PHILLY BOXING HISTORY  -  October 18, 2014


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 Story by John DiSanto
Photos by Ray Bailey


Steve "USS" Cunningham continued his quest for a shot at the world heavyweight crown Saturday night with a rousing TKO of tough but overmatched Natu Visinia at the 2300 Arena in South Philly. Cunningham had sizable advantages over his foe when it came to experience and boxing skills but had to deal with a 73-pound weight deficit, which proved to be a challenge. Junior lightweight Edner Cherry won the co-feature with a second round TKO of Osumanu Akaba. NBC Sports Network nationally televised both scheduled 10-rounders, along with one other bout.

Steve Cunningham's entire boxing career has been marked by struggle. At first he struggled for exposure, even as a globe-trotting two-time world champion. He has also struggled to land fights, to find a promoter that fits, to score big paydays, and to maneuver through boxing's webbed politics. These struggles are in addition to all of those he and his family have experienced regarding the health of his daughter Kennedy. Natu Visinia was his latest struggle, and like the others, it was one that Cunningham managed to overcome.

On paper, this was an easy fight for Cunningham - just a stay busy payday against a green opponent. After all, Visinia was only 10-0 with 8 knockouts coming into the fight. Cunningham had more than three times as many fights, and the gap between the quality of their respective opponents was as vast as it gets. So Cunningham was expected to cruise through this one, but of course there was a catch.

From the beginning of Cunningham's heavyweight campaign, the one issue that has dogged him is his size. The general opinion is that Cunningham doesn't have the size to be a real heavyweight.

The same claim could never me made about Natu Visina.  

Leading up to the fight, Cunningham's trainer Brother Naazim Richardson labeled Steve as the "smallest heavyweight out there". At just 205 pounds, Cunningham's official weight for this fight, Naazim had a point. Visinia, one inch shorter, weighed in at 278 for the bout. The 73-pound disparity was clearly the biggest that Cunningham had ever faced. Even six-foot-nine Tyson Fury only had 44 pounds on Cunningham.

So Visinia's size, or how Cunningham would manage it, became the story of this fight. 

In the bout, Cunningham did exactly what he needed to do to keep his heavyweight campaign - and professional career - moving forward. He won the fight, and as a bonus, put on another entertaining show for a national TV audience.

Visinia was tough and more than willing to get his hands dirty. He lumbered out for round one and made Cunningham work for his victory.

Steve was faster, more skillful, more accurate, and in better condition. However, despite all of these advantages, Cunningham still had to struggle. Visinia was durable and when he could, used his size to his benefit.

Still, Cunningham banked round after round in the fight. He lashed Visinia with long jabs and straight right hands. Steve also steadily cracked him to the body.

For a few rounds, it didn't seem to faze Natu. He was a mountain that just kept inching forward, trying to trap Cunningham along the ropes. He did so plenty of times, especially in the first three rounds. Often Cunningham found himself crushed against the ropes, pushing - or punching - that extra 73 pounds off of him, or somehow wiggling out of the trap.

Along the way, Visinia slammed Cunningham to the body and pounded a few hard rights to his head. Cunningham felt the shots, but stayed busy, throwing his own punches.

At the end of round three, Visinia smashed a big right hand into Cunningham's head just before the bell. It was Natu's best punch, but Cunningham only quivered.

Cunningham took the fourth round and was doing the same in round five when a thudding right hand caught the former champ coming off the ropes. The looping shot landed on Cunningham's left shoulder and slightly leaked over to his head, but the overall force of the shot sent USS to the floor. Referee Gary Rosato called it a knockdown.

Visinia pressed the action after the knockdown, but it was at about this time that he started to look a little worse for wear. Visinia was bleeding from the mouth and breathing heavily. Still, he took the fifth round on the strength of the knockdown, but only by a 10-9 margin on my card.

Cunningham picked up the pace in round six, exploiting Natu's fatigue. Slowly the dangerous upstart lost steam and finally appeared ripe for a knockout. However, he stubbornly trudged forward and refuse to go.

Cunningham flogged Visinia for two full rounds. By the end of round seven Natu was exhausted and his face was a mess. When he returned to his corner after the seventh, his corner stopped the fight to save him from further punishment. The official time was 3:00 of round seven.

An elated - and relieved - Cunningham had another win. It wasn't easy or pretty, but it was another struggle successfully overcome.

"We had a job to do and we got it done," Cunningham said after the fight.

Cunningham was exactly right. It was a fight that he was supposed to win, and he did. Steve scored his first stoppage since 2010, and his first ever as a heavyweight. The fan-friendly win on national TV ensures that Cunningham, 28-6, 13 KOs, will get the chance to struggle for boxing fans again in the future. It also keeps his hopes alive for landing that big, lucrative fight that he's been chasing since the start of his boxing career in 2000.

Natu Visinia, 10-1, 8 KOs, put up a spirited fight that thrilled the crowd. He was tough and extremely likeable. To his credit, he went ahead with this show in the shadow of the recent death of his trainer, Charles "Buddy" Bereal. Natu buried Bereal, and just days later traveled to Philadelphia for the Cunningham fight.

Leading up to the bout, both fighters were gentlemen toward each other. There was no trash-talking or insults thrown. After the bout, Natu visited Cunningham's dressing room to congratulate him on the win, and the two were genuinely friendly.

"Your career is our career," Cunningham's trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson said. "Because in a few years when you are knocking everyone out, they're going to be asking who was it that beat this guy?". 

The fight was a class act all around.

