Adamek vs. Cunningham: Heavyweight Bout Is Hugely Important for Sport of Boxing

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistDecember 23, 2012

NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 11:  Steve Cunningham and Tomasz Adamek exchange punches during their IBF Cruiserweight Championship fight on December 11, 2008 at The Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  Tomasz won a split decision.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Heavyweights Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham touched gloves in Bethlehem, Pa. on Saturday, with Adamek winning the much-anticipated rematch by split decision.

The win was a nice coda for the aging Adamek, who also won a split-decision victory over Cunningham in 2008—dropping him three times in the process. This fight didn't feature the same fireworks, ending, rather uneventfully, with scores of 115-122, 116-112 and 113-115 in favor of Adamek.

But as important as the fight was for those involved, the spectacle held even greater weight for the sport of boxing as a whole.

You see, Saturday's fight was the second iteration of a revitalized trend: boxing matches broadcast on network television. NBC broadcast Adamek vs. Cunningham in the hotly contested 4-to-6 time slot—a spot that boxing hasn't occupied on the network for over 20 years. It was the first fight NBC had broadcast at all since the season 1 finale of The Contender in 2005.

Speaking with's Dan Rafael, promoter Kathy Duva gushed about the importance of this moment:

I believe more people will get to see Steve and Tomasz fight [on NBC] than probably have ever watched either one of them fight in the United States...I can't even express how pleased I am that this is a fight that we're going to be able to bring to NBC and to the fans out there.

And this trend isn't localized just to NBC. Only last week, CBS broadcast the bantamweight title bout between Leo Santa Cruz and Alberto Guevara. It was the first fight CBS had broadcast in 15 years. And thanks to a fortunate lead-in from the Butler vs. Indiana basketball game, the fight managed to attract 1.794 million viewers—an impressive retention rate of nearly 90 percent.

This trend couldn't come at a more important time for the sport. On the heels of Pacquiao vs. Marquez 4, which was both the highest-profile and most entertaining fight in years, boxing is an auspicious spot. Especially with Marquez and Pacquiao inching toward the end of their careers, the sport cannot afford to squander this momentum.

Boxing needs to seize it. Capitalize on it. Own it.

Adamek vs. Cunningham was hardly the most exciting fight of all time, bearing closer resemblance to the undercard at Marquez vs. Pacquiao than it did to the main event. But the fact that it was shown on network television still represents a massive statement from those involved with promoting boxing's image.

If they continue down this road—regardless of the progress in the UFC—boxing may not yet be dead.