NEWARK, N.J. -- The gulf in the heavyweight division between the Klitschko brothers and everyone else seems as wide as ever.
Olympic gold medalist Alexander Povetkin is undercooked, American contender Chris Arreola is overfed, and Great Britain's David Haye appears content to defend his alphabet title against journeymen -- like rumored Nov. 13 opponent Audley Harrison -- rather than pursue unification against either of the division's twin champions.
In many ways, Tomasz Adamek is the most intriguing plotline in a weight class that's become defined by the predictable, maddening efficiency of the Klitschkos. The 33-year-old Pole, fresh off championship reigns at light heavyweight and cruiserweight, has established himself as a legitimate contender in boxing's bellwether division. (He's up to No. 4 in Ring magazine's most recent heavyweight ratings.)
Adamek's heavyweight debut came last October with a fifth-round stoppage of 42-year-old Andrew Golota. A points victory over Jason Estrada in February proved he could absorb the punch of an in-his-prime heavyweight, while April's unanimous decision over Arreola proved he could do it against a Top 10 contender with TNT in either fist.
At 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, Adamek doesn't appear to have the physical gifts to challenge Vitali (6-7, 250) and Wladimir (6-6, 240) for the world heavyweight championship.
But while Saturday's unanimous decision over 6-foot-7 Michael Grant in Newark, N.J., showed Adamek can hang in there with a super-sized opponent, it's unlikely the performance will cause the Klischkos sleepless nights.
Grant, if you remember, was the much-hyped prospect from Philadelphia with the freakish physique of an NBA power forward who skyrocketed to prominence in the late '90s. Despite a late start (he took up the sport at 20) and limited amateur experience (just 12 fights), Grant rapidly developed a following with a series of highlight-reel knockouts against B-level opponents who were incapable of exploiting his lack of fundamentals. He was ultimately a victim of his own box-office appeal, getting a shot at the heavyweight title against Lennox Lewis in April 2000, before he'd had time to adjust to the division's elite. A second-round knockout against Lewis at Madison Square Garden shattered Grant's confidence -- and a loss to fringe contender Dominick Guinn ended Grant's run as a top-flight contender.
That was seven years ago.
Yes, Adamek outpointed Grant convincingly Saturday night. He scored repeatedly with quick combinations, while Grant could respond with little more than a left jab and the occasional power punch until the late stages. The judges scored it 118-112, 119-111 and 119-112. (SI.com had it 118-112.)
But Adamek, an 8-to-1 favorite despite concessions of nearly 40 pounds and six inches in height, absorbed too much punishment against an opponent who was outclassed on paper -- not unlike the Estrada fight. He also made a tactical blunder by attempting to trade with Grant in the 12th round despite an obvious lead on the scorecards. A powerful right hand sent Adamek barreling across the ring ("bouncing around like a pinball," Grant recalled), but the Pole recovered in time for the final bell.
"I felt like I could have gone three more rounds," Grant said. "I wish it had been a 15-round fight so I could get him. He had a melancholy look in his corner."
Adamek admitted to feeling Grant's punching power, but insisted he never felt in peril, despite cuts over both eyes.
"If he hit me, he hit me with one punch," Adamek said. "There were no combinations. In my mind, I thought I won all 12 rounds."
Not lost in the afterglow of Adamek's victory was Saturday's attendance: 10,972. As boxing is pushed further to the periphery of America's mainstream sports consciousness, promoters have been forced to think of creative ways to draw crowds. Kathy Duva, who promotes Adamek, seems to have struck gold with the Polish expat and Jersey City resident here in the Brick City.
The marriage between Adamek and Newark, one of boxing's more encouraging stories in recent years, makes perfect sense. North Jersey is home to one of the largest enclaves in the Polish diaspora. The 19,500-seat Prudential Center, built in 2007 for $375 million, is a multi-purpose indoor arena in constant battle for attractions with more established venues in nearby East Rutherford and Manhattan. Adamek, well-known for years in Europe, is embarking on a campaign in the heavyweight division and hopes to crack the lucrative American market.
Of Adamek's past seven fights, five have taken place here -- and the crowds keep growing. Thousands of Polish fans showed out Saturday, easily identified by their red-and-white Polska scarves, flags, soccer jerseys, face paint, noise-makers and novelty hats. Not every fan in the house was wodka-infused, but at times it seemed like it.
Jersey-based promoter Main Events has managed to transform the Prudential Center into a sort of Warsaw on the Hudson (or the Hackensack, as it were). And when the time finally came for the main event, Grant was greeted by a lusty chorus of jeers and whistles. Certainly, the Chicago native and longtime Philadelphia resident must have felt like he was on foreign soil.
"I thought the margin was very wide," said Grant of the judges' scores. "But, hey, it's his hometown."
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Colombia native Joel Julio (36-4, 31 KOs), a slumping light middleweight contender who'd lost three of his past four outings, rebounded nicely with a hard-fought unanimous decision over Philadelphia's Jamaal Davis (12-7, 6 KOs) in the co-feature. ... Brooklyn welterweight Sadam Ali (9-0, 5 KOs), who represented the United States at the 2008 Olympics, stayed unbeaten with a fifth-round knockout of veteran Lenin Arroyo (20-13-1, 4 KOs). ... Junior welterweight prospect Jeremy Bryan (14-1, 7 KOs) returned to the win column with a TKO of Pittsburgh's Daniel Mitchell (5-2-1, 2 KOs), who couldn't answer the bell for the second round after suffering an early knockdown. ... Five-time New York Golden Gloves champion Shemuel Pagan (1-0, 1 KO) made his pro debut on the undercard with a points victory over Philly's Raul Rivera (0-3, 0 KOs). The 22-year-old junior lightweight from Brooklyn suffered a cut over his left eye in the first round, but floored Rivera with a hard right in the second and coasted to a unanimous decision. ... Pagan, a Hebrew Israelite who doesn't work on the Sabbath, didn't arrive at the Prudential Center until after sundown.