In the Whitney Reception Room at the Hilton Ontario Airport, Main Events CEO Kathy Duva sat down on late Saturday night and had perhaps the most satisfying meal she had enjoyed in years: a mini-burger, with a dab of ketchup. Filet mignon wouldn’t have been any better. Why? Because just a couple of hours earlier, less than a mile down the road at the Citizens Business Bank Arena, her fighter, Tomasz Adamek had pulled the upset in out-pointing Chris Arreola.
And the ultra-popular Polish fighter didn’t just firmly entrench himself as a legitimate player in the heavyweight division; he might have just saved Main Events from getting knocked out of the business.
Well, OK, maybe that’s just a slight exaggeration.
When the subject is brought up, Duva just laughs before saying, "It’s funny; we used to talk back in the day; Pernell Whitaker, whenever he would be in a big fight, there were many times when Main Events was one fight away from absolute destruction. It’s not a new thing. He would talk about how he would save the family. When he’d win the fight, he’d say, ’I saved the family!’ and we’ve been saying that about Tomasz ever since he beat Steve Cunningham. ’He’s saving the family; oh, my God; we got another one.’ That’s the nature of this business. I remember the night before Vinny Pazienza beat Greg Haugen; my husband telling me, ‘If we don’t win this fight, we’re going out of business.’ We’ve been there before. It happens, it’s cyclical, and thank God he arrived when he did."
What Adamek did, at the very least, is get Main Events off the canvas. The company, which began as a family run operation out of the Ice World in Totowa, New Jersey in the ‘70s and became a promotional stalwart in the subsequent years, had struggled in the post Fernando Vargas/Arturo Gatti-era to win key fights. They needed a breakthrough fighter to carry them into the future. You can make all the right moves, but it doesn’t mean much if your fighters don’t come up big when it counts. That’s precisely what Adamek did this weekend. Make no mistake about it; this is one of their biggest victories.
"I told somebody tonight, it’s in my top three," said Duva, whose late husband, Dan, originally formed the company. "Because, first of all, it’s always better to win when no one expects you to and I think just for the sheer joy of pulling it off, when no one else thought you could. The fights that come to mind immediately are Holyfield-Douglas, Rocky Lockridge and Roger Mayweather- how we just came out of nowhere with that fight- and Livingstone Bramble and Ray Mancini. Those are the three times before where everyone thought we were crazy, thought we couldn’t win. Of course, there was Holyfield-Tyson, even though he [Holyfield] was kinda leaving us at that point, we still had our hearts with him.
"There are those times when you just kind of look at it and go, ’We’re going to win this one,’ and it’s fun when you know it and you go to the fight and everybody thinks you’re going to lose and you have this little smile going, ’Yeah? We’re going to win.’"
When Main Events inked Adamek to a deal a couple of years ago, it was met with a collective yawn throughout the industry. Sure, he was a tough, hard-nosed fighter, but why would Main Events, a company based in New Jersey, sign a Polish prizefighter?
"Because we had [Andrew] Golota and that crowd came out for him and I knew we could fill up an arena with him and that’s why Ziggy [Rozalski] brought him to us, ultimately," explained Duva. "All those years with [Don] King, he never built him; he never had a plan. When he got free of him, he remembered the job we had done with Golota and he brought him to us. Ziggy is very tied into the Polish community; we knew he would hook us into them again and he did. And we go back to the principles I learned- and I hate to admit this, in the ’70s- on how to build a crowd."
They targeted communities with a heavy concentration of Poles, like Chicago, to showcase Adamek, but they quickly found a fertile home base in Newark, New Jersey at the Prudential Center, which quickly became “Lil’ Warsaw” when Golota performed. His first big victory under the Main Events banner came in December of 2008, when he defeated Steve Cunningham in a memorable slugfest for the IBF cruiserweight title. From that point on, Adamek became a bona fide ticket seller on this continent. And with or without television backing, Main Events did what most “promoters” aren’t willing to do nowadays- move ahead with their shows and build a constituency.
