Steve Cunningham: Movin’ On Up…to Heavyweight

By Norman Marcus on September 4, 2012
Steve Cunningham: Movin’ On Up…to Heavyweight
Steve "USS" Cunningham turned pro at twenty-four and won his first nineteen fights in a row.

Cunningham’s opponents in Germany and Poland may not have been adequate preparation for what he is facing here at home…

“The Philly Factory”

Philly fighter Steve Cunningham is back in town after a three-year absence. He has been fighting in Europe, but not to keep the world safe for democracy. Cunningham, whose alias “USS” comes from his hitch in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carriers America and Enterprise, is here for a different kind of fight.

Cunningham won the National Golden Gloves (at 178 lbs.) in 1998. He turned pro in 2000. He is 6’3” tall and weighs in at 215 lbs. “USS” has a wingspan of 82” which allows him to use his big guns from long range. He describes himself as a “boxer-puncher” who “just likes to get in there and take care of business.”

Lets take a quick look back at Steve’s career over the past twelve years. It is a career path that has finally led him to the heavyweight division. Cunningham got a late start, turning pro at twenty-four, but won his first nineteen fights.

On May 22, 2004, he traveled to Carnival City, South Africa where he won a majority decision over Sebastiaan Rothmann, a former cruiserweight champion who Steve claims gave him the toughest fight of his life. Cunningham then traveled to the Torwar Sport Hall, Warsaw, Poland to fight Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in 2006 for the vacant IBF cruiserweight title. He lost the bout on a close split decision in front of a hometown Polish crowd. The following year he took on Wlodarczyk again, this time in Spodek, Poland. Wlodarczyk was down in the fourth round and Cunningham went on to win the IBF title over twelve rounds. Steve then traveled to the Seidensticker Halle, Nordrhein-Westfallen, Germany on December 29, 2007 to defend his new title against Marco Huck. He won the fight by a TKO12. He was still the champ.

Cunningham then came back to the States and lost his belt to Tomasz Adamek in Newark, New Jersey, on December 11, 2008. “USS” was knocked down three times in the bout but finished on his feet. “When I fought Adamek in Newark,” recalled Steve, “I felt like I was still in Poland. But it was Newark.” The fight was a real slugfest, which he lost the fight in a very close majority decision. After his loss to Adamek, Cunningham then took on ex-WBC cruiserweight champion Wayne Braithwaite at the Bank Atlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida on July 11, 2009. It was an IBF cruiserweight title eliminator bout. Steve won by a UD12. He had another chance to regain his IBF title.

To win back the crown he had to travel back to the Jahnsportforum in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany on June 5, 2010 to face Canadian Troy Ross. Cunningham was down in round four, but the fight was stopped in the fifth because of a bad cut to Ross’ face. Steve was the IBF cruiserweight champion again.

On February 12, 2011, he successfully defended the title against Enad Licina, at the Sporthalle in Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. Deciding to stay in Germany, Cunningham lost his next fight and crown to Yoan Pablo Hernandez in October that same year. Cunningham was down once in the first round. He was coming on strong in the middle rounds but the fight was stopped when a Cunningham butt cut the face of Hernandez, who walked away with the belt. The rematch was held four months later at the Fraport Arena, Frankfort Hessen, Germany. Steve was down twice in the fourth round. Cunningham lost the February rematch straight up in a UD12.

Not all of Steve’s European opponents were German or Polish. Enad Licina and Marco Huck are from Serbia. Tomasz Adamek is reported to be Serbian, Czech or Polish depending on who you talk to. This of course is nothing new. The Klitschko brothers started this trend when they came to Germany from Ukraine in the early 1990s and hooked up with ex-heavyweight champion Max Schmeling as their mentor and tactician in Hamburg.

Cunningham (24-4, 12 KOs) is now back in the States—and he’s decided to campaign as a heavyweight. He is putting on extra weight so that he can better mix it up with the boys in this glamour division. Working out of Shuler’s Gym in West Philly, his trainer is Naazim Richardson, who trains Bernard Hopkins and used to train Shane Mosley. Cunningham was self-trained for many years but hooked up with Naazim at Shuler’s and they have developed a close relationship. “I’ve never seen a world champion that works harder than Steve,” Richardson recently said, “or has more heart than Steve.” Cunningham said “Naazim is hands on. He is more of a teacher. He is someone you trust and you believe him. He shows you why something works. Concentration is the key with Naazim, focus. It’s a way of life with him. I’d say that he is the best for me. We are just a good fit. Naazim knows what I am thinking before I think it myself. He doesn’t just stand there like some trainers, chopping on a cigar and saying ‘do this, do that.’ He gets in there and shows you.”

