PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - March 09, 2015                                                              
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Story & photos by John DiSanto


Heavyweight 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 YearĒ.   

However this 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 Philadelphia. 


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 really.Ē 

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, 219.Ē 

What do you know about Glazkov and what do you expect from him? 

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 down.Ē 

What would getting a shot at the heavyweight title mean to you?

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 heavyweights.Ē

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 elevate.Ē 


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. 




John DiSanto - Philadelphia - March 09, 2015