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Will Adamek-Cunningham II Float As Network TV Test Balloon?

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Adamek is a 4 to 1 favorite, as the oddsmakers figure he is more natural at heavyweight than Cunningham is. Readers, who do you like in this rumble? (photo by Kubikfoto)

Boxing on free, over-the-air network television is going back to the future for the second consecutive weekend. This past Saturday afternoon, CBS floated a 235¼ -pound test balloon – that would be the combined weights of IBF bantamweight champion Leo Santa Cruz and challenger Alberto Guevara, who duked it out in the Los Angeles Sports Arena — with Santa Cruz retaining his title on a wide unanimous decision.

This Saturday afternoon, at the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, Pa., heavyweights Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham collectively are a 430-pound balloon attempting to lift off in what might be an even more consequential experiment to see if fights and fighters still have a place in the non-cable and non-satellite sports universe.

If the NBC ratings are reasonably favorable – and they just might be, if Adamek and Cunningham generate anything close to the heat of their scintillating Dec. 11, 2008, slugfest, in which Adamek claimed Cunningham’s IBF cruiserweight title on a split decision — boxing on Saturday afternoons may again be revived after long years of being almost exclusively consigned to cable, premium cable and pay-per-view.

Not that anyone would care to admit it, but the future of an increasingly marginalized sport could well hinge on whether those potentially larger audiences have their appetites whetted by the sight of gloved boxers pounding away at one another on a roped-off swatch of canvas.

“It’s a great matchup,” co-promoter Kathy Duva, CEO of Main Events, said of Adamek-Cunningham II. “When their first fight (which was staged at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., and televised by Versus) ended, I remember saying, `We just promoted the two best cruiserweight bouts of all time,’ the other, in her opinion, being the first meeting of Evander Holyfield and Dwight Muhammad Qawi, in which Holyfield claimed Qawi’s WBA crown on a rousing split decision on July 12, 1986, in Atlanta.

Any list of all-time great cruiser wars would have to include the April 26, 2003, pairing of Vassiliy Jirov and James Toney in Mashantucket, Conn., in which Toney wrested Jirov’s IBF strap on a unanimous decision – but Duva’s point is basically well taken. It wouldn’t just be a good thing if Adamek and Cunningham recreate some of the magic they made four years earlier; it is almost essential if the seed they, Santa Cruz and Guevara planted is to grow and flourish.

“This fight, we hope, is a bridge from the NBC Sports Network cable series to regular NBC dates,” Duva continued. “It’s a natural progression. Hopefully, it’ll be the first of many such shows. There are 129 million TV homes in the United States that can get NBC. You can’t say that about anything that’s on the cable systems. HBO is in about – and forgive me if I’m a little off on the numbers – 25 to 30 million homes. Showtime is in 22 million homes. Even ESPN, which has the widest distribution of any cable network that does boxing, is only in about 90 million U.S. homes.

“We have an opportunity here to reach almost everyone in the country. There are a lot of people who can’t watch boxing because they don’t have cable or don’t subscribe to HBO or Showtime. For those people, it’s like the sport doesn’t even exist. That’s why we chose (Adamek-Cunningham II) – because it figures to be all-action, like the last one. When people are flipping through the channels on Saturday afternoon, we want them to stop when they come across this fight. We want them to keep watching and to get excited about what they’re seeing. Not to overstate the case or anything, but we can build a new generation of fans if this catches on like I think it can.”

While Duva’s assessment might be dismissed as typical public-relations hype – she started out in the boxing business as a flack for Main Events in the early 1980s when her now-deceased husband, Dan Duva, was the company’s CEO – it is more or less seconded by legions of increasingly disenchanted fight fans who remember the way it used to be, when big names like Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and others helped build their reputations and immense followings with Saturday afternoon network appearances.

On theboxingpalace.forumotion.com, a web site which allows John Q. Public to respond to boxing-related questions, one such query wondered which as-of-yet-unmade fights might benefit from the sort of over-the-air network exposure provided to Santa Cruz-Guevara and Adamek-Cunningham II.

One poster wrote: What boxing matches on Network TV would succeed? Promoters lost track of the fact that you need to build an audience before people will care enough to buy a major fight on PPV. So, the level of what’s considered a “major” fight is so diluted that anything better than all right is buried on PPV where casual and potential new fans will never see it.