And yet, when it came down to making the fight with Arreola, it was Adamek and Main Events who were forced to give up the home canvas advantage and fight on the west coast because if they wanted this fight, there was no other choice. Adamek is the ticket seller, but Arreola is a member of the most influential “HBO” at HBO- the Haymon Boxing Organization (where oftentimes, the tail wags the dog). As you looked around the Citizens Business Bank Arena, you saw plenty of empty seats. The announced attendance was just over 6,000. It didn’t help the live gate that the Lakers were involved in a playoff game around that same time. However, the reality is, if this promotion took place at the Prudential Center, there are 20,000 strong in the building. As it was, you take away the Polish contingent on Saturday night and you have about half the audience that eventually showed up.
Against the advice of her friends and advisers, Duva rolled the dice. Now, with this momentous victory, Main Events can start dictating terms.
"It’s a reality in any endeavor, I guess, that the person with the most power gets their way. The only way we can overcome that is by doing what Tomasz did tonight; take a risk; come out- and you saw we brought half of Poland with us, anyways; it doesn’t matter where we go; they’re going to find us- and meet the challenge," she stated. "And now, I’ve already been in touch with two people from HBO who told me tonight, ’Yeah, we’re going to be in Newark next time; no problem. That’s where we’ll be.’"
There is talk of a rematch with Arreola, but Duva pointed out that it would most certainly have to take place at the Prudential Center- which they have a hold on for the first weekend of October. "It’s the only way it would happen, absolutely."
Early on in the evening, I happened to run across Duva, who, in honor of Adamek’s home country, wore a red dress with a scarf with the colors of Poland. I asked what would happen if they were to go 0-for-2 on this night. "Well, we’d go right back with them in Newark. They will still have careers." Duva meant what she said, but she dreaded that very realistic possibility. It didn’t start well for Main Events as Joel Julio was stopped in the 11th round by Alfredo Angulo. But they won the fight they absolutely needed. It was the most joy that Duva had felt in some time.
"It was the Steve Cunningham fight," she said, "because again, no one expected him to win. And frankly our company was in worse shape that night. It’s kinda funny because I keep hearing from people, frequently, we work with fighters and they’re like, ’We have to ask you this question? Are you about to go out of business?’ I start laughing. My husband passed away 14 years ago and we’ve been asked that question for those 14 years and, at some point, you just got to laugh at it."
After 12 rounds, most everyone thought Adamek had done more than enough to earn the decision. Even after the first score of 114-114 was read, Duva firmly believed she had the winner." I was sure," she said. "I have never been this confident about a fight, ever. And that’s just me personally. There have been times when I looked at one and said, ’Yeah, we should win and, of course, there’s fights you know you’re going to win. But I have never been this confident in a fight that was perceived as a very close fight where my guy is the underdog. Never. Ever since the Cunningham fight, when I watch him [Adamek] and I see that he is 100-percent focused and you hate to see him use it, but he has this amazing chin; you see how strong he is. You saw it tonight. You see what kind of heart he has. He’s special. And this was, in some respects, like watching Evander Holyfield."
As she embarked on her victory meal, for one night, at least, if felt like old times, when Main Events was on top of the food chain and regularly celebrated big victories by their clients. As she looked around the room, where various members of her company, life-long friends and members of Adamek’s team strolled through, Duva remarked, "Everything feels so good. I can’t tell you; everything at this moment feels so good. It’s just really nice, I’m so happy and proud of Tomasz Adamek and I’m so happy to have this team back: Ronnie Shields, Roger Bloodworth, Brian Caldwell; it’s beautiful.
"It’s a beautiful thing."
The reality is that not only is this a big victory for Adamek and Main Events, but for the boxing business, overall. Right now, there is a bit of a vacuum on the east coast, in terms of having a real ticket-selling franchise, post-Gatti. Kelly Pavlik has flamed out and Miguel Cotto’s long-term future is uncertain. But in “Goral,” they have themselves an anchor. Boxing needs ticket sellers, guys that can create big events, fill arenas, put boxing back into the mainstream and create opportunities for other fighters.
