contender Steve ďUSSĒ Cunningham, 28-6, 13 KOs, is a former
two-time cruiserweight champion who has fought all over the
globe. Heís fought at Madison Square Garden and appeared on
Saturday afternoon NBC network television in two very
high-profile bouts. Last year he became the USBA
heavyweight champion in an instant classic against Amir
Mansour, which was named the ď2014 Philly Fight of the
Saturday (March 14th), Cunningham travels to
Montreal for perhaps the biggest fight of his career, a
12-round IBF heavyweight eliminator against unbeaten
Vyacheslav Glazkov, 19-0-1, 12 KOs. The fight also marks
Cunninghamís debut on the cable powerhouse HBO.
At 38 years old and
34 fights into his 14-year professional career, Cunningham
appears to at last be knocking on the door of a truly
big-time bout that could finally bring him the glory,
respect, and payday heís been fighting for all this time.
Despite all his
accomplishments and memorable fights, Cunningham still
remains an under-appreciated fighter. Ignored at
cruiserweight and now considered too small to make any real
noise as a heavyweight. Cunningham just keeps plugging
along and keeps the faith that his biggest achievement still
lies ahead of him. If Cunningham can defeat Glazkov on
Saturday, heíll earn a mandatory title shot against IBF
champion Wladimir Klitschko. A tough fight indeed, but it
is the one Cunningham wants more than any other.
I spoke to
Cunningham before one of his grueling training sessions at
the Rock Ministries Gym in the Kensington Section of
You are finally
getting your shot on HBO. What does that mean to you?
CUNNINGHAM: ďItís exciting. Itís really exciting
because it means that people (like HBO execs) have seen what
weíve been doing and the skill set, and it means that people
respect the art. It means a lot. I know itís big. It
means the world will get to see me. So itís time to perform
Boxers always say that a win is a win, but do you feel like
you really have to impress in this one?
CUNNINGHAM: ďYou know, I felt that I had to impress
against Adamek when I fought on the Versus Network (in their
first fight). That was my first televised bout in America.
I just wanted to go out and perform, and was not as
concerned with (the fact that) this dude can fight. I
wanted to go out and show everyone, and I learned my
lesson. [Cunningham lost his first cruiserweight title by
split decision.] That was a good fight, a close fight, but
he won. When I got the rematch, I feel I performed the way
I should have in the first fight. So itís the same for this
fight (against Glazkov). I got to stick to business. Itís
about, straight up and down, get the work done.Ē
Is it a good thing that people continue to underestimate you
especially as a heavyweight?
CUNNINGHAM: ďYeah, for me itís a good thing. Let
them underestimate me. They can keep underestimating me and
theyíll see why Tyson Fury was getting up off the ground.
Iíve been the underdog ever since I came to boxing. I think
itís good though.Ē
Is it a motivator for you?
CUNNINGHAM: ďIt totally is a motivator. But to be
real, we donít consider me a heavyweight either. I donít
consider myself a heavyweight. Iím just a fighter. Put
guys in front of me and Iíll fight them and beat them. You
can put a six-foot-two, 278 pound guy in front of me. Iíll
find a way to beat him. Put a six-foot-nine, 269 pound
fighter in front of me. Iíll try to find a way to beat
him. You know, I didnít beat Fury, but I did some darn good
things in there. Put a light heavyweight in front of me.
Iím a fighter. I get paid to fight and this is my job. And
Iím going to do my job. Being an underdog for so long, that
motivation is just built-in now. Iíve learned to work in
uncomfortable situations. Iím ready for hard work. When
you can perform in uncomfortable situations, it builds
something in you.Ē
When you first
moved up to heavyweight you seemed determined to put on more
weight. However, over these past two years, it seems like
you are more comfortable not to push it and stay relatively
light for a heavyweight.
CUNNINGHAM: ďIím close friends with Chris Byrd.
Heís like a brother to me. He was trying to get me to go
heavyweight for years when I was first a cruiserweight
champion. He was like, Ďcome on up to heavyweight, you
donít have to worry about the weight. Your speed, your
mobility will carry you. Theyíre just bigí. I wasnít
mentally ready for that. But when I did become mentally
ready, I saw what he was talking about. You donít have to
pack on weight to match those guys in order to beat them.
Weight doesnít necessarily win you fights. Now I do want to
come into these fights at 210 or 211, but we work so hard
and my metabolism is so fast. Iím eating and Iím doing my
supplements, but it just doesnít come out the way I want.
So I come in at 206. I leave the gym that week weighing 210
or 209. But then I get to the fight, and Iím 206 or 205.
So, whatever. I fight at whatever weight we come in at.Ē
Your size matches up pretty well with Glazkov right?
CUNNINGHAM: ďIt will probably feel like a
cruiserweight fight again. (laughs) I think heís 220,
What do you know about Glazkov and what do you expect from
CUNNINGHAM: ďHeís an Olympic Bronze medalist.
Thatís enough right there in itself. And heís undefeated.
Heís nothing to play with. Heís nothing to underestimate.
