Steve Cunningham: “It’s unification time in my mind”
by Nick Powers - Less than a week after the observance of Memorial Day, in which Americans honor those who have both past and presently represented our country, one such veteran rejoiced after regaining a similar medal to those presented to our armed forces. Steve “USS” Cunningham, a member of the US Navy from 1994 to 1998, obtained his second world championship in a bout against Canadian Troy Ross for the vacant IBF Cruiserweight title; a title which Cunningham had previously held and subsequently lost. Speaking with On the Ropes Boxing Radio on June 7, USS Cunningham made no qualms about his renewed motivation and excitement for what the future holds for him inside the ring.
“It’s unification time in my mind, that’s how you say you’re the champion in the division”, said Cunningham, whose mindset he affirms has been strengthened under the tutelage of head trainer Brother Naazim Richardson. “I’m ready to take on the world, in order to reign the world”.
The first step towards USS reigning, he said, was to regain the world title he had lost to Tomasz Adamek in December 2008 in what many considered a top contender for Fight of the Year.. A solid performance saw Cunningham win more rounds overall than his Polish adversary, but after suffering knockdowns in rounds two, four and eight, Cunningham’s hopes dwindled as the extra three points proved to be enough in netting Adamek a split-decision victory. A rematch, both wanted and warranted, never happened despite public demand and persistence by Team Cunningham.
“I fought (Wayne) Braithwaite, I fought the eliminator for the number one spot because of course after the original fight with Adamek, we asked for the rematch and they turned us down, so we did what it took to become his mandatory, and he moves up to Heavyweight. I’m not saying that’s why he moved up, but the title was vacated and he moved up. We had an opportunity to fight there, and they chose not to. I’ve moved on; getting the belt back was my goal, and it’s done”.
Done, though perhaps unfinished. In the fight with Ross, Cunningham started out strong and was able to land successful punches predicated on the use of his jab, until the fourth round when a crushing left hand from “The Boss” sent USS Cunningham down to the canvas. Upon recovering, the Philadelphia, PA native launched his own devastating right hand which badly sliced the bottom of Ross’ left eyelid. By the start of the fifth, referee Bill Clancy had called a halt to the action in order for Ross’ eye to be examined by the ringside physician, who then indicated that continuing on could potentially impair Ross’ vision. The bout was stopped, and Cunningham was awarded a technical knockout victory.
“He kind of caught me, like, on the bottom of my chin and chest”, Cunningham said of the fourth round knockdown. “I wasn’t hurt at all; I mean I’ve been down before, it’s part of the business, it’s part of the sport, we’re prepared for it and we knew Troy had power. And like I said Troy Ross is nobody to sleep on. He’s a two time Olympian, he’s a very good fighter but we felt confident about this fight, not that he wasn’t in our league but it was as far as to show us that he wasn’t”.
A rematch with Ross, who has been vocally upset due to the closely contested fight being stopped perhaps as he was just getting into a rhythm, is a possibility should certain other title bouts such as rematches with both WBO champion Marco Huck and/or WBC champion Krzysztof Wlodarczyk fall through. Not out of the picture entirely, either, is the possibility of a move up to the Heavyweight division. By his own admittance, Cunningham feels insulted by today’s flock of American Heavyweights who seem vastly out of shape and lacking in dedication, and have no chance to beat the so-called “fundamental machines” that are Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko. At 33 years old, an extended stay in the sport in either division may seem ill advised, but for the rejuvenated Cunningham whose work ethic he admits has given him something to fall back on in fights since his amateur career, no such exit strategy seems necessary just yet.
“I feel at the oldest 27, my body is in great shape, great condition. I can out-do anybody, I feel great man. Until my wife tells me I’ve lost it, until God tells us through prayer it’s time to sit down, or until I start getting my butt kicked, that’s when I’ll stop”.
As the late musician Michael Jackson once sung, “Don’t stop ‘till you get enough”. For Steve Cunningham, enough is achieving lineal recognition as the best in his division, accomplished by fighting the best opponents there are, on the road to hopefully becoming the best Cruiserweight of all time. What more could a fight fan ask for?
For the entire interview with Steve “USS” Cunningham, go to www.ontheropesboxingradio.com
Article posted on 11.06.2010
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