Charles makes his way to the ring to the tune of Motorhead’s “The Game.” At least he didn’t spit water at us.
Charles scored a quick knockdown of Hector Collado in the 1st round on a counter left hook, catching him off balance. Charles had much better technique and speed, but Collado was tough and managed to land a big right hand before the bell. Charles dominates the 2nd with his boxing, but Collado made his presence felt a few times. Collado took over in the second half of the fight, catching the fading Charles with big, looping shots, but the knockdown proved the difference, as Charles scored a unanimous decision, winning by only one point on two of the three scorecards. The crowd booed, but only because the late Collado charge left an impression.
8:15 – Junior lightweight Shemuel Pagan apparently sold a lot of tickets, as part of Main Events’ lean and mean new promotional strategy, and I seem to be sitting in Pagan country. Pagan demonstrated good hand speed and an offensive mindset from the southpaw stance, a relatively rare combination. He dominated round 1 and scored a knockdown early in round 2 on a nice combination of punches, highlighted by a big uppercut. Raul Rivera was in survival mode seemingly from the opening bell, and the fight would have probably been stopped by most referees other than Steve Smoger. In the end, Pagan swept a unanimous decision, even earning a 10-8 round in the fourth on two scorecards despite not scoring a knockdown.
9:05 – After an intermission, the televised portion of the card begins with junior welterweights Jeremy Bryan and Daniel Mitchell, in what turned out to be a short, controversial fight. After Bryan controlled the 1st round, a collision in a clinch at the end of the first round left Mitchell clutching his eye. There was no visible blood, but the doctor determined that Mitchell could not continue (as the fans booed lustily) and Bryan was awarded an odd TKO victory.
9:30 – 2008 United States Olympic welterweight Sadam Ali fought next, facing tough Lenin Arroyo. While Demetrius “Tell Me I’m The Greatest” Andrade was the most hyped of the 2008 U.S. Olympians, Ali and Gary Russell, Jr. have been the most impressive professionals so far. Ali demonstrates his fast hands and feet and exciting style from the get-go, plastering Arroyo with quick, sharp combinations before darting away, winding up like a true showman and even making his defense entertaining. Ali worked the body effectively throughout the bout to slow the ineffectively advancing Arroyo, and his diligence paid off in the 5th round. Ali landed a brutal left hook below the rib cage and, after the usual delayed reaction, Arroyo collapsed, clutching his side in obvious agony. It proved an emphatic and impressive punctuation to an excellent performance from Ali, who demonstrated real star potential throughout the fight.
10:20 – After a delay in which the officials worked on an apparent problem with the ring ropes, it’s time for (AHHHHHHHHHHH) the Love Child. Joel Julio and Jamaal Davis squared off in a junior middleweight fight that was a rather lackluster co-feature. Although Davis was game and tough and even did some good work in the early rounds before Julio got rolling, the fighters were simply in two different skill classes. Julio did suffer a cut in the 3rd round, but it did not seem to bother him as he unleashed fast combinations of powerful hooks that slammed into the granite-chinned Davis throughout the fight. Julio got back into the win column with a unanimous decision victory, and he deserved to ease back into the ring after a brutal fight with Alfredo Angulo. However, I couldn’t help being underwhelmed, given the elevated spot on the card it occupied, and the crowd seemed to agree.
11:10 – From indifference to the Julio fight to the screaming, chanting, Polish flag waving, uninhibited exuberance that greets the promise of Tomasz Adamek taking his Newark, New Jersey stage. The crowd is amazing; there must be 10,000-plus and all seem to be clad in red and white.
First comes Michael Grant, who is greeted with a chorus of scathing boos and hisses. I briefly wonder what kind of reception David Haye would get in this building, before remembering that there’s no chance in hell David Haye would ever step into this lion’s den to face Adamek. Then Adamek begins his ring walk to his usual awesome Polish rock song (which gets stuck in my head after every Adamek fight, and I don’t mind because I like it), and the crowd goes berserk.
As the fighters engage in the 1st round, the size differential is stunning. Adamek, however, is well prepared for his size disadvantage, using his mobility to get inside Grant’s jab and throwing quick, sharp combinations before darting back out of reach. Grant seems rusty, throwing few punches outside of a somewhat lazy jab and being unable to stop Adamek’s advances. A tackle at the end of round 1 from Adamek draws ear-splitting approval from the crowd, and Adamek banks the first two rounds against his bigger foe.
The pattern continues in the middle rounds, as Adamek picks his spots, lands quick, stinging combinations inside and then dodging any danger. Adamek’s hand speed looks especially impressive tonight, though it is not clear whether this is due to the advances he has made in training or simply because of Grant’s lumbering nature.
Adamek controlled the fight until a massive right hand from Grant unsettled the Polish star in round 6. Adamek’s legs immediately looked to betray him, but Grant had almost no time to follow up before the bell and Adamek retreated to his corner to recover. Adamek had his legs back in the 7th, but Grant looked motivated by his previous success and landed a few more good power shots, the first time he really started letting his right hand go in the fight. After Adamek suffered a cut outside his left eye in the 8th round (hard to tell if it was a punch or a headbutt), the fighters engaged in a spirited 9th frame, with each landing impressive shots, though Adamek’s work rate and accuracy continue to shine through. Adamek regained his control in the 10th and 11th rounds, as Grant slowed again and Adamek soldiered forward with his dedicated combination punching. Round 12 proved wild, as Grant, to his great credit, realized he had as much chance of taking a decision in this building as I did of taking home the Polish ring card girl, and came forward with reckless aggression, looking for the miracle knockout. Adamek desperately dodged and slipped his kamikaze foe, as the crowd lustily booed Grant’s final stand. To an explosion of cheers, Adamek withstood the charge and emerged unscathed in the final round.
The judges awarded Adamek the wide unanimous decision that he deserved, and Adamek once again proved he could engage in a fun, entertaining fight, even with a fighter who hasn’t been relevant since the last time the heavyweight division was actually good. The atmosphere certainly adds to the entertainment, but so too does the style and character of Adamek. To see a man of his size and build square off against a behemoth like Grant add instant intrigue to his fights. Even when he has his man completely outskilled, as he did Grant, there is still the looming danger of that one thunderous punch that could destroy his heavyweight hopes. That drama makes every Adamek heavyweight bout compelling.