We’re about to see how much Richardson has shown Steve in the weeks leading up to this fight. Cunningham will meet heavyweight Jason Gavern (21-10, 10 KOs) Saturday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Gavern is a solid journeyman who has wins over Darnell Wilson, Manuel Quezada, and a draw with Johnathan Banks. The fight is on the undercard of Tomasz Adamek vs. Travis Walker. Given Cunningham’s and Adamek’s history, hopefully they’ll meet again next year, both having made the jump to the heavyweight division.

In addition to leaving Germany, Steve has also left Sauerland, his former promoter in Europe. Both he and Adamek are now promoted by Main Events. Cunningham is anxious to develop a fan base in America. “We figured that with people seeing me it would have been easy to promote me. I haven’t been promoted properly. We have to build a bigger buzz for me. People see me and enjoy the way I fight, I feel great.” Kathy Duva runs Main Events and Steve had this to say about her: “Kathy does an awesome job with her fighters. She cares about her fighters. She doesn’t have a big stable. But don’t get me wrong. I’ve been in stables where they have twenty or thirty fighters. She really goes to work. With Main Events this ride right here is the best seat to be sitting in.”

Cunningham is now thirty-six years old. He is getting a little long in the tooth and has a somewhat questionable chin. He has been knocked down many times over the years, but has never been knocked out. His speed and conditioning hopefully balance out his negatives.

Steve may be able to take advantage of what he describes as the “current weak field in the heavyweight division.” Hopefully he can get on a fast track and get in on some of the big fights and fast money he missed out on while fighting in Europe.

Cunningham’s opponents in Germany and Poland may not have been adequate preparation for what he is about to face. Fighting a decent American heavyweight here at home may be a whole new experience. But if Cunningham can protect his jaw, keep his hands up, and let his hands go, he should KO Gavern.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

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  1. the thresher 12:12pm, 09/10/2012

    If there is one conclusion that stands out from the rest, it is that the entire global boxing landscape has become just that—a global boxing landscape where a Ghanian can live in Stockholm, Sweden and fight in the Europe, or a Venezuelan can live in Tokyo and fight everywhere but in the U.S. An Armenian can become a German or Australian citizen and live in France and thereby get a triple dose of adulation. Vic Darchinyan is given homeboy love in Glendale, CA; Australia; and in Armenia. Edwin Valero was worshiped in Tokyo and Venezuela—andthen, for his macho style, in Mexico.  An Armenian born Russian citizen can live in France and fight throughout Europe. A Cuban can defect to South America, move to Europe and fight out of Germany. Born in Uzbekistan and Russian by nationality, a fighter can live and fight out of Munich these days, and in the process, he just might become tri-lingual. How about a Tunisian who resides in Germany but fights in Australia?

    Heck, a fighter can be born in Belarus, immigrate to Israel, learn to box in Haifa under a Russian coach, train out of an Arab gym, and then move to Brooklyn, New York where he studies to become a Rabbi while at the same time becoming the WBA Super-Welterweight Champion.

  2. norm marcus 06:06am, 09/09/2012

    Just finished watching the new HBO Documentary on the Klitschko Brothers.  Catch it if you can it was great!
    As another example of how confusing some eastern european boxer’s backgrounds are -
    Manual Charr, Vitalli’s opponent last night in Moscow was described in the film as a person of Syrian decent, who lived in Moscow as a boy. Years later he moved to Germany when he now lives and fights. Yet many writers this morning describe him as Polish! So is he Russian or Syrian or German or Polish? I am getting a headache!!!
    Do you see how people could get confused over a boxer’s real nationality? Just like Adamek right?

     

  3. Matt McGrain 05:38am, 09/05/2012

    I love the guy, but I fear he is an accident waiting to happen at this weight.  Hopefully he proves me wrong, but he should have stayed where he was and moved heaven and earth to make the Huck rematch, i think.

  4. Norm Marcus 03:38am, 09/05/2012

    I really don’t believe just anything but I know enough about eastern europe to know that ethnic groups there can get very mixed up. For example, the Polish port of Gdansk is on the Baltic Sea. It is in Poland today. But from 1918 to 1940 it was a free city state that was run by the League of Nations. The Germans called the SAME port Danzig- West Prussia and claimed it for Germany. 95% of the people there were German yet it was inside Poland! Today it is still heavily German. So would a boxer from this city be considered German or Polish? Couldn’t both groups claim him as one of their own? It is a bit confusing.
    I won’t even get into Bosnia and all the different groups that are mixed together there. Albanians living among Croatians, Serbs mixed in for good measure with intermarriage. So when I see a difference of opinion on a fighter’s ethnicity, I just report it and let the reader make the decision. Is Adamek Polish? Probably so but sometimes it is a little bit more complicated.

  5. FrankinDallas 06:35pm, 09/04/2012

    Who wrote this piece? Who did he speak to that said Adamek was anything other than Polish? WTF…....I guess he’ll believe anything.
    Note that in nearly every fight Cunningham was “down in the 4th” or “down three times”...what makes anyone think he’ll do better at HW when LHW’s and cruisers routinely put him on his butt?

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