By Nick Tylwalk
Tomasz “Goral” Adamek and Steve “USS” Cunningham met near the end of 2008 in one of the most thrilling cruiserweight fights in recent memory. Their paths diverged after Adamek’s split decision victory, but they’re about to come together again as heavyweights – and the winner may end up with a shot at something, and someone, even bigger.
The Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania will play host to the rematch between Adamek and Cunningham on December 22. Not only will the fight be televised on NBC, but there will be an extra layer of intrigue since the victor could find himself in line quickly for a title shot against IBF heavyweight titleholder Wladimir Klitschko.
“I believe more people will get to see Steve and Tomasz fight on December 22nd than probably have ever watched either one of them fight in the United States,” promoter Kathy Duva said at a press conference to make the fight official. “I can’t even express how pleased I am that this is a fight that we’re going to be able to bring to NBC and to the fans out there.”
As far as a return to network TV goes, NBC can only hope that the action this time around matches what happened in the first fight. Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs) managed to score three knockdowns, including one in the closing seconds of Round 4 after Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs) had stunned him early on. Incredibly, the fight was still close on two out of the three cards in the late rounds, and both men simply stood and fired bombs from the final minute of Round 10 all the way to the final bell.
Adamek stayed at cruiserweight for just one more fight before moving up to heavyweight, where he earned victories over the likes of Andrew Golota and Chris Arreola. That left him in position for a bout against Vitali Klitschko, but the WBC titleholder dominated him, winning every round until the end came via a 10th round TKO.
After righting the ship with three straight victories in 2012, Adamek believes he’s adjusted to life with the big men, giving him an edge in his second go-round with Cunningham.
“Four years ago I was much smaller,” Adamek said. “I’m stronger, I’m bigger. I’m not 200 pounds, I’m 220. I’m naturally a heavyweight. Still a big heart. I’m not worried about this fight. Everybody who knows the boxing business knows I am a different fighter now.”
Indeed, it’s Cunningham who probably has more to prove in terms of being an improved fighter since the previous meeting. The Philadelphia native remained at cruiserweight to dispatch Wayne Braithwaite, Troy Ross and Enad Lacina, but he ran into a brick wall named Yoan Pablo Hernandez. Still the reigning IBF beltholder at 200 pounds, Hernandez defeated Cunningham in October 2011 and February 2012, knocking him down three times in the process.
That sent Cunningham up a division, where he breezed through a decision over Jason Gavern in September. Whether he truly belongs in the largest weight class remains to be seen, but he cites an improved mental approach as the reason things will be different in the second meeting.
“I can truthfully say that in the last fight, I underestimated him,” Cunningham said. “We went in to knock him out, and you saw what happened, just fireworks. I ended up getting knocked down three times, but I continued to fight. That’s just the kind of person I am.
“I don’t want to make it as close as it was the last time, so we’re willing to put on a great performance, probably the best performance you’ve ever seen out of me.”
With Bethlehem close to both Cunningham’s home turf in Philly and Adamek’s adopted home of Jersey City, fan support should be strong for both fighters. Tickets went on sale on October 23, and the ringside sections are already sold out.
Seats for Adamek-Cunningham II start at $50, and are available by phone at 610-297-7414 and through Ticketmaster. The NBC broadcast on December 22 will begin at 4 pm, with undercard fights to be announced in the coming weeks.