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Boxing Roundtable: Is Adamek a legit heavyweight contender?


CHRIS MANNIX: Can he win a heavyweight belt? Of course. Remember, ex-cruiserweight champ David Haye currently possesses the WBA title. But after watching Adamek's performance against Estrada, I'm having a hard time buying him as a legitimate threat to the Klitschkos' reign in the division. Adamek is an excellent boxer with sharp skills, but he ate too many punches and faded late in the fight, acceptable against Estrada but a recipe for disaster against Wladimir or Vitali. Adamek is good for the division -- the 10,000-plus rabid Polish fans who packed the Prudential Center last weekend makes me wonder why he would fight anywhere but Newark -- and I love the idea of an Adamek-Chris Arreola showdown to determine the true No. 1 contender, but I don't see his promoters putting him in a ring with one of the Klitschkos, much less him beating one.

RICH O'BRIEN: Well, first of all, if Adamek does challenge for a heavyweight title, he might want to consider making sure judge Larry Layton is on duty at ringside. On Saturday night, Layton turned in a scorecard that had Adamek beating Estrada 118-110. Even the Polish consulate might want to investigate that one. (Twelve years ago, recall, Layton's cockamamie 117-112 scorecard helped Shannon Briggs earn a highly questionable decision over George Foreman, and thereby relieve Big George of what he was touting as the "linear heavyweight championship." Hmm. Perhaps Layton scores using linear algebra.)

Adamek deserved the victory over Estrada, but by a far closer margin. Which, of course, raises the question of just how wise Adamek's heavyweight plans are. He was repeatedly beaten to the punch by Estrada, who landed a number of flush shots. Fortunately for Adamek, Estrada is not a huge puncher, and Adamek was able to keep working and banging Estrada to the body, even as Adamek's face showed increasing evidence of the number of shots he was taking. Against a true heavyweight hitter -- say, Arreola, who is being discussed as a possible opponent in April -- it might be a different story.

That said, Adamek is a skilled fighter and a tough guy who brings some excitement to the ring. He's been successful so far as he's moved up in weight. The big money, of course, is with the big boys. He should take his shot. If he fails, he can drop back to cruiserweight. There'll still be 10,000 Poles waiting to fill the Prudential Center.

BRYAN ARMEN GRAHAM: I'll defer judgment until Apr. 24, the projected date of Adamek's meeting with Arreola on HBO. Until then, I'm a cautious optimist. Estrada, nearly 20 pounds bulkier but not the heaviest hitter, appeared to bother Adamek with more than a few punches Saturday in Newark. But Arreola, who could enjoy a 40-pound advantage in April, presents a different challenge altogether: a pressure fighter with one-punch power in both hands and a chin of granite.

Adamek, for his part, doesn't seem too impressed. "Just power won't be enough to beat me," the 33-year-old Pole said Saturday through a translator. "You have to have a clear strategy of what you want to do and, most of all, you have to be faster. I proved today that speed makes a difference and I'm going to prove it again against Chris Arreola." That's fine. But everybody's got a plan until they get hit, as Mike Tyson famously observed, and I'll be a lot more convinced if Adamek can manage to chop down Arreola.

2. Edwin Valero improved to 27-0 with 27 knockouts Saturday with a brave performance against Antonio DeMarco in a Showtime fight in Mexico. What would you like to see from Valero in 2010?

MANNIX: Cash in, baby. Valero is still very raw, but his performance against DeMarco -- a legitimate, prime lightweight -- was easily his finest. Any questions about Valero's mental toughness were answered when he shrugged off the grotesque cut above his right eye (an American doctor likely would have stopped the fight because of it) caused by an errant DeMarco elbow and the steady stream of blood that flowed from it to pound DeMarco into submission. I'd like to see Valero take one more fight at lightweight (Valero-Michael Katsidis would be interesting, not to mention NC-17-rated) before thrusting himself into the junior welterweight discussion. There's an abundance of talent at 140 pounds, and if Valero is successful, he can quickly establish himself as a mainstream star.

O'BRIEN: It's good for boxing to have Valero on Showtime and not just on YouTube. That said, the Venezuelan southpaw's coming-out party showed he's got some work to do. Despite his impressive KO record, Valero is not some sort of lethal punching machine. This isn't a 135-pound Thomas Hearns we're talking about. Nor is he the next Manny Pacquiao. Valero throws wide, clubbing shots and wears opponents down with his strength and relentless pressure. His balance is better than it was, but his defense is perfunctory. Against a fighter with more tools and more commitment than DeMarco, Valero might not be able to so completely assert himself.

Bob Arum has hinted that Valero might move up to 140 pounds to challenge WBO champion Timothy Bradley. That would be an intriguing bout, as Bradley (25-0, 11 KOs), though not a huge puncher, is skilled, experienced and aggressive enough to offset Valero's straight-ahead attack. Before a Bradley bout, though, I'd like to see Valero against, say, Joan Guzman -- who, though faded, would still be a more telling test than DeMarco was. After that, perhaps, a showdown against another young and undefeated lightweight, Britain's John Murray.

