Old rivals rematch in network revival

Adamek, Cunningham to revisit rivalry as heavyweights over broadcast airwaves

Updated: December 21, 2012, 2:35 PM ET
By Dan Rafael | ESPN.com

Steve CunninghamAl Bello/Getty ImagesTomasz Adamek dropped Steve Cunningham three times in a still-thrilling split decision win in 2008.

And now for boxing's network television encore.

This past Saturday, Golden Boy and CBS brought boxing back to the network for the first time in 15 years as Leo Santa Cruz retained his bantamweight title with an exciting decision victory against Alberto Guevara. The late-afternoon fight performed well, retaining nearly 90 percent of the audience that viewed the college basketball game before it (Butler's upset of then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime) and averaging a very healthy 1.794 million viewers for the telecast.

There will be more network boxing again this Saturday as NBC (4 p.m. ET) gets back in the game with its first live fight card since a one-time special in 2005 -- the first season finale of "The Contender" reality series in prime time, when Sergio Mora outpointed Peter Manfredo Jr. to claim the $1 million grand prize.

Saturday's doubleheader will be headlined by the scheduled 12-round rematch between heavyweights Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham at the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem in Bethlehem, Pa.

In the scheduled eight-round co-feature, heavyweight Vyacheslav "Czar" Glazkov (13-0, 9 KOs) of Ukraine faces New Yorker Tor Hamer (19-1, 12 KOs) in a meeting of prospects.

"I believe more people will get to see Steve and Tomasz fight [on NBC] than probably have ever watched either one of them fight in the United States," said Main Events promoter Kathy Duva, whose company used to put on network fights regularly in the 1980s and early '90s. "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."

Duva has an exclusive deal to put on live fights on NBC Sports Net's "Fight Night" series. With the success of that basic cable program, Duva persuaded NBC to put some fights on the broadcast network as part of the renewal of the series, so Saturday's fight likely will be the first of at least a few network cards.

[+] EnlargeTomasz Adamek and Vitali Klitschko
Boris Streubel/Getty ImagesTomasz Adamek lacked the size to stand up to Vitali Klitschko, but his heavyweight campaign has otherwise been a successful one thus far.

"This is going to be the first fight that is going to be on NBC in the afternoon on the regular network in that 4-to-6 time slot in well over 20 years, and that's a big thing," Duva said of the time slot that used to be an almost weekly spot for boxing before the networks dumped the sport in the mid-1990s. "That again is a big barrier that we are crossing, a giant milestone in this sport. We hope this is the first of many."

Duva said she was excited to read about how well the CBS fight did last week and hopes to build on that momentum, even though she doesn't have the kind of high-profile college basketball lead-in the Santa Cruz-Guevara fight had. Airing before the NBC card? Taped snowboarding.

"I'm so jealous. I have lead-in envy," Duva joked. "We can't have everything. They had a big upset in a major college basketball game where the No. 1 team lost in overtime. Damn. What are you gonna do? So I don't know what to expect. But I know one thing: We have a terrific fight; it's heavyweights, and, with heavyweights, maybe the more casual fan will be drawn in because heavyweight boxing is almost like its own brand. That's why we went with this fight when we got this opportunity.

"I'm hoping some of those people watching last weekend will watch again. I'm so happy last week did well. Hopefully, we'll get the benefit of that because people liked what they saw."

Duva is right on about having a quality fight between Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs), the New Jersey-based Polish star, and Philadelphia's Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs), both 36-year-old former cruiserweight titleholders who have moved up in weight since their cruiserweight championship brawl in 2008.

"We have all seen this fight before, and I think I speak for everyone when I say that we all can't wait to see it again," Duva said.

The rematch will take place almost four years to the day after their memorable first meeting.

"I am a different fighter than I was in 2008," Adamek said. "I've changed everything. Everyone can see. I don't stand straight in front of my opponent anymore, and I move my head. I am stronger.

"There's already something different in the air. I can feel it. This is my best training camp ever, and I'm really hungry for boxing. I know that this fight will be very personal for Cunningham. And being on NBC, with millions watching, it will be something special."

Adamek-Cunningham I featured nonstop action in a highly competitive slugfest. Even though Cunningham got knocked down three times -- in the second, fourth and eighth rounds -- he also dished out plenty of punishment and lost only by split decision as Adamek won the world title.

"Adamek is a great fighter. I really respect him," Cunningham said. "I can truthfully say, with the last fight, I underestimated him. 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 just want to put on a good fight, and, above that, win, and, above that, just bring glory to my God.

"A fight is a fight. Listen, I came up, before boxing, street fighting. It wasn't no weight classes, it wasn't no gloves. It was sometimes weapons. I got stabbed before. People say I've got this crazy, great heart. That's where it came from -- Philadelphia, fighting in schools, fighting in the streets, then I went into a gym. So all the heart I got from that prepared me for this."

After beating Cunningham in 2008, Adamek made two title defenses, then vacated his belt to move up to heavyweight, where he has become a top contender. He eventually earned a shot at titleholder Vitali Klitschko in September 2011, but he couldn't compete because of the enormous size difference. Since being stopped by Klitschko in the 10th round in Poland, Adamek has rebounded to win three fights in a row.

"[Adamek] has done great things as a heavyweight," Cunningham said. "I think he did a great job in his career, but he's fighting Steve Cunningham again. 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."

[+] EnlargeSteve Cunningham
AP Photo/Rich SchultzSteve Cunningham wants to leave no doubt -- and walk away with a win, of course -- in Saturday's rematch with Tomasz Adamek.

After the loss to Adamek, Cunningham eventually won a vacant cruiserweight title for a second reign and made one defense before losing a controversial sixth-round technical decision to Yoan Pablo Hernandez 14 months ago. They met in a rematch in February, when Cunningham lost a more clear-cut decision, prompting him to move up to heavyweight.

Cunningham, weighing 207 pounds in his heavyweight debut in September, outpointed journeyman Jason Gavern to set the stage for another crack at Adamek.

"I wanted this rematch for a long time, especially right after the first fight, but it didn't happen," Cunningham said. "My career went on, his career went on, and now our paths cross again. I'm excited. I'm looking at this like it's the first time we're fighting. I'm not looking for revenge. That's not in me. I'm just looking to win this fight and win it spectacularly. I'm just ready to fight. The time for talking is done."

Talking, maybe, but not fighting. Duva hopes viewers will tune in for what is expected to be another crowd-pleasing rumble.

"The first one was tremendous: three knockdowns, a split decision, a boxer against a puncher," Duva said. "We're basically sold out for this fight. There will be a lot of Adamek's Polish fans, and Cunningham's camp has been selling a lot of tickets, too. It's gonna be nuts. I don't think I've slept since Sunday. We're all excited for this fight, especially being on NBC. A heavyweight fight on network TV? We've been waiting for this."