|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - August 08, 2015|
Anyone who follows Steve “USS” Cunningham knows that he is a fighter who has seen it all in the ring. In his 15-year run as a pro, he has had numerous highs and just as many lows along the way. Cunningham has won titles, lost titles, been put on the shelf by more than one promoter, has often lost the political game to more powerful players, and suffered more robberies than a bank without a security guard. He has also endured more challenges in his personal life than most of us could ever imagine. With all this drama, many, at point or another, have figured Cunningham’s career had come to an end.
However, if you know the career of Steve Cunningham, you know that he is a fighter who seems to have nine lives.
His last outing was a perfect example. With a title shot against Wladimir Klitschko hanging in the balance, Cunningham boxed circles around Vyacheslav Glazkov in their 12-round title eliminator. The performance should have been enough to earn the former two-time cruiserweight champ the lucrative payday for which he’s been waiting and fighting for so long. However, when the decision was announced, it was Glazkov who won the lottery. Cunningham merely took it on the chin, once again.
Then 38 years of age, most thought the Glazkov fight – or the robbery that came after it – had to be Cunningham’s last chance to chase his dream to be heavyweight champion. Where could he possibly go next? But remember, this is a guy with nine lives to spend. So of course, Cunningham survived.
The next thing you knew, Cunningham signed a contract with Al Haymon, aka the most powerful man in the sport of boxing. It must have been another of those nine lives he keeps in reserve. The opportunity came from nowhere and has perhaps put him closer to a heavyweight title shot than ever before.
His first assignment under Haymon comes Friday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Cunningham, 28-7, 12 KOs, faces former five-time world champion Antonio Tarver, 31-6, 22 KOs, in a nationally televised, 12-round heavyweight showdown on Spike TV.
The winner may be in line for a crack at Deontay Wilder’s WBC heavyweight championship belt, although no promises have been made. However, the loser of the fight may find himself at the end of the road career-wise. Then again when it comes to Steve Cunningham, all bets are off.
Cunningham is a man full of faith and equally filled with drive. When talking to him, you get the idea that nothing can stop him from achieving his goal of becoming heavyweight champion. Yes, he’s been through a lot, but Steve Cunningham is still going strong.
You’ve tried to get a fight with Tarver for a long time; how did you finally get it?
CUNNINGHAM: “He said, ‘you’re nobody, nobody knows you. Who are you?’ Not 100% hardcore disrespect, but it was disrespectful. So you take that to heart. I chalked it up as him just talking. We all know Tarver has a good gift of gab. He talks himself a good game. He talked himself into that second fight with Roy (Jones). I moved on (when he didn’t want to fight at cruiserweight). Career must go on. I still got to make money, I still got to get these fights and win them. So we moved on. But getting with Al (Haymon), he said, ‘what about this fight (with Tarver)?’ And we said, ‘yeah, no doubt, 100% we’ll take it. We’ll take it yesterday.’”
You’ve fought a number of good fighters, but is it possible that Tarver is the best fighter you’ve ever faced?
CUNNINGHAM: “This is, probably on paper, my toughest opponent. A five-time world champion. I never fought a five-time world champion before. Five time world champion Antonio Tarver, the legend killer. He got a name. He’s going into the Hall of Fame when he retires, regardless of what he does. Just because of his victories over Roy. So this is a very important, tough fight for me.”
This is an unusual match up for you, you are the younger and naturally bigger fighter?
CUNNINGHAM: “When you look at a guy and say size-wise, this is why I’m going to beat him, that’s the reason why you’re not going to beat him. I don’t underestimate nobody. I just prepare. People talk about his age, but that’s nonsense. He’s a veteran. He’s smart. He knows what he’s doing. And he’s powerful. He’s got that pop; he’s got that pop in that left hand. He’s got a good hook. He’s got power. His strengths are like any other fighter.”
So how do you prepare for the best fighter you’ve ever faced?
CUNNINGHAM: “What we’ve done is prepare for the best Tarver that we’ve ever seen. The best Tarver is the Tarver that stopped Roy Jones, and that’s the Tarver I’m expecting to see. If I don’t see him, then he’s in trouble. Plain and simple.”
If he’s not the Tarver of old, and many would say he’s not, does that make him an easy target?
CUNNINGHAM: “When we go to camp, we don’t look at where he’s weak. We look at where he’s strong. We deal on that. I don’t know any of his weaknesses. I’m not even looking at his weaknesses. Like I said, I’m preparing for the Antonio Tarver that beat Roy Jones. I’m not looking for the Tarver that beat Jonathon Banks. Tarver always has that power in that left hand. And then then, as a heavyweight, everyone is stronger than me. No fight is easy until you make it look easy, and even then, you might still be lying that it was easy. I’m going to go do what I do, do what USS Cunningham does. I’m going to put in this work in the gym, and go put it in the ring and perform. Hopefully the fans will like what they see, and we come out victorious.”
