Adamek: ‘I’m not Golota’
Note: This story appears in the May 2010 editon of THE RING magazine, which is on sale now at newsstands.
Tomasz Adamek looks inside his closet and shakes his head. Everything hanging there, the suits and casual clothes, no longer fit around his massive shoulders and thick neck. They haven’t in some time. He plans on sending them to family members in Poland, though he hasn’t yet got around to packaging them due to his busy fight schedule. But there’s no doubt he’s going to need the closet space for his new wardrobe.
This life adjustment is a byproduct of the former RING cruiserweight world champion venturing north into heavyweight territory. The 33-year old Pole has had only two heavyweight fights, but this is a permanent move.
The questions, however, loom like a dark cloud. Is this a good move for the 6-foot-1 (185cm), 220-pounder (100kg)? Did he make a major career mistake in leaving a division he dominated? Can Adamek infuse the moribund heavyweight class with some needed excitement? Will he carry his punching power? Can he take a heavyweight’s punch? Is he a legitimate threat to the Klitschkos? How often have cruiserweights made the successful move up to heavyweight?
Some already feel Adamek has Top-10 heavyweight potential after he stopped Andrew Golota in Poland and then decisioned Jason Estrada before more than 10,000 fans at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Against Golota, Adamek was his usual stalking self, attacking and eventually forcing the classic underachieving Golota to do what he does best – quit. Against Estrada, we saw a different style, a busy puncher who relied on quickness and endurance to win.
Adamek (40-1, 27 knockouts) has parlayed the Estrada victory into a major fight with Chris Arreola on Saturday in Ontario, Calif. The fight will be televised on HBO’s Boxing After Dark. Then, if Adamek gets by Arreola and has perhaps one more fight, he’ll then pursue one of the title holders – the Klitschko brothers and David Haye, who so far has made a successful transition from cruiserweight to heavyweight.
“I think it’s a good move for Adamek since most cruiserweights and light heavyweights are generally found on most-wanted lists and what they themselves most want is to fight heavyweight,” HBO analyst Larry Merchant said. “Adamek started as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight was a stop on the highway to the heavyweight division. Now is the time for him to look for the big shot. What usually happens with the move is very few guys carry that power they had at lighter weights with them. If he beat someone like Arreola, he’d certainly put himself in line for a shot at some name heavyweight. Adamek would have to fight his way into getting either of the Klitschkos, which is where the money is.”
There is, however, a huge gap between the likes of Golota and Estrada and the division’s best. Golota was a high-reward, low-risk fight; Estrada was a small heavyweight with only a modest punch. Arreola, the Klitschkos and Haye carry the kind of firepower that can do damage.
“I think Adamek is capable of being a Top-10 heavyweight, but if you’re talking division domination, I don’t think he’ll be able to do that,” ShoBox analyst Steve Farhood said. “The difference between Ada┬¼mek [and others who have moved from cruiser to heavyweight] is that he’s doing it in his prime. Remember also, Adamek started as a light heavyweight, and to see him at 220 is a little alarming.
“A key factor today is that cruiserweights are jumping from 200 pounds, not 190 like they did when the cruiserweights began. They’re gaining 20 pounds, not 30 pounds to be heavyweights. In Adamek’s case, I see him as no threat to beat the Klitschkos, because those are the guys he’ll have to beat. I also know Adamek won’t beat Arreola, that’s if Arreola is in shape, and that’s a big, heavy if. Adamek’s not big enough for one thing, and another is Adamek’s style is to be an aggressive, busy puncher. He’s not a slickster; Estrada hit him a lot.”
Adamek understands what he’ll be facing. He could have stayed at cruiserweight, though his options there were limited. He engaged in one of the greatest cruiserweight fights of all-time when he won the vacant RING world championship against Steve Cunningham in December 2008.
Adamek waited for Bernard Hopkins, but “The Executioner” had different plans – a much easier fight against Roy Jones.
“There was no one to fight there at cruiserweight,” Adamek said through interpreter Peter Garczarczyk. “I had to make this move. Hopkins didn’t want to fight me. For me and Steve Cunningham, a rematch was a good fight, but the truth is that Steve Cunningham is not a well-known name to the American public, and no one showed interest in showing the rematch on American television. I’m not putting Steve Cunningham down, but how many times was I going to fight him, seven, eight times? There was nothing there.
“I want to be a heavyweight because there is more opportunity out there. I’d like to fight the Klitschkos or David Haye. I’m not afraid. In my opinion, I need two more fights to be ready for the Klitschkos. As for the size, it doesn’t matter. Look at Manny Pacquiao. If you’re a good fighter, you can fight at a number of weight classes.”
Some have made the jump from cruiserweight to heavyweight successfully. The universally recognized vanguard is Evander Holyfield, but “The Real Deal” was definitely the exception, not the rule. Far more have failed than succeeded.
Al “Ice” Cole knows what it was like moving from cruiserweight to heavyweight. Cole was 26-1 and the IBF cruiserweight titleholder when he moved to heavyweight, where he’s gone 8-14-3 and been stopped four times. Cole lost to a still-capable Tim Witherspoon and an up-and-coming Michael Grant then devolved into a journeyman. He lost to some good heavyweights, such as Kirk Johnson, Corrie Sanders, David Bostice, and Jameel McCline. He lost to some ordinary heavyweights, too, such as Sedrick Fields.