Nothing to look at and think wow, Iím going to do this, Iím
going to do that. I think heís a good fighter. I think I
have to stick to the game plan in order to beat him. And
thatís what we want to do.Ē
The stakes are high in this fight - your USBA title, the #1
spot in the IBF, and the mandatory IBF title shot.
This is exactly what you've been working for right?
CUNNINGHAM: ďThe (second) fight with Adamek would
have gotten me his ranking. I think he was #3 with The
Ring. That would have been awesome. But that didnít go
down according to plan. [Cunningham lost a highly
controversial split decision.] Thanks judges! (laughs)
Itís amazing; this fight brings me to the door. Weíre
knocking at the door. Even just getting here, being able to
even challenge for the #1 spot is amazing. So I want to win
it. It is really the biggest fight of my career, hands
What would getting a shot at the heavyweight title mean to
CUNNINGHAM: ďWow! It means so much. Spiritually it
would mean so much. For my family, financially.
Achievement-wise. Legacy. Itís would be unbelievable, win
or lose. Of course Iím going in there to win, no doubt.
But win or lose, just being there (would feel like) Ďwow,
this guy made it.í I didnít have a high-profile promoter
setting me up with fights. In that respect, look at the
guys Iíve fought. This is my fourth undefeated heavyweight,
third in a row. Iíve got a better resume than most
You have two losses at heavyweight, but both fights could
have asterisks on them, right?
CUNNINGHAM: ďEspecially the Adamek fight. And even
the Fury fight was highly questionable. That was my first
time fighting a really big man, and that taught me a lot.
With that being said, we took that and we learned from it.
We got back up on the horse and became the USBA heavyweight
champ, and thatís amazing. We just keep going. Like I
said, my resume as a heavyweight shames a few guys in the
heavyweight division Ė I donít want to put any names out
there. This is a business and a lot of these guys have been
put in the place that they are because of business. Iím a
throw-back fighter I feel. Even as a cruiserweight, I had
to fight top guy after top guy after top guy. My boxing
resume is crazy. And Iím just going to keep on doing it.Ē
Would it mean the same if your shot comes against Wladimir
Klitschko OR Bryant Jennings?
CUNNINGHAM: ďHmmÖ That discussion has come up a
couple of times. If you win this and Jennings wins that,
you know? So Iíll play along with the hypotheticals. That
would be awesome if Philly could have that. That would be
beautiful for Philly. But Iím not looking past Glazkov or
anybody. But as a hypothetical, that would be an awesome
event if we could put that on in Philly. But if I beat
Glazkov and he beats Wladimir, I donít know how much money
would be on the table for it.Ē
What do you think of the Klitschko-Jennings fight?
CUNNINGHAM: ďIím going to be really truthful.
Jennings has shown some great athleticism, ability and as a
pro, has defeated some serious guys. I just donít think
heís seen that level of Wladimir yet. But with that being
said, even though he might be green to that level, it could
actually help him. He could get up there and wonít be shook
by the level. And he just might come in and go at it and do
what he has to do. I think itís going to be a good fight.
Wladimir is a seasoned pro. Iíve been at camp with him two
times. Iíve seen his work ethic. Heís smart and heís
willing to learn. Iíve had good conversations with him, but
I totally root for Philly. No doubt.Ē
How might everything that you and your family have gone
through with your daughter Kennedy affect you as a fighter?
CUNNINGHAM: ďI donít think it will. We been (doing
this) with Kennedy ever since she was born nine years ago.
She was born with this situation and Iíve been traveling the
world with her like this, having to get these surgeries.
She had two surgeries before she was two years old, back in
í06. I was traveling to Poland, Germany. I just use it as
fuel. I know how to put things to the back burner. Whatís
in front of me is this opponent. I have to beat him, and if
I need to pull some energies from some outside entities like
my situation or my faith, itís there.Ē
I can see where the situation might inspire you to be an
even tougher guy in the ring, but is there any chance that
it could have the opposite affect instead?
CUNNINGHAM: ďOnce you get to a level, you perform at
a level. Unless you are some serious knucklehead. If you
go back, go negative, and you start to relax in training.
But with the stage of this fight, I wonít allow myself any
of that, any slips. This stage itself just makes you
Was this camp, or
the preparation for Glazkov any different than usual?
CUNNINGHAM: ďNot really different. Naazimís got the
plan. Thatís the only difference, what weíre working on.
Just maintaining endurance, punch count and stuff like
that. You know, just being me.Ē
Even though you are focused on Glazkov, do future
possibilities still manage to creep into your thoughts?
CUNNINGHAM: ďThere are so many possibilities right
now, but I donít like to look past fighters. But you canít
help but perceive some things. Iím not being big-headed at
all. Iíve been in this position before, but never on this
(big) stage. Weíre excited. That excitement is a drive. I
have so much to drive me. Itís like taking an energy
drink. Sometimes I have to calm down. Iím just excited.Ē
Cunningham and Glazkov face off Saturday night live on HBO,
right before the light heavyweight championship fight
between Sergey Kovalev and Jean Pascal.