|PHILLY BOXING HISTORY - October 12, 2015
The 8th Annual Briscoe Awards will be presented at a free public event on Sunday, October 18th at Xfinity Live! in South Philadelphia (1:00 pm). The awards, named for 1970’s Philly middleweight icon Bennie Briscoe, recognize the outstanding accomplishments of the local boxing scene and include categories such as Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year, as well as Rookie, Prospect, Amateur, KO, Upset, Breakout Fighter and Performance of the Year.
Heavyweight Bryant Jennings will take home one of the top prizes when he is named the “2014 Philly Fighter of the Year”. Jennings went 2-0 in 2014, and earned a shot at the world heavyweight championship in the process.
“It feels great,” Jennings said about winning the Briscoe Award. “Especially to be honored at home, because home is what really counts and what really matters. We all know the definition of home, and we all know how home is supposed to feel. So, it’s an honor and I love it. I love it. When names are being thrown around, whether in a small crowd or a huge crowd, you always want your name to be mentioned. You always want to be recognized for being one of the best. It’s an honor being honored by my hometown. That’s love. That’s respect.”
The award for the “2014 Philly Fight of the Year” goes to the USBA heavyweight championship title bout between Steve Cunningham and Amir Mansour. Cunningham won the fight by decision, but had to climb off the floor twice to do it. The memorable battle was clearly the best of the year, and one of the best Philly fights in many years. The award is sponsored by the IBF / USBA.
“Great doesn’t even size that fight up,” Cunningham said. “I don’t like to fight guys that I know. Mansour helped me get my (world) title back the second time in camp. We’re close, but business is business, and Main Events and Russell Peltz made the fight. So we fought, and we gave the world a treat.”
However, the prize-winning fight almost didn’t happen. Just days before fight night, the Cunningham family received bad news from the doctors about their daughter Kennedy, who was waiting for a heart transplant.
“I was in a dark place,” Cunningham said. “We’ve dealt with this before, but to have the doctor say ‘take your daughter home and make her comfortable. She’s not going to make it, we can’t do anything else.’ Put me in a dark state. They tried to take our hope away. But as a man of God, a man of faith, you can only dent at that faith. Taking those punches pushed us closer to God and gave us more faith. I said, I’m not going to back out of this fight. I’m going to go ahead and fight and do what I signed the contract to do. I got to take care of my other kids; I got to take care of my family regardless. This is my job. This is what I do.”
The fight went on, and the rest, as they say, is history – Philly Boxing History.
“We are so excited,” Livvy Cunningham, manager/wife of Steve and the mother of Kennedy Cunningham. “We love the Briscoe Awards. It’s special because Philly is home, and the Briscoe Awards is recognized by the Philly boxing community. We love it, we appreciate it and we’re really looking forward to it. It was a really important fight for our family. We had just gotten really devastating news about Kennedy. It was almost like a movie that night. We needed that win in so many ways. If we didn’t win that night, there was a good chance Steve would have retired. Stuff just wasn’t going our way, and we weren’t sure if we were still supposed to be doing this.”
The win for Cunningham earned him the USBA heavyweight strap and served as additional proof that he was a legitimate heavyweight contender.
“It showed people that I can go in there and battle with these strong, powerful heavyweights, get up from some hellacious shots, and still perform,” Steve said. “He spun me on that last knockdown. Woo!”
The fight also showed fans that Amir Mansour was still a formidable force in the division.
“The Briscoe Award proves how devastating the fight was,” Brother Naazim Richardson, head trainer of Cunningham, said. “Right afterwards, Mansour gets the Briscoe Award for knockout of the year.”
In Mansour’s next fight, the devastating puncher crushed Fred Kassi to earn his second Briscoe Award of the year.
“It’s an honor,” Mansour said. It’s always an honor when people acknowledge you as being one of the best at doing what you do.”
With his “KO of the Year” (sponsored by Joe Hand Boxing Gym) and “Fight of the Year” honors, Mansour will enjoy a double-award day at the Briscoe Awards.
“It’s a heart-warming feeling when people take heed and take note of you doing something that you love to do,” Mansour said. “When they say you did one of the best jobs at doing this, and we want to honor you, that’s a humbling experience. That’s a humbling feeling. It’s a blessing.”
Cunningham will also take home a second award. His fight with Mansour also earned him honors for the “Performance of the Year”.
“When Steve went down, he looked over at us,” Livvy Cunningham said. “But I could also see Naazim, and Naazim was telling him, ‘Get Up! You can win this fight.’ When you have a corner that knows what you’re capable of… if Naazim thought for a second that Steve was too hurt, he’d tell him to stay down, or he’d throw the towel in. But he knew what Steve had. He knew what Steve was made of, and that’s an important part of having a complete team. It was just a huge win for all of us.”
The Cunningham family did not just take the doctor’s diagnosis of Kennedy’s condition on the chin. After the fight with Mansour, they searched for a new team who would join them in Kennedy’s fight. They found that team at The Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Kennedy was accepted into their program and eventually received her heart transplant last December. She has been thriving ever since.
Sunday at the Briscoe Awards Kennedy Cunningham will be given a special award for all of the strength and courage she showed and for all of the inspiration she provided to everyone who followed her story.
“I really think it’s so special,” Livvy said of Kennedy’s award. “I’m really excited about that. She had her first surgery at two days old. She’s been swinging and fighting from the very beginning. She is absolutely a fighter. I think it’s so amazing and fantastic that you guys recognize that too.”
Kennedy’s award is sponsored by Swanson Communications. A total of eleven awards will be presented on Sunday.
“It’s a dream come true,” Rookie of the Year, Milton Santiago said. “Especially turning pro at the age of 17 and then having 8 fights in my first year. I went 8-0. It’s a blessing. They’re moving me fast, and that’s what I like - keep staying in the gym and keep busy. I thank everyone for voting for me and for everybody supporting me.” Milton’s award is sponsored by the Laborers Union Local 57.
Another winner, heavyweight prospect Joey Dawejko, impressed enough during 2014 to be named the “Breakout Fighter of the Year”.
“It feels great for people to recognize what I did in 2014,” Dawejko said. “In January 2014, I beat a ranked contender, Derric Rossy, and that basically turned my career around. That May, I fought Mark Rideout. Then I met up with my manager, Mark Cipparone, and I had three first round knockouts in a row. It feels great to have people recognize what I did. When I first heard about the Briscoe Awards, I thought it was pretty cool. I like how Philadelphia has their own awards.”
Also at the event, amateur standout Jaron Ennis will receive the “Everett Brothers Award” (sponsored by Neil R. Gelb, Personal Injury Lawyer). Like the Everett brothers (Tyrone, Mike and Eddie), Ennis comes from a fighting family that includes his father and trainer Derrick “Bozy” Ennis, and brothers Derek and Farah Ennis.
“It feels great,” Jaron Ennis said. “This is my first award. So I’m happy to have it.”
The full list of winners is as follows:
Fighter of the Year – Bryant Jennings
Additional event sponsors include Xfinity Live!, Peltz Boxing, Banner Promotions, Main Events and the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame.
The event is free to the public and begins at 1:00 pm at Xfinity Live! Philadelphia (1100 Pattison Avenue, South Philly). All the winners are expected to be in attendance, as well as area boxers of the past and present, other boxing people, the media and many boxing fans. Everyone is welcome to come.
Admission, parking, and snack foods are free. Advance tickets are not necessary. For more information, please call 609-377-6413.