So you, the fight-loving everyman, have spoken, and the powers-that-be, those with the wherewithal to effect meaningful change, are listening, or so it would seem.

In an interview with RingTV.com’s Joseph Santoliquito, Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and the NBC Sports Network, ruminated on the long absence of boxing from the broadcast networks. Santa Cruz-Guevara, with a Showtime boxing crew calling the action (CBS and Showtime both are owned by Viacom), was the first fight on CBS since Bernard Hopkins retained his IBF middleweight championship on an 11th-round stoppage of Glen Johnson on July 20, 1997, in Indio Springs, Calif.

“I think network boxing disappeared because the promoters, and quite honestly, the fighters, were more concerned about a payday than growing their fights and growing their sport,” Miller told Santoliquito. “Boxing just migrated to cable from there, then eventually to pay cable, choking off any kind of development for a good, young fighter to build a fan base.”

Miller had reason to be at least a bit skeptical that his company’s most recent foray into the fight game would be any more successful than the last. Adamek-Cunningham II is the first boxing match on NBC since 2004, and the first hint at anything resembling regular dates since the sport began being phased out in the late 1990s for the reasons Miller has already outlined. Even the first smaller test balloon tossed up by the fledgling NBC Sports Network nearly a year ago was blown a bit off-course by the unfavorable winds of change that can come out of nowhere, and frequently do.

The NBC Sports Group had acquired the ratings-poor Versus and 12 of Comcast’s regional sports networks when the decision was made, with a goal of helping fill all those programming hours, to launch the four-bout “Fight Night” series on the former Versus, now renamed NBC Sports Network. The first main event, on Jan. 21, 2012, was to have been an attractive matchup of heavyweight contender Eddie Chambers and former WBO heavyweight champion Sergei Liakhovich at the Asylum Arena in South Philadelphia.

But Chambers pulled out on short notice with an injury, and Liakhovich also withdrew, leaving Kathy Duva and matchmaker J Russell Peltz scrambling to come up with at least a semi-attractive bout to headline. What they finagled was an all-Philly showdown of undefeated but below-the-radar young heavyweights Bryant Jennings and Maurice Byarm, which, on paper, didn’t appear to be nearly as appealing as Chambers-Liakhovich.

What could have proved a disaster turned out to be an unexpected gem when Jennings outpointed Byarm in a crowd-pleaser. Jennings then stopped Liakhovich, also on the NBC Sports Network, and on the strength of three more victories – the most recent a fifth-round, one-punch knockout of Bowie Tupou on Dec. 8, which, natch, was televised by the NBC Sports Network – he has moved up to No. 5 in the IBF heavyweight ratings. Five-time Boxing Writers Association of America Trainer of the Year Freddie Roach, who has ties to Jennings, went so far as to proclaim the onetime standout high school defensive end as this country’s top heavyweight prospect.

Hey, when presented with lemons, the resourceful person makes lemonade. And Duva is nothing if not resourceful.

Which brings us back to Adamek-Cunningham II, and the differences between where they were then and where they are now. It is a tale of opportunities presented and capitalized upon, which is, after all, the basis for virtually every boxing success story.

“I’m not going to underestimate him this time,” Cunningham said of how he expects this second go-round to transpire. “I didn’t underestimate him a lot in the first fight, but my trainer at the time, Anthony Chase (his chief second is now Naazim Richardson), thought he saw things we could turn to our advantage. We didn’t think he could outbox us, and I do think for the most part we won the boxing end of it. But Adamek was durable – more durable than we thought. We didn’t realize he’s as strong as he is, and that he had such a good chin.

“I made mistakes. I know that now. One was that I wanted to be a star. I wanted to put on a big splash. I wanted to put a big hurt on the dude. When Adamek knocked me down the first time, my strategy went out the window. I just fought harder. A lot of people applauded my heart, but what else was I going to do? Lay down and quit?”

What’s different this time is that Adamek (47-2, 29 KOs) and Cunningham (25-4, 12 KOs) are heavyweights, toiling in the most traditional glamor division, instead of on the cruiserweight back streets. That seemingly is to the disadvantage of Cunningham, who was a taut and trim 207 pounds for his only previous bout as a heavy, and isn’t expected to be much higher when he enters the ring on Saturday. Adamek, on the other hand, has come in as high as 225 pounds, with 10 outings as a heavyweight, including a 10th-round TKO loss to WBC champ Vitali Klitschko on Sept. 10, 2011. He has a size, strength and experience advantage in the division over Cunningham, which helps explain why he’s a 4-1 favorite.

