|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - April 16, 2016|
WBO cruiserweight champion Krzysztof Glowacki successfully defended his world title belt for the first time since taking it from Marco Huck last August. Glowacki scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Philadelphia's Steve "USS" Cunningham at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY, and pushed his undefeated record to 26-0, 16 KOs. Cunningham, 28-8-1, 13 KOs, was seeking his third reign as a cruiserweight king, after a three year campaign in the heavyweight division.
Before his days at heavyweight even began, and after each fight he had in the higher weight class, Cunningham repeatedly heard from critics that his place was at cruiserweight. So, his return to the 200-pound class seemed like the right move as his eventful career neared its final chapter. However in his first trip back down in weight, Cunningham met a younger and more powerful foe than most of those he encountered at heavyweight.
The left-handed champion started quickly, taking round one on all three official scorecards. Then, in round two, Glowacki nearly put the fight away with a pair of knockdowns over the former two-time champion. The first of the two, was a swift right-left combination that put Cunningham on the mat after just 25 seconds had elapsed in the round. Cunningham looked shocked but bounced directly to his feet.
The champion stormed back in, and with Cunningham ready and willing to exchange, Glowacki put him down again with another left. However, this second trip to the canvas could easily have been ruled a slip. Cunningham was more off balance than anything else, but the knockdown call stood.
Cunningham climbed up from the second knockdown looking angry. Suddenly he was in a deep hole on the scorecards, but worse yet, had to survive more than two minutes before the round ended. That's an eternity for a fight who's already been down twice. Another visit to the floor in the round would most certainly end the fight on the spot.
However, this wasn't the first time Cunningham's back was against the wall. The former champ brushed himself off and went back to work. There didn't seem to be much caution in Cunningham after the knockdowns, and his willingness to battle was nerve wracking. Cunningham survived the second and gathered himself between rounds.
In the third, Cunningham boxed smartly and finally put a round into his column. Despite Cunningham looking good between the ropes, there was still a heavy sense of danger from any ringside view, and it last for the remainder of the fight.
Slowly Cunningham chipped away at Glowacki's points lead by winning the fourth round as well. However, the champion was landing the harder punches and Cunningham was feeling every one of them. Still Cunningham battled his way back into the fight during the middle rounds.
It felt like the score was getting closer, but for Cunningham, the Barclays Center was still filled with that dangerous air. Glowacki remained a threat, and appeared to have the power to end the fight at any time. This feeling was intensified by Cunningham's willingness to exchange with the powerful Pole, and the undeniable reality that Cunningham appeared to have lost a step in his timing.
The fight was exciting, competitive and dramatic. However, each time Cunningham boxed himself a little closer on the cards, Glowacki halted his momentum with power shots.
In round seven, the fighters butted heads and the right side of Cunningham's forehead began to swell. As the fight went on, incoming punches and more head butts increased the bump to nasty proportions. But Cunningham just kept fighting, and cut man Buddy Osborn kept the swelling in check.
In round ten, knowing that he was behind on points, Cunningham came out swinging, in an attempt to turn the fight around while it was still within his grasp. However, his need to bring the fight to Glowacki came with consequences.
About one minute into round ten, Cunningham ran into a short Glowacki right hand. It was not quite a hook and not quite a jab, but it floored the Philadelphian none the less. However, Cunningham wasn't finished yet. He got up and continued to press the action.
Later in the tenth, Cunningham scored a hard right hand that hurt the champ, and kept him wobbly for the remainder of the action-pack round. This was the moment that when Cunningham came the closest to achieving his dream of winning the cruiserweight title for the third time. His rebound from the knockdown was heroic, but it wasn't enough to win him the round.
Cunningham continued to work well in round eleven, winning the frame on all three official cards.
In the final round, Glowacki was clearly ahead on points. Cunningham had closed much of the gap, but still had ground to make up in the final three minutes. The only way the former champ could win the fight would be to have a huge final round, and that need put him in danger once again.
Like a true warrior, Cunningham came out aggressively and went for broke in the twelfth and final round. He swung away and was on his way to winning the round. However, as the last round wound down, Glowacki landed an awkward punch to an off balance Cunningham and the former champion teetered to the canvas.
Cunningham wasn't hurt, but as he pulled himself to his knees, his face told the story. He knew this final trip to the floor had sealed the deal for Glowacki.
The official scores all favored Glowacki. Judge Tom Schreck had it 116-108. Judges Eric Marlinski and Guido Cavalleri saw it a point closer at 115-109.
It was another gritty and brave performance by Cunningham, but there would be no third world title.
"I'm just disappointed," Cunningham said after the fight. "I was just fighting, trying to win. That's what champions do. I wanted to be a three-time champion and I took my shot at it. I knew I hurt him a few times with good shots. He punched with me and caught me coming in. He sat back a lot. I knew after the second round knockdowns that I had to get rounds back and go get him. He's a smart fighter. He caught me."
With the win, the champion proved that his come-from-behind victory over Marco Huck was no fluke. He looked strong and tough against Cunningham.
"Power and precision is my trademark," Glowacki said. "That's always been my game. The fans were my motivation throughout the fight. I just wanted to give them more and more. I want to thank everyone who came and watched me."
Although the champion's next step isn't obvious, there are a number of fights for him to pursue. He's an entertaining and competent champion. Therefore, getting important TV fights should be easy for him.
Cunningham's future isn't nearly as clear. He surely can still compete at cruiserweight, but with his 40th birthday just a few months away, getting back in line might not be such an appealing option.
"I feel good," Cunningham said. "I just don't want to be that champion that is getting used for a record builder. I'll talk with my team and figure out the next step."
Whatever his decision may be, Cunningham has provided his fans many great nights already. He won two world titles at cruiserweight, a USBA championship at heavyweight, had numerous memorable television appearances (and five total Briscoe Awards).
Boxing fans are always seeking the definition of what makes a "Philly Fighter". The question always comes up and evokes many great names from the past. Through the years that description has been an elusive description to peg down.
There have been so many fighters of varying styles that seem to personify that mythical tag. But if you ask me, none of them better define the "Philly Fighter" better than Steve "USS" Cunningham.
Perhaps Cunningham will fight again. Most boxers at this stage of their career need to be sure that they have nothing left to give. However, even if Steve never steps into a boxing ring again, his reputation as one of Philly's all-time best is already secured. Few have given so much inside - or outside - of the ring. Certainly there is more money to be made, but for Cunningham there is nothing left to prove.