CES Boxing’s Joe Cusumano (21-4, 19 KOs) is prepared for the fight of his life tonight in New York City. “The Sicilian Nightmare” will fulfill one of his childhood dreams when he faces Brooklyn’s Adam Kownacki (20-3, 15 KOs) at Madison Square Garden and broadcast live on DAZN.
“It’s a dream come true,” says the Italian native about fighting in the ‘Mecca of Boxing’. “The last time I was at Madison Square Garden was in 2007 with my original coach, Robert “Machine” Matney, who passed away a few years ago. I believe Cotto was fighting that night. That was the last time I was there, so I have great memories of MSG and I’ll be fighting in memory of ‘Machine’ that night too.”
Cusumano and Kownacki are each one impressive win away from a big fight. With their aggressive, come forward styles, the power punching heavyweights may steal the show as the co-feature to Edgar Berlanga’s super middleweight main event against Jason Quigley.
“Kownacki kind of fights the same way in all of his fights, especially after he gets hit,” explains Cusumano of his Polish opponent’s style. “I don’t think he knows how to fight too many different ways, but he’s still a very tough, dangerous fighter. He comes forward throwing lots of punches. Any heavyweight that does that, you have to watch out for.”
In order to prepare for a firefight given Kownacki’s non-stop, high-volume style, the Danville, Virginia resident has gone to hell and back.
“We’ve been training to be ready for anything he brings to the table,” says the 35-year-old, who now trains out of Champs Boxing Gym in Danbury, CT, under the watchful eye of coach David McDonough. “The losses I have are because I wasn’t ready for my fights. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices and that’s why I now come up to Connecticut for camp. We go to New York for good sparring that I wasn’t getting in Virginia. I made every sacrifice I could possibly make and have never been more prepared.”
Indeed, Cusumano significantly changed his approach to training after a first round KO loss to top contender Daniel Dubois in 2021.
“I knew that I had to go to a training camp after that fight because I wasn’t in camp when I fought Dubois,” laments Cusumano. “I just took that fight on a couple of weeks’ notice. There’s no way you’re going to beat the top fighters preparing like that.”
Cusumano took several months off after that loss, but as demoralizing as the Dubois defeat was for him, the experience marked a turning point in how the Italian slugger prepares for success in his fights.
“One of the things I dreamed about as a kid was showing the skills I have on pay-per-view, but the one time I got that opportunity, I was nowhere near ready and I took it anyway,” reflects Cusumano. “I let myself down and that hurt the most. I hit rock bottom and I thought: I’m not going out like this, so I made some moves: I started traveling, making sacrifices, sparring guys like the ‘Big Bang’, Zhilei Zhang, who I’ve been in training camp with a few times. I started going to Costa Rica for conditioning workouts and it’s been full speed ahead ever since.”
While those training adjustments led to 2 consecutive knockouts in 2022, Cusumano literally flew to the jungle to prepare for Kownacki, who he knows is coming to impress his hometown fans and resurrect his career after 3 consecutive defeats.
“They were really grueling workouts,” says Cusumano of the 2 weeks he spent doing strength and conditioning work at FARMERSTRENGTH training camp in Costa Rica. “The jungle is very hot, and you get so high up into the mountains, there isn’t much oxygen there. It’s like heaven and hell because it’s so beautiful there, but at the same time, it’s very rough, especially with the heat. It changes your mentality, because if you can train in the jungle for 2 weeks in that kind of heat, running up a mountain for 12 miles straight up without oxygen, nothing else is going to stop you.”
With that level of dedication, Kownacki and his fans may be in for a short night and a rude awakening on Saturday night. If the ‘Sicilian Nightmare’ was tough to beat before, it’s going to be extremely difficult to turn back the efforts of an inspired and fully prepared Cusumano.
“I made the sacrifices to perform like I should and I’m excited for this opportunity,” insists Cusumano. “My trainer, Robert Matney always told me: ‘it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish’, so I’m finishing my career at my best. I’m going to give this fight everything I’ve got and it’s going to be electric.”
Kownacki v. Cusumano takes place on June 24, 2023 at Madison Square Garden’s The Theater and live on DAZN.