GRAHAM: For American fans accustomed to watching grainy footage of the enigmatic Valero on YouTube, Saturday's Showtime telecast -- in high-definition! -- was a long-awaited treat. Yes, Valero's flaws were in full view against DeMarco: the reckless streak, the headhunting, the non-existent defense, the perilous habit of attacking with mouth wide open. But what courage! Valero seemed to fight even harder after sustaining that horrific cut -- and managed to keep that sexy knockout streak alive with a ninth-round stoppage.

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Many hope to see Valero climb into the talent-laden junior welterweight division. But with Juan Manuel Marquez expected to move up and meet either Amir Kahn or Ricky Hatton this summer, I'd rather see Dinamita clean out the 135-pound cupboard -- and refine his imperfections against stiffer opposition -- before trying for the more lucrative paydays at 140.

3. Glen Johnson got back in the win column with a knockout of Yusef Mack on ESPN2's Friday Night Fights. What did you make of Johnson's performance and does the 41-year-old deserve another shot at the title?

MANNIX: Johnson is, quite simply, the most professional fighter in boxing. How many guys with Johnson's credentials would accept as many short paydays and spots on undercards as Johnson has the last few years? Every time Johnson gets beat, every time his career seems to be on life support, he bounces back with impressive (and, more important, well-placed) wins. He rebounded from his loss to Clinton Woods in '06 with a knockout win over Montell Griffin. He bounced back from a disappointing loss to Chad Dawson in '08 with emphatic victories over Aaron Norwood and Daniel Judah. And after Dawson beat him again last November, Johnson hustled back into the ring three months later to stop Mack and earn a mandatory shot at the IBF title. And he can win, too. IBF champ Tavoris Cloud is no Dawson. He's untested and inexperienced. If Johnson brings the same game he had against Mack to the ring against Cloud, he will win. No doubt about it.

O'BRIEN: I love watching Johnson -- and listening to him, for that matter. He's a true old pro who knows how to get the most out of himself each time. He also comes to fight. (He averaged 50 jabs a round against Mack, along with his power shots to the head and body.) The trouble is, Dawson has beaten Johnson twice now and the second time, last November, did it far more convincingly than the first. There's little reason to expect anything different a third time around.

Still, at his age, Johnson can't just be hanging around for the fun of it (though he, himself, says, "I'm enjoying this"). He's got to be aiming for another belt. So, if he's going to supplant Bob Fitzsimmons (who won the title at age 40, in 1903) as the oldest light heavyweight champ, it will likely be against Cloud, the undefeated (20-0) IBF titleholder. It would be a good bout -- just ask Johnson, who calls Cloud "an all-action fighter and the type of guy I like to fight" -- and I wouldn't bet against the old man.

GRAHAM: Johnson is a fighter's fighter, a throwback to a bygone era, who survives on grit and fundamentals. Friday's meeting with Mack -- wisely salvaged from the Mosley-Berto undercard -- was Johnson's 50th professional victory and showcased a 41-year-old with plenty left in the tank. With a win over Cloud, a relative greenhorn, Johnson could earn another big payday. It'd be a gratifying ending for a guy who's been a frequent victim of boxing politics over the years.

4. Guillermo Rigondeaux improved to 5-0 (4 KOs) on Friday with a spectacular one-punch knockout of Adolfo Landeros less than 30 seconds into the first round. Do you see the Cuban fighting for a title before the end of the year?

MANNIX: I think Rigondeaux's handlers are going to push him into a title fight before the end of the year, though I'm not sure I agree with it. Rigondeaux looked frightening against Landeros, but I was ringside for Rigondeaux's utterly unimpressive decision win over Lante Addy two months ago, and I can tell you that there are holes in his game. Rigondeaux has crushing power, but he looked disinterested against Addy and struggled to put together combinations.

Rigondeaux's situation reminds me of a lot of Beibut Shumenov's. Like Rigondeaux, Shumenov was a decorated amateur who was rushed into a title fight, against Gabriel Campillo, who handed Shumenov his first loss last August and was robbed of a disgusting decision in the rematch last month. In both fights, Shumenov looked like a man who could use more seasoning before taking on a crafty champion like Campillo. Rigondeaux could learn something from that.

O'BRIEN: OK, Rigondeaux can punch. And he is far more experienced and poised than any other 5-0 guy out there. He's also 29 years old, so there's incentive to hurry him along. I think he's ready to move way up in class as soon as possible. A title shot in 2010 is not unreasonable.

GRAHAM: The intriguing Rigondeaux, a Cuban defector and two-time Olympic gold medalist, is one of the most decorated amateurs in boxing history. But Freddie Roach, who's expressed concern with the 29-year-old's adjustment to the professional culture after nearly 400 amateur fights, seems content to bring him along slowly. That said, Rigondeaux shouldn't have much trouble earning an alphabet belt at super bantamweight before the end of the year. There's plenty of opportunity at 122 pounds, with Juan Manuel Lopez and Yuriorkis Gamboa having moved up to featherweight.