Note: This interview originally appeared in the January 2011 issue of THE RING magazine, which is available now on newsstands. You can subscribe to the magazine by clicking here.
Tomasz Adamek arrived on the American fight scene when he engaged in a bloody, life-and-death struggle against Paul Briggs in May 2005, winning the vacant WBC light heavyweight belt in a Fight of the Year candidate. Since then, the Polish import, who resides in Jersey City, N.J., has been a staple of consistency, an earnest competitor who fans can count on to provide an honest effort every time he fights.
Adamek, 34, has steadily risen from a European curiosity with a glossy record to someone many fans are counting on to spark some life into a dormant heavyweight division ruled by the iron fists of the Klitschko brothers, THE RING world heavyweight champion Wladimir and WBC titlist Vitali.
Adamek, 42-1 (27), has been gradually working toward his ultimate goal of fighting one of the Klitschkos. His first introduction to the heavyweight division was a raging success in Poland, where he dismantled fellow Pole Andrew Golota in five rounds in September of last year. In his next heavyweight outing, Adamek outpointed Jason Estrada this past February, and followed with what’s been his signature victory at heavyweight, a majority decision over heavy-handed Chris Arreola in April.
Adamek took another step toward a Klitschko showdown by battling 6-foot-7 Michael Grant in August. The size difference was supposed to give Adamek an idea of what it would be like fighting one of the towering Klitschkos. Adamek beat Grant via a unanimous 12-round decision, but showed that he still has a lot of progress to make before challenging for the heavyweight title.
That’s why Adamek, undersized by today’s heavyweight standards at 6-1½ and 217 pounds, feels he needs more experience fighting larger opponents. Thus, he’s fighting 6-2, 230-plus-pound Vinny Maddalone on Thursday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Adamek typically fills the Prudential Center with the Polish faithful who paint the arena red and white each time he fights. Adamek is proud of his Polish heritage, but, ironically, he finds himself the biggest heavyweight draw in the United States today.
THE RING Managing Editor Joseph Santoliquito interviewed Adamek both before and after the Grant fight, with the help of interpreters Maciej Curlej and Peter Garczarczyk.
“Tomasz showed a different side of himself, other than the dour, focused Adamek we’re used to seeing just prior to a fight,” Santoliquito said. “He has a great sense of humor, and he really seems to have bonded exceptionally well with his new trainer, Roger Bloodworth, who’s also serving a dual role as Adamek’s English tutor. The thing that was most refreshing about Tomasz is that he’s a star in the sport who doesn’t like being treated like a star. He wants to be viewed as a regular guy you can sit down and talk boxing with over a beer.”
The Ring: How did you get into boxing? Tomasz Adamek: I started when I was 12. I was interested in fighting and in sports. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do at that time in my life. I played a lot of soccer; soccer is very big in Poland and where I lived. I had a heavybag when I was young that I used to punch. However, God guided me to boxing. My father and my uncles went into boxing, so boxing was very well known in my family growing up. They had me on the guided tour. Of course, I used to street fight when I was younger. You could say that helped in my development too (laughs).
The Ring: Tell us about some of your early experiences. TA: I fought a lot (laughs). What was happening was there were these two villages, Gilowice, where I’m from, and the other village, Pewel Wielka, which was near us. For fun, we would go to the other village to look for girls (laughs). When we were bored, we would do it. We’d go over and something would happen – a fight. Quite often it was about women. One will go to a village and look for women and always a fight would happen. My father dated women from the other village. They always tried to stop my father, but they couldn’t. He used beat people up to meet women (laughs). They knew my father wasn’t there to dance. My father had to beat up all these people to date this woman, who turned out to be my mother (laughs). My uncles did the same thing. I didn’t have to do that to meet my wife (laughs). My wife is from a closer village. Besides, they knew I was a fighter so they didn’t pick a fight with me. They would have to get an entire village to fight me (laughs). We’d do it gloves off, just fists. A lot of times they were staged, yes, fixed street fights (laughs).
The Ring: Fixed street fights? TA: Yes, I know, hard to believe. But we’d arrange something so no one would get really hurt and it would look good (laughs). And I always leave with the girl (laughs).
