By Michael Montero
This Saturday in Wroclaw, Poland in front of over 40,000 fans, Tomasz Adamek will challenge Vitali Klitschko for his heavyweight title belt in what is undoubtedly the biggest prize fight in Polish history. Both boxers feature exciting styles and are known to “bring it” in the ring. Let’s take a closer look at the intangibles.
Polish born Tomasz Adamek started his professional career as a light heavyweight in 1999. Fighting mostly at home in his early career, he gained international notoriety among boxing fans during his first fight in America in 2005. Adamek battled though all twelve rounds with a broken nose to claim his first world title belt in an absolute war with Aussie Paul Briggs. A year later those two would turn in another classic as Adamek had to get up off the canvas in the 1st round, but recovered to defend his title. In 2007, the current Jersey City, NJ resident suffered his only defeat as a pro to “Bad” Chad Dawson, who coincidentally fights for the undisputed light heavyweight championship against Bernard Hopkins next month. Adamek came on late and even put Dawson down once but ended up losing a decision. His camp cited problems making the division limit of 175 pounds and immediately announced their plans moving up to cruiserweight (200 pounds). It proved to be a smart decision. Tomasz would go 7-0 as a cruiserweight, winning the undisputed championship in 2008 against Steve Cunningham in a fight of the year candidate. Now a two division titlist and legitimate world champion, that wasn’t enough for the warrior. In late 2009 Adamek moved up to heavyweight, where he is 6-0 to date. This Saturday he faces the toughest test of his career against Klitschko, but he’ll have 40,000 of his countrymen supporting him at the brand new Wroclaw Stadium.
Vitali, the elder of the Klitschko brothers, started his professional career in late 1996. He claimed his first title belt in 1999 with a thunderous knock out of England’s Herbie Hide, only to lose it to Chris Byrd less than a year later in a performance that still brings criticism from Klitschko detractors to this day. Klitschko was ahead on the scorecards and cruising to victory when he suddenly retired on his stool before the 9th round, citing a shoulder (rotator cuff) injury. This left many with the impression that the giant Ukrainian lacked the heart to become a true heavyweight champion. Fast forward a few years to 2003 and Klitschko proved all his detractors wrong with a very exciting, gutsy effort against then champion Lennox Lewis. Fighting with one of the worst cuts you’ll ever see, Vitali pressed the action and was beating the champion through six rounds when the ring doctor stopped the match. Over the next eighteen months, “Dr. Ironfist” would go on to win a vacant title belt, defend it twice, and then abruptly retire due to severe injuries that prevented him from training. Again there were detractors that criticized Vitali, and again he’d prove them wrong. In 2008 he returned to the ring and won back the title belt he had vacated four years earlier, dominating Nigerian Samuel Peter in a masterful display. He has defended his belt six times since, hardly losing a round. Now he goes up against arguably the best overall fighter he’s faced since Lennox Lewis, and he’s going into enemy territory to do it. But fighting on the road has never scared Klitschko; he claimed his first title belt against the before mentioned Hide in his native England, and just two years ago toppled then undefeated contender Chris Arreola in his backyard of Los Angeles.
Adamek is listed at 6’1”, but he’s probably more like 6’2” and some change. Still, he is dwarfed by his opponent. Klitschko is the much bigger man as he’s not only five inches taller, but has a five inch reach advantage as well. To prepare for such disadvantages, Adamek’s team has specifically matched him with large heavyweights since he moved up. He faced the 6’7” Michael Grant and 6’6” Kevin McBride in his adopted home base at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, winning comfortable decisions. But Vitali Klitschko is a clear level or two above those men, and Adamek’s team knows it. In a recent interview Adamek’s trainer Roger Bloodworth said, “he is fighting a very big man and he can’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time.” His statement hints to the keys to this fight for team Adamek: distance, movement and timing.
Klitschko is a master at “arm punching”; he leans back in a defensive stance and throws shots from all angles, never leaving himself out of position. If Adamek stands in front of Klitschko on the outside, he’ll get picked apart. If he comes straight in, he’ll get eaten alive. If he backs straight out, he’ll get tagged. He needs to smother Klitschko’s power by getting close, but he must come in from the side, using angles. Once inside he’ll need to do his work (going to the body early would be smart), step out and pivot before his much bigger opponent can lean on him or counter. The tricky part is being able to repeat this process for twelve rounds without slipping up once. Tomasz has shown a tendency in previous bouts to get lured into slugfests where he relied on his granite chin to carry him. That simply will not work here. When he fought Chris Arreola last year (the only common opponent between himself and Klitschko), he was backed up, pushed around and even buzzed in spots. If Chris could do that, imagine what the much stronger and more fundamentally sound Vitali could do.
We all know what we’re going to see from Klitschko, the motto in his camp is “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The question for him is can he keep up a quick pace against a good fighter at the age of 40? This writer believes so. All accounts from the Klitschko camp are that the titlist is in the shape of his life and looking better than ever. He’s certainly taking his opponent seriously and was recently quoted as saying, “I prepare for this fight like it’s my toughest fight in my boxing career. I know the quality of Tomasz Adamek.” No doubt both men are coming in at 100% and ready to go a full twelve.
There’s an old adage in boxing that “a good bigger man always beats a good smaller man” and this is certainly true the majority of the time. But of course on any given night, anything can happen in the squared circle. In this case however, I feel the old adage holds up. Vitali is just too big, too strong, and equally as skilled as his faster, more athletic, but much smaller opponent. Another saying in the boxing business is that “speed kills” and Adamek certainly does have the speed advantage, but it’s not that blazing kind of speed that can usurp such a large size disadvantage. Although Vitali doesn’t really possess the kind of “one punch KO” power that his younger brother Wladimir does, he has shown the ability to wear down quality opponents with an accumulation of punches in recent bouts. I expect Tomasz to have early success and possibly be winning the fight after the first few rounds, but eventually Vitali’s offensive arsenal will begin to take its toll and by the middle rounds things will begin to look one sided. Adamek will fight with tremendous heart and bravely work through cuts and swelling at some point, but he’ll systematically be worn down and worn out. I look for either a corner retirement or referee stoppage heading into the later rounds.
One thing is for sure; Adamek will not pull a David Haye and have us screaming the words “fight!”, “throw a punch!” or “stop running!” at our television. The proud warrior will give it his all and make his country proud. But as they say, the good bigger man beats the good smaller man and Klitschko defends his title once again.
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