Hopefully, HBO will let the promoters do their jobs and get out of the business of creating events based on not-so-hidden agendas, as it relates to Adamek and other guys who can put asses in the seats. Kathy Duva may not promote Beyonce (like others in the industry) or anything like that, but she’s done a helluva job in moving Adamek. That should be rewarded.
You can make an argument based on Adamek’s track record, when he was a light heavyweight champion (when his one career loss came to the talented Chad Dawson), the cruiserweight king and now, a top-ten heavyweight, he is one of the best fighters in the world pound-for-pound. But it’s even more important that he’s one of the best ticket sellers in the sport.
If I’m not on assignment or anything in the first week of October, I’m going to try my best to get out there to see Adamek’s next fight at the Prudential Center. I hear that’s quite the scene. Maybe I’ll score a seat next to Cory Booker.
Once again, Arreola was in relatively good shape. But that’s the problem; it’s all relative when it comes to him. He weighed in at around 250, but he really needs to be about ten pounds lighter. Against the movement of Adamek, Arreola simply couldn’t close the distance quickly enough or with any amount of consistency. With that extra unneeded girth comes a lack of coordination and body control.
His trainer, Henry Ramirez, doesn’t disagree.
"Absolutely, I just feel 238, 240 is his best fighting weight. He was able to close, but I think you said it best; at times he wasn’t able to close enough. I really thought he won the first half of the fight. But hey, this is a 12-round fight and a fight of adjustments. Adamek adjusted and boxed a little more efficiently towards the second half of the fight and I think that helped along with Chris getting a little fatigued. We’ll see where we go from here."
There might be another frank discussion between the trainer and fighter.
"It’s going to have to be, or there’s going to be more nights like this," said Ramirez. "More disappointing nights where you know you could have won the fight, but you came up short."
But will those words fall on deaf ears (again)?
SUPER DUPER SIX
Just a few thoughts on the battle between Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch:
- I think this was a very good scrap (perhaps the best of the “Super Six” thus far) but, truth be told, as much as I like Kessler- who I tabbed to win this tournament- this fight could have gone either way. If it would’ve taken place in Nottingham and not Denmark, I think the scores would have gone in the opposite direction.
- What I really love about the “Super Six” is the fact that another “O” had to go. And this time it was Froch, who suffered his first professional defeat. Nobody is safe in this super middleweight scrum.
- Once again, in Europe, the fights were staged in front of a large and lively gathering. This time around, it was the MCH Messecenter in Herning, Denmark, which looked like it had a packed house.
Late into the night at the Hilton, Duva, fellow promoter J.Russell Peltz, Main Events attorney Pat English and I were engaged in conversation regarding true ticket sellers in North America. The list we came up with was: Adamek, Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Lucian Bute.
Is there anyone we missed on?
Also, during this time, along with Duva and publicist Ellen Haley (who was there during the salad days of Main Events), we discussed who would be on the Mt. Rushmore of Main Events, in other words, the fighters who had the greatest impact on the company.
The list we came up was: Pernell Whitaker, Evander Holyfield, Arturo Gatti, Lennox Lewis (who was given a late push by Mr. English, who chimed in later) and now, Adamek.
This was a very good weekend of fights; all three fights shown on HBO and Showtime were entertaining affairs. Now, can Floyd Mayweather and Shane Mosley deliver at 50 bucks a pop on pay-per-view?...As long as you keep him away from movement, Alfredo Angulo will be a tough out. I’d love to see him down the line against James Kirkland, once he is a free man...My fellow Lakers fans, I’m tellin’ ya, the Purple and Gold are in deep trouble...I really like the draft of my Tampa Bay Bucs...I think in drafting the uber-talented Dez Bryant, the Cowboys were not going to make the mistake they did in not nabbing Randy Moss back in 1998...The most recent edition of “The Main Event” featured Henry Ramirez and Nick Charles of Showtime....