Adamek a big fish in small, small pond

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

You can follow Kevin Iole on Twitter at @KevinI

Make no mistake: Tomasz Adamek is no Muhammad Ali or Larry Holmes. For that matter, he's no Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis or Riddick Bowe, either. He's a slightly better-than-average boxer with a couple of halfway decent heavyweight wins.

In this climate, though, that almost makes him a heavyweight messiah. Talent is so thin in the heavyweight division that if it were a college football program, it would be, oh, Eastern Michigan.

The heavyweights have gotten so bad that Shannon Briggs, who in his last three fights has fought opponents only marginally tougher than Larry, Curly and Moe, is going to meet Vitali Klitschko later this year for the World Boxing Council belt.

Outside of David Haye, who is ducking both Vitali Klitschko and his younger brother, Wladimir Klitschko, with the same intensity that Floyd Mayweather Jr. is avoiding Manny Pacquiao, there is no one remotely close to interesting to pair against the Klitschkos.

If Adamek gets past Michael Grant, who hasn't been relevant in the division in a decade, in their pay-per-view bout on Saturday at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., he just might become the most intriguing opponent for either Klitschko brother.

"He's a coachable guy, and he's picking things up very quickly," Adamek trainer Roger Bloodworth said. "He's athletic, and we're teaching him some high-level stuff. He's picking that up very well because of his athleticism."

Adamek is 41-1 with 27 knockouts and has held light heavyweight and cruiserweight world titles. But it's a long way from defeating an over-the-hill Andrew Golota, a soft-tossing Jason Estrada and an out-of-shape Chris Arreola to defeating either of the Klitschko brothers.

Yet, in light of the lack of contenders, Adamek may be the best bet to give one of the Klitschkos a competitive fight. No one has done that since Samuel Peter knocked Wladimir Klitschko down three times in what was a unanimous Klitschko victory on Sept. 24, 2005.

Since that date, Wladimir Klitschko is 9-0 with eight knockouts and hasn't lost more than three rounds on any judges' scorecard. Vitali Klitschko is 5-0 with four knockouts since ending a 46-month retirement in 2008 and has been even more dominant than his younger brother.

Adamek is kind of like a .270 lifetime hitter being proposed as the guy who might challenge Miguel Cabrera or Josh Hamilton for the Triple Crown, but he's as good as it gets in terms of heavyweight challengers.

His promoter, Kathy Duva, recognizes that Adamek isn't ready for the considerable challenge either Klitschko presents yet. She could have already landed a fight for Adamek with one or the other if money had been her only goal.

She believes that with time and continued work with Bloodworth, however, that Adamek can develop into a legitimate threat.

"To be fair to the Klitschkos, they've been calling and offering us fights," Duva said. "Our goal is not to just get Tomasz a shot to fight for the title, it's for him to be ready to win the title. We felt he had some things he still needed to accomplish."

Adamek has never fought anyone with the height and range of either Klitschko brother. Hence, Duva made the fight with Grant, who at 6-feet-7 is the same height as Vitali Klitschko and with an 86-inch reach, has a bigger wingspan than either brother.

Grant hasn't had anything resembling a quality win in more than a decade. He's 46-3, but you'd have to go back to Nov. 20, 1999, when he stopped Golota in the 10th to find a victory over a top heavyweight. Since then, the now 38-year-old Grant has been facing third- and fourth-tier guys who are not, have never been nor will ever be considered a contender.

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Grant's trainer, was surprised when Adamek's people selected Grant, though. Grant will have six inches and 40 pounds on Adamek as well as most of the other physical advantages.

"I think they made a big mistake, a huge mistake in taking Michael if they're looking to get Adamek up in there with one of the Klitschkos," Muhammad said. "Michael has every attribute in his favor. He's taller. He punches harder, much harder. He's physically stronger. All the attributes go in Michael's favor."

Adamek, though, was at a similar disadvantage when he faced Arreola, who was three inches taller and 33 pounds heavier. Adamek boxed smartly and used his agility and his knowledge to pull out a majority decision.

He's worked on converting from more of a European-style boxer, who stands erect and rarely moves, to an American style, which stresses movement.

"[Bloodworth] is teaching me more movement, more U.S.-style boxing," Adamek said. "I am happy because I'm learning now and I'm preparing [to fight the way Bloodworth wants]. The style in Europe is more straight [with] small movements. The United States style is maybe more difficult and because of the movement, it's difficult to catch someone."

Adamek has been a willing brawler and was in some of the best fights of the last few years. He had two sensational light heavyweight battles with Paul Briggs and his 2008 cruiserweight bout with Steve Cunningham was one of that year's best.

Adamek, though, can't afford to get into that kind of shootout with Grant, let alone either of the Klitschkos. Bloodworth, however, believes Adamek understands when to turn it into a firefight and when to use his movement and fight from angles.

"It's not hard to teach a fighter to box, but it's almost impossible to teach a boxer to fight," Bloodworth said. "One of the sayings I have with him is, 'Get him drunk first, then mug him.' What I mean is, he doesn't have to start hitting a guy with his best stuff right away. You don't have to kill the guy the first time you hit him.

"He just needs to start hitting him. Touch him. Put your hands on him. Then, eventually, he can pick up the speed and increase the power and get him out. Tomasz is still a work in progress even though he has a great record. He's learning very well and he wants to get better, which is why I have hope that someday, he's going to be ready to get in there with the Klitschkos and give them a real good fight."

There hasn't been anyone who could do that for years. If Adamek defeats Grant on Saturday, at least there will be a flicker of hope that there will be someone available to make even a mildly interesting fight with the champions.

Among the heavyweights these days, that's the best one can hope for. It's not Ali-Joe Frazier III, Holyfield-Bowe I or Holmes-Ken Norton, three of the classic heavyweight battles of the 20th century. But in the talent-starved heavyweight class of the early 21st century, mildly interesting is about as good as it's going to get.

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