Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Opinions and Observations: Adamek-Cunningham II

"This is how I feed my family. I can't just go out there and get another big fight. And he gets to fight Klitschko.”
–Steve Cunningham after his loss to Adamek

After Tomasz Adamek's undeserved victory over Steve Cunningham on Saturday, I lacked the vitriol that many were expressing; for I had seen this fight quite often. Here are a few examples: Pacquiao-Marquez III, Taylor-Wright, Hopkins-Taylor I and II and Williams-Martinez I. In these fights, the judges went with or were overly generous to the "aggressor," who in almost all cases happened to have the advantage in crowd support. Of the various types of bad scoring decisions in boxing, this one – the crowd favorite who is the aggressor– is most common. It doesn't make the final result more palatable for the loser and it still feels unjust, but this scenario is fairly routine.

Saturday's decision is why promoters and boxers demand home-field advantage, knowing that in close rounds many judges side with the fighter who gets the loudest reaction from the crowd. (Main Events promoted both fighters for Saturday's contest but Adamek was the crowd favorite.) It's human nature to be affected by the audience to some degree and many judges lack the experience to block out the extraneous elements of the crowd to focus on the task at hand.

I'm not saying it's easy. I was sitting in a heavily Polish section of the crowd, where people in the neighboring rows legitimately thought that Adamek won nine or ten rounds; he didn't. They stood and cheered during the last 10 seconds of the early rounds as Adamek flurried. They were loud and boisterous throughout the entire fight. Give Adamek's fans credit; their enthusiasm clearly had an effect on the proceedings.

"I did what I wanted to do in the ring. I boxed smart. It was a good fight but I controlled the action"

In 2008, Adamek and Cunningham waged a thrilling war. Cunningham won a number of rounds on clean punching but he hit the canvas three times. His split decision loss was an accurate reflection of a close and fierce battle. Cunningham landed with jabs, solid straight right hands and left hooks. Adamek had most of his success in exchanges, dropping Cunningham with counter right hands. In a just world, there would have been an immediate rematch, but without adequate network support, both fighters went in different directions.

During Saturday's rematch, Cunningham wisely stuck to boxing. He established his jab from the opening bell and used it expertly to Adamek's head and body. Adamek came forward but in the early rounds, he typified "ineffective aggression." He flung right hands, most of which didn't land or were blocked. He tried to cut off the ring but Cunningham often escaped along the ropes. Adamek at times seemed hesitant letting his hands go.

In the early rounds of the fight, Adamek established a pattern where once the ten-second warning sounded, he flurried with abandon, often catching Cunningham with right hands and left hooks, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. These were the best moments that Adamek had during the first four frames. He was clearly trying to steal rounds, and obviously, it paid off.

"We worked on keeping the right hand up in the gym. He hits hard. But I won the fight. No doubt in my mind."

The conventional wisdom going into the fight was that if Adamek could knock down Cunningham multiple times at cruiserweight, he should have similar success at heavyweight. Adamek had a sizable weight advantage and an older and perhaps fading Cunningham.

In Cunningham's last two fights at cruiserweight against Yoan Pablo Hernandez in late 2011 and early 2012, he hit the canvas three more times. Cunningham lost both fights, which were very close. His legs didn't look good during the rematch, potentially suggesting an end to his days as a top fighter.

After the second Hernandez bout, Cunningham made a fairly shocking decision: he would move to heavyweight. Because of problems in making weight, the ability to get  meaningful fights on American soil or a last-ditch effort to remain relevant in the sport, Cunningham felt that his best play in boxing was to square off against the big boys. That Cunningham came into Saturday's rematch at a light 203 was extremely telling. Refusing to blow up in weight, Cunningham ignored Adamek's bigger size for a similar cruiserweight physique. (Adamek entered the fight at 223.)   

Once the action started, Cunningham and his trainer, Naazim Richardson, rendered the pre-fight narrative meaningless. Richardson, who is one of the best in boxing at breaking down videotape and establishing a winning game plan, made several key changes from the first Adamek-Cunningham fight. (Anthony Chase trained Cunningham for that match.) Cunningham's right hand was a lot higher on Saturday, which took away Adamek's lead and counter left hook. Cunningham worked off of the jab and didn't lead with power shots. In addition, Cunningham used his advantage in athleticism throughout the fight. He moved well in the ring and picked his spots to engage. He also limited exchanges, which still favored Adamek. Cunningham's legs looked fine throughout the fight. He spoke afterwards about a focus on incline work during training; clearly that proved to be effective.