The Ring: Who were your early boxing influences? TA: There was Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, there was Mike Tyson; guys like that. Evander Holyfield was an influence. And being from Poland, my friend, Andrew Golota, who was already fighting in the United States when I was coming up. He was doing well and that’s what I wanted to achieve and accomplish.
The Ring: Golota? Why? TA: Yes, Golota was one of the people I admired. You’re looking at me funny, but yes, Golota, believe it or not (laughs).
The Ring: Were you offended by the bad things Golota said about you leading up to your fight with him? TA: I was not offended because I never pay attention to what others are saying about me. It makes no difference. It’s just done to get some psychological advantage. It’s done to make you think and make you be afraid. I don’t get afraid. I was never afraid of words. You cannot hurt me this way, no matter who you are.
The Ring: What was life like for you growing up in Poland? TA: My father died when I was 3 years old in a car accident. He was bus driver. I had four sisters and then there was me. My oldest sister is in her 40s, and I’m number four. My sisters used to beat me up all the time (laughs). I was 12 when I started to work. My grandmother had a big farm, and I used to help her on her farm. I used to take care of farm animals. When mom went to work, she used to work in a small factory sewing gloves. Then, after work, she used to go to another job, making slippers. It wasn’t easy when my father died. I don’t know too much because I was so young when it happened. Before my father died, he was working on a house and it wasn’t finished. After my father died, my uncles and my family went back and finished the house for us. We moved in, five kids and my mother. She’s tough. She’s still tough (laughs).
The Ring: What was it about your mother that made her so tough? TA: You have to understand, my mother had to raise everyone by herself with no help, and she had to be a realist about what she did. There is a famous Polish saying that says you have to have your feet planted to the ground; you have to know what you can do and what you can’t do. She was like that. She was always very real about where we were and how much money we had and how we lived. My mother had to support a whole family. I don’t know if I could do what my mother did, raising five children by herself. Where I’m from, from the mountains, they produce very tough people, hard-working tough people. That came from my mother. That’s what gave me the drive and the edge that I take in the ring with me. My mother is the toughest person that I know (laughs).
The Ring: What was it like living in the mountains? TA: When you live in the mountains, it’s cold. Colder than most people are used to. You have to be tough to deal with the weather all of the time. What happens is when everyone is tough around you, you become tough. The mountain area is not a place for sissies. You have to be a real man. You have to be mature and be able to deal with things, and everyone around you makes you this way. I say living that way made me tough. I didn’t have to go to the woods to go the bathroom though (laughs), but we did have wolves around where I lived. I didn’t wrestle any (laughs). Overall, there wasn’t any real danger unless you were a goat (laughs).
The Ring: What did your mother think about you boxing? TA: My mother was afraid for me. She thought I would get hurt (laughs). She wouldn’t allow me to box, so I used to sneak around my mother. She would have definitely shown me what boxing would be about if she caught me (laughs). But I was a mountaineer and a highlander, and she eventually came around and let me fight. But even now, she still calls me to tell me that I have to stop. I tell her this is what I do for a living, and I can’t stop.
The Ring: What was your family life like? TA: The only boy out of five girls, it wasn’t easy (laughs), always bossing me around. All these women around me (laughs). I couldn’t get a break (laughs). I was the man of the house (laughs), but all with women who were tougher than me. It was an interesting experience being the only boy. They turned me into a cook (laughs). I know my way around the kitchen. They did that (laughs). We used to fight all of the time with them when I was smaller. They used to beat me up, and when I started growing up, I used to beat them up. Once I started training for boxing, I stopped beating up my sisters (laughs). I knew how to hit by then, and I had to stop. They also stopped picking on me (laughs).
The Ring: What concerns did you have coming to America? TA: Not really any. I knew I was coming for the championship fight against Paul Briggs in 2005, so when I came here, it was an opportunity. That’s the way I saw it. I wasn’t too concerned too much about Americans then. Also, the idea I had was to improve and get my name out more. The idea was to show that I can make it in the United States. My family followed me in 2008.
