The past two weekends have brought something back to network television that hasn't happened since 1997: the return of boxing to free TV. For fans of the sweet science, it is a welcome reunion and a beacon of hope in the endless search for new fans.
Last week on CBS, viewers were treated to a bantamweight title fight involving one of the true up and comers in the sport, Leo Santa Cruz. While he was expected to plow through unknown Alberto Guevara with his 100+ punches per round, the fight unexpectedly turned into a pleasant scrap that Santa Cruz won unanimously, but definitely had to work for.
This week, NBC got into the act, televising the rematch between Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham. The two had fought for the IBF cruiserweight belt back in 2008, with Adamek winning a narrow split decision after knocking Cunningham down three times. This time, they fought for the vacant NABF heavyweight belt, which could put the winner in line for a potential shot against champion Wladimir Klitschko next year.
Though Adamek outweighed Cunningham by 20 pounds (223-203), Cunningham controlled the early rounds behind a stiff left jab and expert movement and ring generalship while avoiding Adamek's vaunted right hand and landing several of his own. He even managed to open a cut inside Adamek's mouth early in the fight.
Adamek mounted a brief rally in the middle rounds, but mostly seemed content to come forward ineffectively and try to steal rounds during the final ten seconds. When it was over, most who had watched waited for what seemed like a mere formality: the announcement of Cunningham as the unanimous decision winner.
And then the script got flipped.
One judge had the fight 115-115, while another had Cunningham ahead 115-113 and another Adamek 116-112. Not only was a draw the wrong decision, but I doubt even Stevie Wonder had Adamek winning eight rounds.
But then the real circus came to town. Michael Buffer announces that one of the judges had made a mistake, so once again there was a chance that Cunningham would get the win he so rightfully deserved. The 115-115 card was changed to 115-112...for Adamek.
Many could argue the fight was close enough to be 115-113. Since judges sit on three different sides of the ring that could be plausible on one card, maybe. But most observors had Cunningham winning in the 116-112 range. Even a renegade 114-114 score would have been difficult to explain. But this was an outright robbery.
Sure, boxing has had its share of robberies over the years. The most blatant in recent memory might be Timothy Bradley's early Christmas present from the judges over Manny Pacquiao in June of this year, or (some may argue) Pacquiao's majority decision over Juan Manuel Marquez last November in their third fight.
Boxing has always had unpopular decisions, but this one could have a larger effect that either of the ones I just mentioned. Had this occurred on Showtime or HBO it would have still been a robbery but relatively few people would have seen it. But now that boxing is trying to make a return to regular TV, it doesn't need any unnecessary controversy that might prevent people from tuning in when it comes on. After today, some fans may question why they should tune in if theft of this nature is going to happen right before their eyes, and they would be right to ask that.
Hopefully, those who watched this fight will come away thinking they saw a great heavyweight scrap (and if they caught last week's fight, two great matchups) and will not allow the absence of the rightful outcome to make them turn the channel next time NBC or CBS wants to show a fight.
Now is a great time to be a boxing fan. In addition to HBO, Showtime (Which has started showing undercard fights before its main telecast on Showtime Extreme), ESPN and Telefutura, EPIX has entered the fight game by picking up occasional cards, mostly in Europe. NBC Sports Network has televised several cards this year showcasing perhaps the best young American heavyweight (Bryant Jennings). WealthTV and Fox Sports Network have started picking up cards, as has Spanish-language Azteca America.
Here is to hoping the next card on NBC or CBS, or even ABC if they get in the mix as has been discussed, goes off without any question or controversy. In fact, let's just hope it ends in a clean knockout and save the judges the trouble.