Junior lightweight Edner "Cherry Bomb" Cherry won the co-feature bout with an explosive display of power over southpaw substitute Osumanu Akaba of Accra, Ghana. Akaba stepped in after contender Jerry Belmontes suffered an injury about one week prior to fight night. Even without a ranked opponent before him, Cherry, Wauchula, FL, still made the most of the nationally televised slot with an impressive performance that illustrated his ability and exciting style. 

Cherry won the first round, before the fighters went toe-to-toe in round two. They exchanged shots, including many to the body, but Cherry had the upper hand. It was a heated session until Cherry unleashed a sneaky left hook that dropped Akaba suddenly. The willing stand-in rolled over, got right up, and returned to battle. Cherry resumed his attack immediately.

Cherry returned to the body, which set up another left hook that put Akaba down again. Once again, Osumanu got up and went back in, but Cherry let loose a flurry along the ropes that ended with a left hook-right hand that knocked Akaba to the canvas for the third time. Referee Shawn Clark waved the end of the fight at 2:15 of round two.

The victory kept Cherry's six-year unbeaten streak going strong. Edner, 33-6-2, 18 KOs, has been toiling long and hard for a good opportunity. With this performance, he did his best to punch his way into the consciousness of the boxing world. A victory over Belmontes would have been better, but this was still pretty good. 

Akaba, 31-7-1, 24 KOs, lost his second straight.

The anticipated middleweight fight between Philly enigma Tyrone Brunson and Atlantic City's Decarlo Perez (red trunks) played out in dramatic fashion, with Brunson taking an early lead before Perez punched his way to victory in round five of the scheduled 8-rounder.

With this fight, Brunson was making a new start in his career. Despite his good-looking 22-2-1, 21 KOs, resume going in, and world-record KO streak of 19 consecutive 1st round knockouts to his credit, no one was really sure if the North Philadelphian could actually fight.

His string of quick KOs was little more than a collection of absurdly easy setups, and almost every time he stepped up after the streak had ended, Brunson faltered. The fight with Perez would be a true measuring stick of his ability.

At 12-3-1, 5 KOs, Perez, an up-and-down boxer-puncher, needed a win just as badly as his opponent. The 23-year old had, at times, shown ability, but occasional setbacks repeatedly raised questions about his future.

So the matching of these two hungry boxers promised an interesting outcome.

Brunson started strong, bulling Perez to the ropes and landing his bombs. In round two, Brunson trapped Perez in a corner and let it go. Tyrone pounded away, and appeared to be on the brink of that new start he so badly needed. However, Perez survived, and for all intents and purposes, the fight ended right there.

Beginning in round three, Brunson began to shrink in the ring. His inability to stop Perez in round two seemed to erode his confidence and dissipate his output. He appeared to be just waiting for the sky to fall.

Perez, on the other hand, was emboldened by his second round survival and fully bloomed in the third. Decarlo fired back from Brunson's first punches of the round and a stray right hand hurt Tyrone. Perez kept punching and took over the fight. It was more of the same in round four, with Perez gaining steam while Brunson froze.

Finally in round five, Perez pinned Brunson on the ropes and punched away. Brunson covered up and never threw another punch. He was hurt, but appeared more paralyzed than anything else.

Referee Shawn Clark jumped in to stop it at 2:29 of round five.

The win, which was also televised nationally thanks to the brevity of the Edner Cherry fight, was a fine boost for Perez, and probably his best career start.

For Brunson, the loss was not definitive proof that he can't fight, but his confidence did not need another hurdle to overcome.

Southpaw Robert Sweeney, Sicklerville, 3-1, defeated Roberto Lopez, Vineland, 4-8-1, 1 KO, by unanimous decision in an all-NJ, four-round middleweight bout. Judges John Poturaj and Dewey Larosa scored it 40-36, while Dave Braslow saw it 39-37.

Fav-fav Victor Vasquez (above right) stopped a two bout skid with a unanimous decision over fellow-Philadelphian Gerald Smith. The 6-round lightweight fight took an interesting turn in round two when the far less experienced Smith, dropped Vasquez with a left hook-right hand combo. Vasquez bounced up, but was clearly wobbled.

However it was the only moment of the bout that Victor did not control, and he cruised to the points win. Julie Lederman and John Poturaj both scored the fight 58-55. Dewey Larosa had it 59-55. My score was also 59-55 for Vasquez, 17-9-1, 7 KOs. Smith, just 3-2, 1 KO, made a strong showing, given the gap in experience.

In a free-swinging 4-round welterweight fight, Anthony Prescott of Cherry Hill (above left), defeated South Philadelphian Anthony Abbruzzese by unanimous decision. Both fighters brawled away, but Prescott edged the action. I had the fight 39-37 (3 rounds 1). All three official judges, Braslow, Poturaj and Larosa, concurred. 

It was Abbruzzese's first loss, 3-1, 2 KOs. Prescott, 5-3-2. 2 KOs, won for the second time two weeks. 

In the opening bout of the evening, Vineland's Darryl Gause (above right) topped writer-fighter Ryan Bivins by unanimous decision over four rounds. Both light heavyweights were making there professional debut. Judges Braslow and Poturaj gave all four rounds to Gause for 40-36 scores. Julie Lederman scored it 39-37. My tally was also 39-37, giving Gause everything but the final round.

This fast-moving card was one of Philly's the best of the year. All the bouts were competitive and entertaining. The show was promoted by Main Events, Peltz Boxing and BAM boxing.




John DiSanto - South Philly - October 18, 2014
Photos by Ray Bailey