But Duva, who now has a promotional interest in both fighters, believes a lot of that magic from 2008 will carry over. That might be a case of wishful thinking, but who could blame her for feeling that way? So much is on the line this time around, not only for the fighters but maybe for the sport of boxing itself.

“So much in our business rides on what the heavyweights do,” Duva acknowledged. “That’s always been so. Part of our mission on the NBC Sports Network, and now on NBC, is to exhibit the heavyweights.

“I can’t predict the number of eyeballs that are going to watch this fight, but it will be exponentially higher than the first time. I will be very pleased if we get something equal or close to what we got from these guys before. The electricity that night was incredible. We need more of that. Boxing needs more of that.”

 

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The Follies of Gervonta Davis: They Gave Him the Key to the City and Now He’s in the Slammer

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One surmises that Baltimore City Circuit Court judge Althea Handy has a lot of guts. When the 65-year-old jurist rescinded her decision to allow Gervonta “Tank” Davis to serve his 90-day sentence at the home of his trainer Calvin Ford and remanded him to the jailhouse, that undoubtedly didn’t sit well with some of the poobahs in Maryland’s largest city. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that Davis was presented with a key to the city and a parade was held in his honor.

Davis appeared before Judge Handy on May 5. He had already pleaded guilty to each of four counts stemming from a hit-and-run accident that happened shortly before 2 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 5, 2020. After running a red light, Davis crashed his Lamborghini into another vehicle before crashing into the fence of a 7-eleven. The four occupants of the other vehicle, including a pregnant woman, required medical attention. Gervonta and his two passengers fled the scene in another car.

The four charges to which he pled guilty, eschewing a jury trial, included driving on a revoked license. Had Judge Handy thrown the book at him, she could have packed him off to prison for a term of four years and two months. Instead, she sentenced him to 90 days home detention, three years’ probation, and 200 hours of community service.

Davis owns a home in tony Broward County in South Florida. If it had been his decision, that’s where he would have served his 90 days. But Handy had visions of the boxer lounging by the pool and wouldn’t allow it. She insisted that he serve out his sentence in his native Baltimore.

Althea Handy

Althea Handy (2002 photo)

It was agreed that Davis would be confined to the home of his longtime coach Calvin Ford for the duration of his sentence. The head trainer at the Upton Boxing Center in impoverished West Baltimore and the inspiration for the Dennis “Cutty” Wise character in the HBO series “The Wire,” Coach Calvin, as he is called, has been a father figure to Gervonta Davis and countless other boys. Gervonta was living with his grandmother after bouncing around between foster homes when he wandered into Upton at the age of seven. The boxer credits his coach with instilling within him the discipline needed to stay off the streets.

There was one small problem. Calvin Ford’s home had only one bedroom. It was far too small for the boxer and his entourage.

Davis needed to find a new crash pad. Being the resourceful type, he moved his tack to Baltimore’s luxurious Four Seasons Hotel before plunking down a reported $3.4 million on a 5,000-square-foot high-rise penthouse. When informed that the boxer had taken it upon himself to recalibrate his “punishment,” Judge Handy said, “not on my watch” or words to this effect, and had the boxer hauled off to the slammer.

Gervonta Davis was boxing’s youngest American-born world champion when he won his first title in 2017. On July 24, 2019, three days before his homecoming fight with Ricardo Nunez – his fifth 130-pound world title defense – he was presented the keys to the city by then mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young in a ceremony at City Hall. “Welcome Home….We’re so proud of you!”, read the proclamation. Later that year, on Oct. 26, the boxer was feted with a parade in his old neighborhood.

In his most recent bout, a non-title affair contested at the catch-weight of 136 pounds, Davis stopped Ryan Garcia in the seventh round to advance his record to 29-0. The fight played out before an SRO crowd of 20,000-plus at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. In his four fights prior to that, Davis drew capacity or near-capacity crowds to NBA arenas in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and Washington, DC. When it comes to putting asses in seats, no other American boxer can match him.