The Ring: What surprised you most about America? TA: For anyone coming from Europe, America is a big country. I mean it’s a big, big country to Polish guys (spreads his hands wide). I mean overwhelmingly big; the area and the space. Everything. You can travel from country to country in Europe like people travel from state to state here in America. I think Poland may be the size of Texas. Yes, states are as big as countries in Europe, and there are so many people in America. That was the biggest thing I had to adjust to; all the people and the time it takes to travel.
The Ring: How important is it to you to represent Poland? TA: Every person who is born in that country should believe in that country. I firmly believe that. I’m very proud to be from Poland and to represent my country. I live here now, but I will always represent Poland. Don’t get me wrong, I love the United States and I’m very happy to be in the United States. It’s why I live here, and it’s why I moved my family here. But I will always be proud of being from Poland.
The Ring: Do you consider yourself Polish or American? TA: I’m a permanent resident of the United States. It’s funny: I live in Polish area of New Jersey, and when people look at me and ask, I tell them I’m half-and-half, half-Pole and half-American (laughs). Some Polish people see me living around the Americans, and they look at me as American. My neighbors do; I’m like one of them. My heart (pats his chest), my heart is in Poland because it’s where I’m from. But United States, this is the mecca of boxing, where I have the most opportunity.
The Ring: Do feel a strong connection to the Polish-American fans who support you? TA: Yes, I do. Very much so. Everyone knows me here, but I’m extremely well known in Poland. I would say that 40 percent of the fans on my website are solely American. So I would say that I do have a connection with Polish-Americans. You just have to look at my fights and the Polish-American crowd that shows up. The arenas are white and red. I’m grateful to all my fans. It doesn’t matter what or who you are, if you like Tomasz Adamek, I like you (laughs). I know there are a lot of Polish people that live in my community, but I’m trying to capture the 300 million Americans that live here too.
The Ring: As a Polish fighter, did you find yourself battling the stain Andrew Golota left on boxing? TA: I really don’t look at Golota and what he did. I want to achieve for myself and be the heavyweight world champion. I don’t really look at anything Golota did. I know I’m a different person. I’m a completely different person than Golota, and I hope people can see and understand that. I have a strong will. But I also know people tend to put everyone in the same boat, Poles with Poles, Americans with Americans, Germans with Germans. I’m sure there are people that think all Poles are the same. That’s not true. I’m definitely different than Golota.
The Ring: What was that like to go back to Poland and fight Golota on a large national stage? TA: When I went over there, the fans were split half-and-half. A lot of people thought Golota would beat me. That helped me gain a tremendous amount of fans when I beat Golota. I just believed I could do it; that God would help me win. From my experience, I knew some fans would be against me. When I was in Germany, fighting Thomas Ulrich and Josip Jalusic, I experienced that. The only thing I could do was to prove that I could fight. I thought I did that in the [Chris] Arreola fight too. I had everyone against me. I experienced the same thing there as in Germany: people against me. I turned that over and won a lot of those fans in both those fights. That’s what I did in Poland when I beat Golota.
The Ring: How different is life for you when you go back to Poland now? TA: It’s a very different life than before. After the Grant fight, I went for a short vacation to Poland with my wife, Dorota, and my two daughters. There were fans everywhere, every small and big town. I gave countess autographs, posed for hundreds of pictures, but I understand that this is a part of being a public person. I will never be like a so-called superstar, with separate rooms in a restaurant so I can have dinner with my family and not be connected to others. I’m still a highlander at heart, a very outgoing and very friendly person. There was my Polish fan from Ireland who drove 30 hours with his girlfriend to Warsaw hoping he can meet me. It happened. He was crying when we shook hands. How could that not humble you? I don’t know if the Polish people think I’m the greatest fighter in Polish history or not. That’s a question for the media and the fans to answer, not me. It’s for them to decide. Polish fans look at me as someone that’s good and not crazy (laughs). Here, in the U.S., I feel I have more freedom to move around and be with my family. There, like I said, they treat me like a superstar. No one is grabbing at me and wanting an autograph here in the United State. Not that I mind that in Poland. I like my fans. It’s something that I have to get used to. It’s like there are two different worlds.
