Bethlehem, Pa.—The first reaction was stunned disbelief. It usually works that way when a live boxing crowd and two of three judges think they saw something entirely different.
That’s what happened Saturday afternoon before a sellout crowd of 1,950 at the Sands Bethlehem Events Center, as heavyweight Tomasz Adamek was awarded a 12-round split-decision victory over Steve Cunningham.
It could have been tagged, “loser go home,” since whoever lost this fight seemed destined for heavyweight opponent status while the winner would be able to live another day.
That wasn’t the case this time.
While judges Debra Barnes saw it 115-113 and Dave Greer 116-112 for Adamek, judge Tom Miller saw it for Cunningham, 115-113. Greer and Barnes gave Adamek three of the last four rounds.
Punch stats, however, told a different story. It told the story of Cunningham up on his toes, outboxing Adamek throughout much of the fight, outlanding him 209 to 169 in total punches, using his jab very effectively, connecting on 129 of 349 jabs.
But Greer and Barnes apparently were looking at power shots, which Adamek, to his credit, outlanded Cunningham, 120-80.
Cunningham seemed to stick with a game plan, using his seven-inch reach advantage to keep Adamek at what seemed to be a safe distance. But toward the end of each round, Adamek came aggressively forward and did tag Cunningham a number of times with shots to the head.
The fight came in stark contrast to the first meeting between the two, on Dec. 11, 2008, when Adamek wrested the IBF cruiserweight title from Cunningham, who was knocked down three times but still battled to a 12-round split-decision loss.
“What can I say, what can I do? Real men cry, real men shed tears,” a very emotional Cunningham said. “You can’t knock everyone out. We did our thing in the ring. It saddens me. I’m a two-time former world champ, I’m not Bernard Hopkins. I need these wins, I can’t be getting cheated like this. It’s sad, man, it’s sad. It’s nonsense. What needs to be done in boxing for this not to happen again? This isn’t a game. What else do I have to do?”
Adamek, who weighed 223 for the fight, felt he won by landing more power shots. As had been the case in 2008, the Polish fighter again had a vocal contingent of supporters, chanting “Adamek! Adamek! Adamek!” and “Polska! Polska! Polska!”
“The fight was close. My trainer told me I had to go after him after the eighth round, and I felt he ran against me,” Adamek said. “It was part of the plan to come on late in the last 20 seconds of each round. In a few rounds, I tried to attack him, and he would run. He ran, he didn’t fight. I fought. It’s why I won.”
Cunningham countered that he was not running, but boxing: “That’s what I did, I did the same thing that he did against Chris Arreola, when he boxed. He never touched me on the chin. I felt I had good head movement, and I fought smart. I plan on staying at heavyweight. I’m not going anywhere. I’m a heavyweight.”
Adamek will now move on to fight Kubrat Pulev, with the winner scheduled to take on universally recognized world champion Wladimir Klitschko.
“It all depends on what you were looking at,” Adamek trainer Roger Bloodworth said. “If you looked at effective punching, which is what the judges saw, they would have to give this to Tomasz. If you liked running and being a stylist, then you wanted Cunningham. I think the more effective puncher won this fight, and that was Tomasz.”
Adamek’s Polish co-promoter, Ziggy Rozalski, was also pleased by the result. Asked as he walked through the casino what he thought of Adamek’s win, Rozalski said, “He got a Christmas present.”
Photo / Rich Graessle-Main Events Boxing