This Saturday, four years to the month after their 2008 fight-of-the-year contender, former cruiserweights Tomasz Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs) and Steve Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs) renew an old rivalry, both with points still to prove in the weight class a few pounds north.
Going into that contest, a 32-year-old Adamek had earned a tilt at a second version of a major world title, four straight wins and the best part of two years removed from his first career defeat at the hands of Chad Dawson. With that loss went Adamek's WBC strap, but a win over Cunningham - the IBF beltholder with the names of Huck, Wlodarczyk and Guillermo Jones already notched on his win column - would reaffirm the Pole among the divisional elite.
He made the most of his shot. In front of a pro-Adamek Prudential Center crowd, Cunningham - never before, nor since, stopped - was dropped three times in a breathless, brutal back-and-forth that would eventually be settled by split decision, with the hometown man from New Jersey-via-Zywiec rewarded on two of the three cards. In truth, this is a rematch long overdue, but the rigours of time and a new, heavyweight, context give the bout an extra dimension, and a fresher feel than perhaps a fight between two 36-year-olds, each with significant defeats in the past year or so, really should have. Like any good, well-matched main event, there are still plenty of questions to be answered.
Cunningham, the -250 favourite upset in that first fight, is less fancied by the layers this time around (+300). Much has changed since their first meeting, and while Adamek hasn't set the world alight at his third weight, in Chambers and Arreola he's got the better of some legitimate names among those he was reasonably expected to be able to beat, and only lost to Vitali Klitschko, who he wasn't. Having weighed in as the lighter man in all bar one of his ten heavyweight bouts, Adamek has overcome what has, at times, been a dramatic size difference - always likely when 6'1 and 220lbs, and while lacking real power, has enough technical ability and an activity level that has generally made it count. With Cunningham having only one fight at the weight prior to this one - incidentally, at the same Newark arena that Adamek will consider his adopted home - it's little surprise, then, that favouritism this time around lies with the Pole, and he's a -300 shot to make it two straight over the Philly man.
Adamek, like he did against Chambers, will hold the largely unfamiliar role of being the bigger man here, and with Cunningham weighing at 203.5, a near-twenty-pound differential could be telling. We've seen Cunningham on the canvas against Hernandez - not the most explosive of cruiserweights - and key to this fight is how Cunningham reacts to the heavier artillery. With only three from Adamek's nine wins ending in a stoppage, Cunningham's zero losses by KO, and the fact that the first fight went the duration, the logic for picking another twelve-rounder is fairly prominent. On the basis of that history, the -137 that we see the scorecards could well be as short as the -175 it is elsewhere in the marketplace. Adamek's as short as even money, but the odds-against +137 should hold for those who fancy a repeat of the first fight, and an Adamek decision, while Cunningham - likely to be the more mobile of the two, and technically the better boxer is +450 to get the decision nod, but backers should bear in mind they'll be swimming against the tide of a vocal Prudential crowd that could sway the judges, too.
While Cunningham will be harder to hit - and just plain better - than much of what Adamek has come up against in the heavyweight ranks, it's worth noting that each of Adamek's three stoppages have come against considerably bigger men, with both Maddalone and Walker 13 pounds or more larger, and Golota over 40. Granted, each is far more limited than the well-rounded, Richardson-trained Cunningham, but there seems little doubt that it'll be the Pole that is more capable of forcing the issue physically. Adamek to win inside the distance is a best-priced +187, with a Cunningham stoppage win - last seen in June 2010 - the distinct outsider at +1000. An interesting side note novelty is that all three of Adamek's heavyweight KOs have come in the fifth round - Cunningham is, of course, a different sort of beast to the trialhorse-type Maddalones and Walkers of this world, and so it's probably advisable not to read too much into the sequence, but there's +2500 available for anyone taking a chance on that quirk continuing. It's the same price the draw, which would no doubt set up a third instalment - the simple lesson learned being, no doubt, that blown-up cruiserweights often guarantee entertaining heavyweight slugfests.