The Ring: How does it feel not having to make weight anymore? TA: It is a very big relief mentally, knowing that I can eat whatever I like, whenever I like. Above everything else, though, the mental comfort is tremendous. I don’t want to go back to what I had to do before. It was killing me, I mean killing me. I couldn’t eat or drink water. I suffered from dehydration. I felt weak when I had to drop weight. I just didn’t feel right. If you lose 20 pounds very fast, you can die. I kept dieting all year and I still had to lose the weight. I was a light heavyweight from 1999 to 2007. I dieted for seven years, and every year I’d get heavier and heavier. It hurt me in the ring. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like I had anything when I was about to fight.
The Ring: What’s been your most challenging fight? TA: The Paul Briggs fight, and for a lot of reasons. Three weeks before the fight, I broke my nose in sparring. During the fight, I was choking on my own blood before the 12th round came. But my belief and stubbornness as the first Polish fighter to win a world championship kept me going. Yes, that’s the fight that made me. That’s the first fight that I was presented to the Polish fans and American fans in the United States.
The Ring: That was an unbelievable war. How did you managed to win? TA: I just believe in God and I am stubborn. That’s what pulled me through. I pray and that gives me that strength. I was thinking during the Briggs fight of how to avoid the punches that were going for my nose. But I have a really big nose (laughs). It was a tremendously tough fight. Today, I don’t think I would go through the same thing. When I came back to Poland and saw a doctor, he was surprised that I was able to fight with the broken nose, as bad as it was, for as long as I did.
The Ring: What did you learn from the Chad Dawson loss? TA: My one loss – ahhhh! The one thing that I learned and the reason why I moved to heavyweight was I couldn’t keep the weight down. That really wasn’t me in the Dawson fight. I didn’t feel right. If I had won that fight, who knows what would have happened. Maybe I stay at light heavyweight and continue to kill myself making weight. Who knows? Maybe there is a good reason why I lost and made the move to cruiserweight. What the Dawson fight did was help me become a cruiserweight world champion, THE RING champion, and it helped me to become a heavyweight. Anything that happens, it happens for a reason. I really believe that. My body kept telling me I wasn’t a light heavyweight, and I wasn’t listening. After the Dawson fight, I listened (laughs).
The Ring: What fighters today do you enjoy watching? TA: I like watching all fighters. I like watching Floyd Mayweather. I like watching Manny Pacquiao. I hope they make that fight. It’s a fight that will be very challenging for both. I like a lot of fighters today, and I think the fighters today should get more credit than we do.
The Ring: When you fought Chris Arreola, did you have any fear that he might try to eat you? TA: That’s good, that’s good (laughs). You caught me off guard with that question (laughs). I wasn’t afraid of Arreola eating me or punching me. I realized that Arreola wasn’t prepared for me. He didn’t think I was a big challenge. Some people said Arreola was going to crush me. But no, no, I don’t think he was going to eat me (laughs).
The Ring: Has boxing politics ever affected your progress? TA: No, not really. I don’t think so. I think if you’re good and talented, your ability speaks for itself. If you’re good and talented, politics can’t hold you down. They play no role in how your career goes. I really believe that. If you’re good, people will come and see you fight.
The Ring: How much longer do you see yourself boxing? TA: Only God knows that answer. If I’m really healthy, maybe I can do this a couple of more years. I want to win a belt at heavyweight and then have a couple more fights. Then after that, I might think about retiring. I can’t really say how much longer I will fight, but that’s the general idea. I want to have all my marbles (laughs pointing to his head) when I’m done. I want to be able to read and count to my daughters. I’d like to think I’d be able to retire at the right time.
The Ring: Going into the Michael Grant fight, were you affected at all by the fact that a lot of people thought Grant was a washed-up fighter and didn’t deserve to be fighting you? TA: I definitely didn’t look at Grant as someone washed up. I never underestimate anyone I fight against, and it could even be you stepping into the ring with me (laughs). The fight was a tremendous opportunity for him. I knew that. I prepared for the Grant fight as I would have any other fight. As far as the public is concerned with me and what people say, it doesn’t matter. I’m the one who has to get into the ring and fight. It’s my job. I know I have to be ready and prepared.
The Ring: Was the match designed to see how you could do against a real tall boxer? TA: I like to think that every fight is an experience in some way or another. Fighting Grant is close to the Klitschko fight only in that they are all big guys. But fighting big guys gets you ready to fight big guys, so I supposed it didn’t hurt.