—-

Davis turned pro under Floyd Mayweather Jr’s “Money Team” banner. As recounted in a previous story, Mayweather’s influence was pervasive. Gervonta came to mimicking Floyd’s lifestyle, reflected in what normal people would see as reckless spending, manifested in bling and in his growing collection of rare and expensive automobiles. The parallels are striking and to that list we can now add one more. When Gervonta emerges from his current abode he will have spent almost exactly as many days behind bars as his former promoter. Mayweather was sentenced to 90 days for domestic battery in 2012 and with time off for good behavior was out of jail in two months.

When Davis gets out, will his boxing tools be as sharp as ever? Based on Mayweather’s experience, his fans have nothing to worry about.

During Mayweather’s incarceration, his lawyer and personal physician submitted a document to the court in hopes of securing an early release. “Jail food and water,” it said, “didn’t meet Mayweather’s dietary needs and lack of exercise space in a cramped cell of fewer than 98 square feet threatened his health and fitness.”

Not to worry. Floyd had some of his best moments after he was set free, although it may be worth noting that he stopped knocking people out.

Floyd was 35 years old when he regained his freedom. Gervonta Davis will be 28. There’s no reason to think that he won’t be as good as ever, but that’s assuming that he keeps his nose clean. He doesn’t need any more of these kinds of distractions.

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Claressa Shields Defeats Maricela Cornejo in Detroit

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In front of a Detroit crowd familiar with boxing legends, Claressa Shields demonstrated her place among the legends with a start-to-finish win over number one contender Maricela Cornejo to retain her middleweight world championship on Saturday.

“Maricela is just super tough. She was just in shape and knew how to get away from shots,” said Shields

More than 10,000 fans entered Little Caesars Arena and witnessed the fight.

Despite last-minute changes in opposition, Shields (14-0, 2 KOs) accepted always strong Cornejo (16-6, 6 KOs) and proved that former Detroit boxing legends such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Joe Louis and Tommy Hearns need to move over.

The champion wasted little time in opening-up with looping overhand rights that barely missed the mark. Cornejo was careful to avoid the bombs. Though few punches landed it was clear that Shields was on the attack.

Cornejo was scheduled to fight another foe and had been preparing in Las Vegas with famed trainer Ismael Salas. She was fully prepared to face anyone, but Shields is not anyone. Her defense was on point but the speed ratio of Shields punches is almost impossible to practice.

Still, Cornejo did enough by connecting with a strong right cross that kept Shields from overwhelming her.

“Just stay smart and not get hit with her big right hand,” said Shields about her battle plan against Cornejo who replaced Hanna Gabriels who failed a PED test.

Though Cornejo had two inches height advantage, Shields had faced others that were taller before such as Christina Hammer and Savannah Marshall. Shields adjusted well.

“Height don’t matter, power don’t matter,” Shields said. “It’s all about skills and wills and I always have more.”

Over the years Shields has carefully added more ammunition to her offensive arsenal and fighting a taller opponent with power has become second nature. Shields kept a perfect distance at all times and made it difficult for Cornejo to time her attacks with a big right cross.

Cornejo jabbed her way trying to close the distance, but Shields agility and reflexes kept the taller fighter from her goal. Shields snapped Cornejo’s head back numerous times during the fight, but the Mexican-American fighter from the state of Washington has always shown to have one of the best chins in women’s boxing. No one has ever knocked her down.

Shields came close, especially in the seventh round. Cornejo opened the frame with a strong right lead that seemed to awaken the gates. Shields unleashed the blinding combinations that have bewildered every foe she’s ever faced since childhood. The speed and fury of the blows forced Cornejo to hold and maneuver out of range. She survived the onslaught but if it had been a three-minute round the fight might have been over. Instead, after the two-minute round expired, Cornejo had survived.

Shields had expended a lot of energy attempting the knockout. It takes a lot of to fire off dozens of blows with blinding speed and accuracy. Most of the eighth round was fought by both at a much slower tempo, until the last 20 seconds when Shields and Cornejo opened up the guns.

After saving energy in the prior round, Shields stunned Cornejo with a strong one-two that snapped the head of the challenger. Shields kept on the attack but in measured tones. Though she won every round it was evident that Cornejo was looking for one big counter shot that could turn the momentum.