During one span, Cole went 1-9-1, going five years before he put consecutive victories together. Cole attributed his ineffectiveness to a car accident that injured his back, some personal trauma he was dealing with and a lack of discipline.
But why did Cole make the move in the first place?
“That’s easy, for the money,” he said. “I took a lot of those fights for the money, which was double what I made as a cruiserweight with a belt. I honestly had a tough time making cruiserweight. I was weighing 220, 225 pounds and I had to come down to make 190. Heavyweight was much easier for me, to be honest, because most heavyweights are slow and lazy. Look at today’s heavyweights, and these guys fighting for a title are a complete joke. You have guys like Kevin Johnson and Arreola – complete jokes. They made Vitali Klitschko look like King Kong. Today’s heavyweights are garbage. American heavyweights are just lazy.
“My advice to Adamek is to fight the big boys. My problem was that I was lazy and didn’t put in the commitment the way I should have. This is what happens when you move up. I had to run to make 190. There were some days when you don’t feel like running or making that commitment. There were days when you want to skip the run. At heavyweight, when a day comes when you don’t want to run, you don’t run.”
However, that’s not Adamek. He won’t turn into James Toney. He actually looked pretty good physically against Estrada. He works out every day and his resistance training has increased 30 to 35 percent.
“I completely understand what boxing is, and it’s especially more at heavyweight, you can die in the ring,” Adamek said. “This is real life to me. Whoever knows me from when I was younger, I’m a gym rat. I love to work. It’s just stupid to not train. That’s not me. I’m eating well at home. I can control what I am eating. I absolutely love being a heavyweight and this new size. I don’t have to go hungry six months of the year like I had to to make light heavy. I can have a normal dinner and everything else. I have no problem with 220. But I understand this is a learning process.”
Beating Estrada was a nice step. The ironic twist is that Estrada, 16-3 (4 KOs), was not the opponent that Main Events matchmaker J Russell Peltz wanted. Peltz had concerns about Estrada’s difficult style and knew he was a tough opponent to look good against. He also felt there might have been too much credence given to Adamek’s fifth-round stoppage of the used-up Golota last October.
Peltz feels it’s too early to tell whether Adamek will be a successful heavyweight. But he’s sure of one thing: Adamek has the best following of any American-based heavyweight today. The fact he attracted 10,123 for the Estrada fight in Newark even during a major snowstorm is convincing evidence of his popularity.
“Think about it, Adamek is the only fighter right now, with the exception of Pacquiao, who can draw paying customers to a fight without casino backing,” said Peltz, who considered Grant or former heavyweight champion Hasim Rahman as possible opponents for Adamek before Arreola was selected. “This is a business. Any way you look at it, this is a business. Adamek doesn’t need Arreola. Right now, Adamek needs to sharpen his skills and his craft as a heavyweight. He can make money and get better staying where he is, fighting at the Prudential Center, where he’s built something unique.
“He has a great fan base in Newark. He’s the most popular heavyweight in the United States right now. It could take a year to hone his skills, but Adamek isn’t someone that a network can dictate to him who he has to fight. Think about it, who in this country sells tickets for fights on their own?”
That’s a good question and a hammer Adamek can wield when negotiating future venues. OK, he’s not drawing 60,000 to soccer stadiums like Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko do in Germany, but being able to consistently draw over 10,000 loyal fans is power in the U.S.
Holyfield and Michael Spinks, the only light heavyweight to move up and win the heavyweight championship (Roy Jones only won a portion of the heavyweight title when he beat John Ruiz in March 2003), had built national fan bases off their Olympic successes. Until 2004, Adamek fought his entire career in Europe and had no foundation to build on in the United States aside from his appeal to Polish-Americans. He has since relocated to North Jersey, where he has lived for more than a year.
“I know it sounds crazy, but 10,000-plus people don’t lie; it says I’m doing some┬¼thing right,” Adamek said. “The first thing I look for [is] what fight would be interesting for the fans. I don’t like to fight people who have a boring style. People want to see something drastic. That’s what I provide.
“I was there in Atlantic City to see Arreola’s fight against Brian Minto [last December] and there wasn’t even 3,000 people there. I’ve been living in New Jersey for a year, and I have such a following, so I must be doing something right. We Poles in America try to stick together; but I think I’m getting more and more American fans.”
The Klitschkos are defined by some observers as big, strong – and boring. They keep opponents on the out┬¼side, take very few risks, and chip away until their foes break down. The only way to beat them is to get inside. Can Adamek do it?
“I have to beat them with speed and quickness,” Adamek said. “I want to hit them so much and make them so tired, they won’t be able to fight back. I moved up to heavyweight because it’s become too boring. I know this will take time. I also know people might see me as another Golota, because we’re both from Poland. I’m not Golota. It’s not in my vocabulary to say quit. I’m deeply religious and I have a special mission: I can’t disappoint God or my fans. I’d sooner die than to quit.”
Then Adamek paused, because he has another mission ÔÇª
“I have a bunch of family members in Poland looking forward to getting my suits,” he said, laughing. “They’re waiting for them right now. I haven’t bought this many new clothes since I was a teenager. It comes with being a heavyweight.”
Joseph Santoliquito is Managing Editor of THE RING magazine