The Ring: Did you ever see the Lennox Lewis-Michael Grant fight? TA: I saw that fight many times. I used some of the things I saw against Grant. But Lewis, you have to remember, was a champion and much bigger than me. What I saw Lennox do was not give Grant an opportunity to box. I saw that from the beginning of the fight. You have to believe that you can win, and my style is different than Lennox’s style. But Lennox showed me how I had to be active against Grant.
The Ring: Were you pleased with how you fought against Grant? TA: I was. I was really happy because I thought I connected many times to his face. He was a tough guy to fight, and that was my first experience with someone as tall as Michael Grant. I didn’t expect to knock him out. I went into it like I go into every fight. I was prepared to fight 12 fights, like I always do. If you’re not prepared to fight 12 rounds hard, you might as well not go into the ring. My trainer, Roger Bloodworth, told me I had to connect with him for 12 rounds. I think I did that. I think I stayed in his face. My goal wasn’t to knock him out. You have to understand, knockouts come when they come. They don’t always come when you want them to come. I wanted to beat Grant, and that’s what I did.
The Ring: You say you were happy with the Grant fight, but afterward you didn’t look very pleased. Why? TA: Grant kept holding my head down with his hand. I thought the referee would do something about it, but he didn’t. That made me angry. I was cut, and Grant was holding my head, so I wasn’t too happy after the fight. I wasn’t ready for that. I’ll have to get used to fighting against a taller guy.
The Ring: You seemed to be in a little trouble in the 12th round against Grant. What happened? TA: I wasn’t hurt. I don’t think I was in trouble at all, in my opinion, and he never hurt me either. I was more tired after the Arreola fight, because there were a lot more exchanges. Not like against Grant. I’ll admit that I was not fighting with the normal energy I have in the later rounds. But that’s natural. You can’t fight hard for all 12 rounds.
The Ring: Did Grant do anything that was unexpected? TA: Grant didn’t surprise me with anything. He did what we expected him to do in preparing for this fight. We expected Grant to try to use his size, and he did a little. We knew it would be a tough fight because Grant was a desperate man in a do-or-die fight. He knew if he beat me, he would rise and I would fall.
The Ring: Was the move to heavyweight motivated by financial gain, or were you having difficulty making the cruiserweight limit? TA: I didn’t have opponents for TV, no one at cruiserweight. I had to make money. Yes, you can say I went up to heavyweight because of the money. Who was there to beat at cruiserweight? Who? I beat Steve Cunningham, and it was a good fight, but who would pay to see it again?
The Ring: Was it part of your long-range plan to fight at heavyweight? TA: I never planned on fighting at heavyweight. It wasn’t part of where I saw my career going. If I were going to fight heavyweight, I would naturally gain the weight so I could feel comfortable and strong at heavyweight. I know what people keep saying. I’m not big enough for heavyweight. But Mike Tyson wasn’t tall, and I think I’m taller than he was. You have to be quick and think about what you’re doing in the ring. Size doesn’t matter. If you’re quick and think, you can win against anyone.
The Ring: How difficult has it been to learn English? TA: I’m learning English every day. I learn with Roger Bloodworth (laughs). He’s increasing my vocabulary. If you’re around people who only speak English, you’re forced to learn English quicker. I lived here for two years and I feel OK answering questions in English. My English every day is getting better and better. My English will be getting better with the next fights to come. It all depends on how much Roger teaches me (laughs).
The Ring: A fighter’s personality has a lot to do with their success with the fans. Do you think it would benefit you to let the fun side of your personality come out? TA: I’m really more fun to be around than people may think. I am funny. I like to laugh. That’s me. But when fans see me, what I show is to be professional, and that’s the biggest challenge for me. I’m naturally more relaxed. I don’t know the perception of my fans, but the people that are around me know I’m a funny guy to be around. Right before a fight, I concentrate on the fight. I have no time to play around. After a fight, I can relax and enjoy life. My wife controls me, so I can’t go too crazy (laughs). And I’m a father, so I have to keep that in mind. But fans see me around fight time and I’m not exactly in a smiling mood.