Both of you are in a similar situation. Would you call this a “must win” fight for both you and Tarver?
CUNNINGHAM: “I don’t know his situation. All I know is mine. My back is to the wall. My back is to the wall. I want to be heavyweight world champion. I got to make money for my family. I’m trying to be great in this sport. Fighting guys like this and beating them, dismantling these dudes that makes me great. My back is always to the wall, even with two world titles. If you go into a fight thinking it’s a make it or break it, then that’s a more intense fight.”
What has camp been like for this one?
CUNNINGHAM: “Awesome. It’s been good, just like any training camp. We’re not a team, we’re a family. We get the job done. You know a camp is good when I flip out on Naazim (trainer Brother Naazim Richardson) because he’s killing me, but that’s just camp. In a training camp with Brother Naazim you know I’m going to be in shape and I’m going to be able to do what I need to do. It’s a normal camp, but a normal camp with Brother Naazim? Ain’t a damn thing normal about that. We just take what we’ve been doing and what we’ve been learning in this heavyweight career and the cruiserweight camps and just apply a little more. Naazim put the tweaks in his plan and we just go in and execute.”
You have famously been robbed in many of your fights. How do you put that in perspective and keep moving forward?
CUNNINGHAM: “In my last fight, they found some way to rob me. I outdid the kid. I outpunched him, I out power punched him, and they still found a way to give him the fight. People saw it. I haven’t even seen the whole fight in its entirety myself. At first, I didn’t want to see it. And then after we got back from Montreal, Naazim saw it and was like, ‘don’t watch it, you’re going to be madder’. So I chose not to watch it, because I was already mad. As fighters we can’t just forget about it and move on. Something has to be done. I don’t know exactly what has to be done. Either the judges don’t know what to judge the fight on, or they are just on the take. It’s one of the two. I don’t know. When you want something, you need something, you dreamt about something, you’ve worked toward something for so long, and even at times had people try to deny you of that something, and then you still get an opportunity to get it? You’re going to be ready. There’s just no excuses. None at all. You’re going to be ready to do what you need to do. “
How do you take these bad decisions in stride, do they become easier to take after a few of them?
CUNNINGHAM: “It never gets easier when you’re determined and you got a goal. I’m not here just to take it. In actuality what those robberies have done is that Steve Cunningham probably would have been retired already. If it wasn’t for these robberies and cheating little things, I would have probably already been retired. I would have already made the money that we were looking to make to set up our other ventures for after boxing. I would have been accomplished within myself. But with those robberies, it fueled the fire in me and it made me feel like there are still things I need to do in boxing. There’s still things I want to do in boxing to fulfill in myself. If these powers that be hadn’t cheated me, I probably would have been done. But here I am. I’m here now and they just have to deal with me.”
What will Tarver have to deal with when he gets into the ring with you?
CUNNINGHAM: “I’m smart too. I’m a veteran 15 years. I’ve travelled the world, fought in the lion’s den, fought in Hell’s kitchen and won – and lost - but I’m still willing to do that. Tarver hasn’t done that. So I think I have as much wisdom as he does.”
Is it an incentive
to be considered the underdog again and to be taken lightly
by many in the press and the boxing community?
Is fighting at heavyweight a lot different than fighting as a cruiserweight?
CUNNINGHAM: “Heavyweight is more of a challenge because the guys are bigger and stronger. I love that. That gets me up for training camp. That gets me up to run because I know I have to be 100% sharp and better. I just love the challenge. It’s the ultimate challenge to me. Especially when people say ‘you can’t do this because you’re small’. I’m going to just keep showing them. I feel great. I’m feeling better than I was when I was younger.”
With all the bad decisions and delays in your career, how do you manage to stay positive, focused and so motivated?
CUNNINGHAM: “It’s not me. You know I read the Bible. I try to follow it as best I can and live by it. And it tells me, ‘what others have for your downfall, God will make for your good’. Plain and simple. This last fight (Glazkov) was a testament to that. Me and my wife took a trip to Vegas after the Glazkov fight. We were trying to enjoy ourselves, but every here and there I was like, ‘Wow! I can’t believe they robbed me. I can’t believe it!’ But then a week after that, boom, we’re on the phone with Haymon. Stuff always turns around. I keep the faith. You’ve seen it on my trunks. I scream it. Keep the faith! Faith is believing in stuff you don’t see yet. That’s the meaning of faith. I believe it. I believed I was going to world champion, even before I looked good in the ring. But with hard work and faith, it happened.”