“It was like a sparring session.”
–Adamek in his post-fight news conference

If I told you prior to the fight that it would be a sparring session, would you say that the match went more Adamek or Cunningham's way? It's clear that Adamek wanted to impose his will and dominate with power shots. Ultimately, the fight wasn't a sparring session; it was quite good actually, but Adamek never could figure out a formula to consistently assert himself. I found his comment to be revealing.

In truth, after facing heavy hitters like Vitali Klitschko and Chris Arreola, Adamek probably felt much more comfortable in the ring against Cunningham. Although Cunningham landed with flush shots throughout the fight, Adamek was never in danger of going down, like he did earlier this year against Travis Walker. Adamek knew that he had the power advantage and he fought accordingly. In the few instances when they traded shots, Adamek's punches were significantly harder. Actually, I expected Cunningham to go down from a counter right hand at various points in the fight.

After a solid tenth round that may have included some of his best moments of the fight, Cunningham stood his ground and traded in the 11th and 12th rounds, in hopes of winning these frames convincingly. Understandably, he was reticent to coast on a presumed lead. However, this decision would greatly benefit Adamek. Letting his power shots go with frequency, Adamek had his most sustained success in the fight. During the final two rounds, he finally imposed his will and connected with several thudding right hands that hurt Cunningham. 

After the final bell, both fighters stood on the ropes, believing that they had won the fight. Initially, the result was announced as a draw, but quickly it was changed to an Adamek split decision victory. Scores were 116-112 (Dave Greer), 115-113 (Debra Barnes) and 113-115 (Tom Miller). The majority of the crowd applauded the decision.

On press row, I couldn't find one person who had Adamek winning the fight, or even earning a draw. I scored it 116-112 for Cunningham and the final tallies among the media ranged from 115-113 to 118-110, all for Cunningham. There was a lot of talk about a "robbery."

“Now what?”

After the match, I had a chance to see both fighters. Outside the press conference, Adamek waited with his team while Cunningham was speaking at the podium. Adamek looked good for having gone 12 tough rounds. His face was a little marked up but nothing serious. He hugged his wife and took pictures with supporters and fans. In fact, there seemed to be nothing out-of-the-ordinary. He was very relaxed.

By the time I talked to Cunningham, after he had spoken at the post-fight press conference, he was still coming to grips with the decision. This wasn't the first time that he had received a questionable loss in boxing, but this one, with his advanced age and with his family and friends there to support him, really affected him. He was hurt by the decision, and that pain took a far greater toll on him than any of Adamek's right hands. What would he do now? At 36, what was left for him in boxing? As he spoke, there was anguish and some disgust; there was no doubt in his mind who had won the fight.

"It was bullshit."
–B.J. Flores, boxer and NBC commentator, on the decision

My final piece of business from the weekend was to learn more about the offending judges. Here are some interesting findings: Dave Greer has been judging fights consistently for 14 years and yet this bout was the biggest assignment of his career. Greer's professional tenure has mostly consisted of trolling around small-town Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland judging six and eight-round fights. It's telling that in his 14 years he has been mostly deprived of plum fight assignments. Good judges get high-profile fights. It's usually that simple.

Debra Barnes worked often in the '90s and judged some big fights, including bouts with Duran, Camacho, Mercer, Mosley and Vargas. In the last 13 years, she has worked a lot less. There are significant gaps in her record. According to, these are the number of days in which Barnes worked as a fight judge for the following years: 2000-1, 2001-1, 2002-2, 2003-4, 2004-1, 2005-2, 2006-2, 2007-3, 2008-3 2009-1, 2010-3, 2011-6, 2012-4. In short, Barnes is at best a part-time judge and during the last five years, her biggest fights have been Guerrero-Escobedo and Saturday's bout. Her card on Saturday should not be shocking given her inactivity and lack of recent high-profile events.

Ultimately, good people like Steve Cunningham will continue to lose decisions because of bad decisions by state commissions. Appointing multiple weak judges for the same fight is unconscionable. Even well regarded and experienced judges can fall prey to the roar of the crowd and respond Pavlovian-style to the "aggressor."

What happened to Cunningham wasn't just, but to pretend that this type of result is shocking would be disingenuous. Sadly, it occurs far too often in the sport.

Adam Abramowitz is the head writer and founder of
He is also a member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.
Contact Adam at
@snboxing on twitter
Follow Saturday Night Boxing on Facebook:

1 comment:

  1. Both Mora-Vera fights also fall into that aggressor-crowd favorite narrative.