The Ring: How is your first trainer, Andrzej Gmiruk, doing? TA: Andrzej was sick. He has a heart problem. He’s still alive. He’s just sick. I go way back with him, but his health prevented him from training me fulltime. I have a really close bond with Roger Bloodworth. He’s a good person, and he’s taught me a lot, especially the American fighting style. He’s also helped me with my English. I now know all of the good curse words in English (laughs). But mostly, Roger’s been good with showing me the American boxing style, which is different in movement and how you move around from the European style. I had to adjust. With the American style, you have to move and be active, and watch out for the punches.
The Ring: What did winning THE RING cruiserweight belt mean to you? And do you think you’ll have a chance to win it as heavyweight champion? TA: Winning THE RING belt for the cruiserweight championship showed that I was capable of being the best in the world. It made me think about moving to heavyweight and winning THE RING heavyweight title, which would be very important to me. THE RING belt shows the world that I’m the best fighter there is in the class. It’s why I want THE RING belt for the heavyweight championship.
The Ring: It seems you looked better against Arreola, who was rated in the Top 10, than you did against Grant, who was not rated. Why do you think that is? TA: The size was the difference. I couldn’t fight the same way against Arreola as I did against Grant. What I did against Grant was supposed to be the blueprint against the Klitschkos. Facing someone like Grant will get me prepared for someone down the line like the Klitschkos. Arreola was so much smaller than Grant, and that’s what made the difference. My tactics against Grant was whatever we did in training camp with Roger. We wanted to keep constant pressure on Grant, and I think I did that. The changes in tempo were important. I tried to keep on changing the distance, confusing Grant where I would be. He couldn’t adjust to what I was doing. But the height and reach difference is what probably made the Grant fight look harder than the Arreola fight.
The Ring: Are there any decisions you made early in your career that you regret, and if so, why? TA: I made one mistake. That came in 1999 when I signed my first pro contract and started to fight for an English promoter. If I could turn back time, I would have gone straight to the US. That is where the action is. They have the best trainers, the best fights for me, and the best chances to be recognized as a true world champion. I have a chance for a good life. My manager and friend, Zyggi Rozalski, said that if I had arrived six years earlier, in 1999, I would be very wealthy and already a retired man.
The Ring: Do you think people underestimate how smart you are outside and inside the ring? TA: They probably do, but you cannot please everybody. I always knew this. Most of the people have appreciation for what I do, how tough it is, how hard you have to work to achieve what I have achieved. You can see this just looking at the arenas where I fight. It’s kind of surprising. I have more critics in my native Poland. Some of the people don’t like my religious devotion, my views. I’m being criticized, but like I said before, I’m not here to please everyone. I am who I am.
The Ring: How important is religion in your life? TA: The Catholic religion was a big part of my family upbringing, part of my life from the beginning. I never miss mass on Sunday. I talk to various priest friends in the time leading to a fight or even when nothing is going on. I just need this. I need spiritual advice or just want to talk to somebody who understands me. My wife is also from a very religious family. We share the same values. There’s a pilgrimage to Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa. You have to walk like 80 miles to pay respect to God in this national shrine of Catholicism. I’ve walked there five or six times, my wife more than this. There was seven days of walking with my fellow pilgrims, everybody having a great time. Before the Grant fight, there were more than 10 masses said in my intention in Poland and in the U.S. It was to help me gather my strength. And I won. Religion gives me this strength and mental toughness. It’s a very important part of who I am.
The Ring: If you could take your pick, which Klitschko brother would you prefer to fight? TA: Either one, it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t look at one any different than the other. I’m ready to fight anyone at any time, so whatever Klitschko wants to fight me, I’ll fight him. I have no preference. But the Klitschko brothers are good fighters.
The Ring: Do you think you’re ready for the Klitschkos or do you want to take some more time? TA: I’m expecting to fight one of the Klitschkos in the beginning of next year, and I’d love to fight one of them in Madison Square Garden in March [on the 40th anniversary of the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight]. I feel I am ready, because I’m a student of the game. It would be stupid of me to fight the Klitschkos without fighting someone like Michael Grant first and preparing myself. This was the big test against a big fighter. I know what to do know against a big guy like that the next time. I know I’m ready for the Klitschkos.