|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - April 12, 2016|
Former two-time cruiserweight champion Steve “USS” Cunningham, 28-7-1, 13 KOs, has built a fine reputation as a world champ, heavyweight contender, and Philly fighter. Yet, full respect from the boxing community seems to elude him, even after all he’s accomplished. Unfazed by the lack of reverence he deserves, Cunningham will address the issue the only way he knows how – and the only way he’s always handled it in the past.
On Saturday night, he will simply soldier ahead and attempt to add another brick to the foundation of his legacy. Cunningham challenges Krzysztof Glowacki, 25-0, 16 KOs, for the WBO world cruiserweight title, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY. The fight will be televised live on NBC. If he wins the fight, Cunningham will be a three-time world champion.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone loves Cunningham. He is perhaps boxing’s best example of a gentleman fighter, family man, hard worker, and man of faith. Outside the ring, he’s a role model. However, inside the ring, the boxing world has ignored obvious signs that Cunningham is a special fighter.
He’s battled politics, and despite often coming out on the short end of the stick, has handled every career-crushing affront with nothing but class and an unlikely smile.
Take his three-year campaign at heavyweight. Cunningham closed out his days in the upper division with a modest 4-3-1 record. The boxing world almost unanimously deemed him unfit for the class, calling him too small, too chinny and not powerful enough for the big-boy division. They said that before and after the campaign. Nothing he did changed how they thought.
A closer inspection of Cunningham’s days as a heavyweight, show that he very well could have (and probably should have) posted a heavyweight resume of 7-1. Cunningham dropped a decision to Tomasz Adamek in a fight that he clearly won. He also appeared to edge Antonio Tarver last summer in a dreary fight that was declared a draw.
Cunningham’s only legitimate loss even carries a big asterisk on it. Cunningham fell to now-heavyweight champ Tyson Fury at MSG Theater in 2013, but not after putting the giant on the canvas once and coming close to doing it again one other time. Ultimately Fury scored a seventh round KO over Cunningham with a knockout blow that was teed up with a blind-folding forearm.
Cunningham took the loss and forged ahead, hoping and fighting for bigger paydays and bigger opportunities to show what he’s made of as a fighter.
No fight proved more about him than his memorable war with heavy puncher Amir Mansour. The undefeated southpaw floored Cunningham twice in round five, only to watch the “puny” heavyweight rise from the dead and go on to dominate the rest of the fight. Cunningham won the decision and took Mansour’s USBA heavyweight belt. Everyone loved the fight, but it seemed the only takeaway was that Cunningham couldn’t take a punch. Perhaps they missed the fact that he got up and won the fight.
Cunningham is no stranger to the canvas. He’s been dropped several times, even as a cruiserweight, but the only time he didn’t get up was against Fury and his 44 extra pounds. You might say he has lapses in defense, but no chin? Forget that.
Against Glowacki, Cunningham will encounter an undefeated rock making his first title defense. New titles usually make fighters better. So Cunningham should have his hands full with the budding Polish star.
It remains to be seen if the meeting with Glowacki will usher in a new era of Cunningham’s career or if the fight will serve as the closing chapter. But one thing is certain, Cunningham will be in Brooklyn to fight, to do his best, and to continue to try to prove himself to a skeptical boxing world.
I sat down with Cunningham and his trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson:
IS THIS FIGHT MORE
OF A NEW START OR A CAREER CAPPER?
“We want to stay smart,” Brother Naazim Richardson said. “We have to stay smart, if he wants to start securing his place in history. If he wants to start putting his name up there with Bernard Hopkins and those guys that represented Philly so well. I think he’s more than capable of doing so. He’s a great dude. He’s a very good fighter, and on his way to becoming a great fighter. He’s a great dude already. I’ve seen this guy go through stuff, and he doesn’t get credit. People say, ‘you got up off the canvas because of your daughter’, but he would have gotten up if his daughter was Venus and Serena. Steve is going to get up. He’s just one of them kind of guys. He’s always got heavy stuff on him, but he battles it out.”
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT
“This Polish kid ain’t going to give anything away,” said Brother Naazim Richardson. “We going to think we’re in Poland, the way the crowd be yelling out there. He ain’t giving nothing away, but he’s going to have to prove that he’s an intelligent champion to be able to outwit what we bring to the table. He’s going to have to prove that he plays chess better than we play chess. We have to take control early and maintain control throughout.”
BOTH YOU AND
GLOWACKI STOPPED HUCK. WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THAT?
“Steve is quick to go to his heart,” Naazim Richardson said. “I want him to go to his mental IQ, use those reserves first. He goes to Allegheny Avenue quick, and this kid (Glowacki), he’s going to push for that. He’s going to have to. He’s not going to out slick Steve out in the middle of the ring. This kid fights. He would like to see that (Steve coming at him). He fights, he rumbles.”
HAS YOUR PREPARATION
CHANGED OVER YOUR 15-PLUS YEARS AS A PRO?
IF THE RIGHT OFFER
CAME ALONG WOULD YOU RETURN TO HEAVYWEIGHT?
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO
BE FIGHTING FOR THE TITLE AT HOME IN THE USA?
HOW DOES IT FEEL TO
BE FIGHTING AT THE BARCLAYS?
ACCOMPLISHED A LOT, BUT WHAT WOULD A THIRD TITLE DO FOR YOUR
HOW ABOUT YOUR
LEGACY AS A PHILLY FIGHTER?
“We want to represent North Philly, we don’t want to fight like we’re in North Philly,” Richardson said. “This ain’t a 22nd and Allegheny rumble. It’s a fight at the Barclays, and we want to collect all that jewelry they got down there at cruiserweight. Win everything and bring it back to the city. The City is on a good wave right now. We want to continue that. We can’t just keep riding on that ‘Philly is the fight capital’. How long was Bennie Briscoe and Kitten Hayward supposed to hold us up? We got to do some work! I mean, Bernard is 111 years old. He carried us for a while. It’s time we showed that we learned something from these guys. We have to do it now.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK
MAKES STEVE CUNNINGHAM A SPECIAL FIGHTER?