USS Cunningham engages again
As he looks off into the sunset of his career, Steve Cunningham can see family, buying properties, managing fighters and drawing comic books.
No-one knows the distance of such a view and, for the moment, the thought of being a three-time world cruiserweight champion is still very much in the mind of the 39-year-old Philadelphian.
On Saturday (16 April), ‘USS Cunningham’ will engage in his ninth world title fight (his first was against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in 2006), when he meets WBO champion Krzysztof Glowacki at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, live on Boxnation in the UK.
“I didn’t know that,” said Cunningham, with a laugh, but sounding surprised, when Boxing Monthly informed him of the stat. “This level of boxing is what I dreamed about, what every fighter dreams about, fighting for world titles, defending world titles, getting more world titles.
“To be able to be a 16-year veteran in boxing and still perform at this level is nothing short of a blessing. Me knowing that, I prepare extra hard and with the knowledge I’ve gained and experience I’ve gained. I believe this is going to be an explosive fight.
“Fighting a guy like him I’m expecting a rough fight, a drag out rumble,” Cunningham (28-7-1, 13 KOs) said of the champion. “He’s good at bringing the fight to the opponent. He throws big shots, he goes for the home run. I’m expecting a champion to defend his title, try to defend his title, try to keep his title but I’m coming to take it. It’s going to make a great fight.”
Throughout the 30-minute interview with BM, Cunningham was full of the enthusiasm and life that helped take him to the IBF world title in 2007, avenging his loss to Wlodarczyk, to successfully defending it against Marco Huck in his opponent’s backyard to the here and now of trying to bring down Glowacki.
“Ah, dude, that was the most gratifying victory we had,” said Cunningham when he discussed his final round stoppage win over Huck nine years ago. “That Huck fight, woo, me and my wife talk about that still. It was at a point I’d just became champion.”
Cunningham, who was then promoted by Don King, was thrown into the lion’s den against the rough, tough baby-faced Huck who had many members of the boxing media convinced he would beat the champion.
“‘Wow, what promoter throws his champion into the lion’s den?’” said Cunningham when he recalled his thoughts at the time. “This dude’s sending me to another country, to this dude’s hometown to defend my title. So, obviously, I’m like, ‘He doesn’t care about me’.
“When we got to Germany you could see everything was for Marco Huck, everything. The Marco Huck show. Sauerland [Huck’s then promoters] treated me very good but throughout the time it was ‘Marco Huck’s going to win, too bad for Cunningham’.
“Marco Huck is a very arrogant person. Some of the things he was saying and doing at the press conference just made me really want to hurt him. You see as the fight went on, we broke him down and boom we got him out of there.”
With his 40th birthday just a few months away, Cunningham has learned through the years to handle the W and deal with the L. Twenty-eight wins, seven losses and one draw are enough to add layers to the thick skin that a boxer already has. Defeat still hurts, nonetheless.
Last year would prove that when the former Navy officer lost on points to Vyacheslav Glazkov for the USBA heavyweight title followed by a draw against Antonio Tarver. Two heavyweight bouts with their controversies that had some of us scratching our heads wondering how the Naazim Richardson trained fighter did not get the nod.
Being a little older helps Cunningham accept things. He has moved on from what vexed him at the time but that doesn’t hold him back from sharing his feelings.
“I’m going to be real with you. I wasn’t happy,” words that you never expect to hear from a man as content with life as Cunningham. “Had I gotten the nod against Glazkov, I would have been in line to fight Wladimir [Klitschko]. Don’t get me wrong, I beat Glazkov.
“He should not have gotten that nod, same thing with Tarver,” continued Cunningham. “Tarver’s a very intelligent man, tactically intelligent, inside and outside the ring because he knows, ‘I don’t have to get in here and just fight. I’m such a star that all I got to do is make it look like I’m fighting and I’m winning rounds’.
“Everyone knows I wasn’t a real heavyweight. I fought Glazkov at 205, I fought Tarver at 203. I was a cruiserweight fighting a heavyweight. The judges are looking at Steve Cunningham throw all these punches, all these crisp punches, but as a heavyweight they want to see boom, boom, a knockout as a heavyweight. They don’t want to see the art of boxing and that’s what I brought. Anytime Steve Cunningham wins, if it’s not a knockout or being knocked down like in the Amir Mansour fight then they’re like, ‘Cunningham’s not a heavyweight so we don’t think he’ll do good against Wladimir’. But they give the fight to the quote/un-quote ‘real heavyweight’ in the ring? It’s ridiculous.”
As alluded to in the introduction, not only is Cunningham a fighting and family man but he is resurrecting his artistic skills in the shape of a comic book resembling his own career.
USS Comics, which can be found on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, sees Cunningham as a superhero with some of the men he has fought represented as villains. With pencil to paper, Cunningham has been enjoying his stint as a comic book artist. Something that could have happened sooner in life when he was a teenager had he chosen to go to art college instead of joining the Navy and taking up boxing.
“I want to use all my talents,” said Cunningham. “Hypothetically, I don’t really want to fight after 42 or whatever so we’re preparing ourselves financially, buying some properties just so we got x amount of dollars coming in and live okay.”
Before BM spoke to Cunningham, he had been out for a 90-minute run with a friend discussing age as just a number and nothing else. Competing at the highest level in boxing at 39 isn’t a complete surprise. For over 20 years, he has been healthy, competitive and looked after himself in the best possible way.
“The fountain of youth is exercise,” he told BM. “It’s not in a bottle, it’s not in a drink, it’s not a pill, it’s exercise. I feel awesome, I feel good. I tell you another thing that keeps you young and that’s kids.
“I play Xbox with them. We paintball, all type of things and me being a boxer that they’re following it motivates me to keep going. The things I’m showing in the gym, they see me doing in a fight. It’s a state of mind and it works.
“If I woke up tomorrow and felt 40 then I’d probably be in a wheelchair or something [laughs]. It’d probably mentally hurt me. I feel great and I hope everybody my age can feel like this.”
Cunningham has been in with them all. Good fighters who didn’t hold titles at the time like Sebastiaan Rothmann, Guillermo Jones and Kelvin Davis. Right through to the likes of Wlodarczyk, Huck, Tomasz Adamek, Yoan Pablo Hernandez and even the current top dog at heavyweight, Tyson Fury! With all those miles chalked up, the great ship USS Cunningham isn’t ready to sail off just yet leaving behind a pro career that began in Jarrell’s Gym in Savannah, Georgia.
“When we beat Glowacki, which I believe [we will]… I will try to unify the cruiserweight division,” he said. “A fight is a fight. They put weight classes on but to a guy like me weight doesn’t mean nothing. We can just ball our fists and go at it.”