It did not happen. Shields kept control of the fight until the very end. After 10 rounds both hugged each other in respect and the judges gave their verdict 100-89, 100-90 twice for Shields who keeps the middleweight world championship.

“I felt great. I won every round like I knew I could,” said Shields. “I tried for the KO, but Maricela was tough, had a strong right hand.”

For Shields it was her sixth defense of the middleweight championship.

“I thought I looked really, really good,” said a very content Shields. “Thank you for coming out.”

Other Bouts

Local fighter Ardreal Holmes (14-0) defeated Haiti’s Wendy Toussaint (14-2) by technical split decision after the fight was stopped early due to a bad cut following a clash of heads in the super welterweight match.

Toussaint was the aggressor through most of the fight but when a savage cut opened up above his forehead the referee stopped the fight though the ringside physician had given approval to continue.

The fight was stopped at 1:54 of the eighth round and Holmes won 76-75, 77-74, 74-77. The Detroit crowd booed the decision loudly.

A middleweight contest saw Michigan’s Joseph Hicks (7-0, 5 KOs) use his height and reach to dominate Atlanta’s Antonio Todd (14-8) from the outside. All three judges scored it 80-72 for Hicks.

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Adelaida Ruiz and Fernando Vargas Jr Score KO Wins at Pechanga

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Adelaida Ruiz and Fernando Vargas Jr Score KO Wins at Pechanga

TEMECULA, Ca.-After a long period of fighting out of the country, Adelaida Ruiz returned to Southern California and with her came hundreds of her ardent followers as she won by knockout over Mexico’s Maria Cecilia Roman on Friday.

Ruiz (14-0-1, 8 KOs) looked sharp and stepped in with a disciplined attack against Roman (17-8) who fought behind a peek-a-boo style throughout the fight. Ruiz fired away at openings with a measured attack in front of several thousand fans at Pechanga Arena on the MarvNation Promotions card.

Midway through the eight-round match Ruiz increased the tempo of the attack with blistering combinations to the body and head. During one of the combinations Ruiz connected with a left hook to Roman’s temple and down she went.

Roman beat the count, but Ruiz never slowed her attack and each round her blows seemed to increase with power, the impact of the punches resonating in the arena. The interim WBC super flyweight titlist, whose title was not at stake, seemed determined to win by knockout.

In the eighth and final round Ruiz staggered Roman with another left hook to the temple and that only sparked more punches from the Southern California fighter. She unloaded her bullet chambers and the referee decided to stop the action at 1:19 of the eighth round.

Other Bouts

Fernando Vargas Jr. (9-0) won the super middleweight contest by knockout when Heber Rondon (20-5) was unable to continue due to a shoulder injury at the end of the second round. Fans were displeased but it was not up to the fans.

Vargas showed patience against the veteran southpaw Rondon who showed some tricks in his bag. But after some exchanges in the second round it was a surprise to everyone in the arena when the referee signaled the fight was over at the end of the second round.

Undefeated Jonathan Lopez (11-0, 7 KOs) of Florida remained unblemished with a unanimous decision win over Mexico’s Eduardo Baez (21-5-2, 7 KOs) in a 10-round featherweight fight.

San Bernardino’s Lawrence King (13-1,11 KOs) faced veteran Mexican fighter Marco Reyes (37-10) and was able to use his speed and southpaw stance to win almost every round. But he had to work for it.

Reyes was able to avoid most of King’s attacks but in the sixth round after absorbing some heavy blows the Mexican fighter was unable to continue and the fight was stopped at the end of the sixth round for a knockout win by King.

In a super welterweight fight, Mario Ramos (11-0, 9 KOs) wore down Jesus Cruz (6-3) for three rounds with his left-handed assault and then lowered the boom with a non-stop barrage of lefts and rights. After nearly two-dozen nearly unanswered blows the referee stopped the battering at 2:09 of the fourth round.

Orlando Salgado (3-2) slugged it out with Squire Redfern (0-1) to win a super welterweight fight by decision after four back and forth rounds. Salgado connected with the bigger blows but never could stop Redfern from rallying round after round. All three judges scored in favor of Salgado.

A heavyweight battle saw Mike Diorio (1-5-1) win his first pro fight in out-punching debuting heavyweight Ian Morgan (0-1) after four rounds. Both fighters tired a bit but Diorio had a better idea of how to score and won by decision.

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