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Steve Cunningham-Tough as USS


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Steve "USS" Cunningham was and is one of the best cruiserweights of this century. Yet, his career has been marked by both ups and downs and he has lost a few very close fights which he maybe or definitely deserved to win. He was always known for his ultra-sculpted and muscular body and great stamina, as well as being able to recover well after being hurt or knocked down. He was in other words a very tough cookie. His fighting moniker came from his time serving in the Navy. His great weakness was lack of great punching power, but he made up for it with his great workrate, good accuracy and stamina, as well as strength, chin and heart. His boxing IQ was also pretty high. Let's find out more about USS Cunningham.


Born Steven Ormain Cunningham on 15 July 1976 in Philadelphia, Cunningham stands 6'3 (191 cm) and has a big reach of 82 inches (208 cm). As mentioned, he joined the Navy at 18 and it was there he started boxing, after first gaining a reputation as a tough street fighter in his youth. After finishing his stint in the Navy, he started boxing as amateur and in 1998 won the Golden Gloves tournament, at 178 pounds. He also competed in the same tournament next year, as well as National Police Athletic League Championship. He was also a quarter-finalist at the 2000 US Amateur Championships. He turned pro in October that same year, winning by SD4 against Norman Jones. His first well known opponent was former light heavyweight Demetrius Jenkins, whom he beat by UD8 in March 2003. In May next year, he went to South Africa to fight their best cruiser, Sebastiaan Rothman, and beat him by MD10. In April 2005, he fought Guillermo Jones, who was new in the division and would later become the WBA champion; after 10 very close rounds, Cunningham got a split decision victory. He then fought Kelvin Davis in an IBF-eliminator in September and beat the much shorter (5'7) guy by a clear UD12. He finally faced Krzysztof Wlodarczyk of Poland for the vacant IBF belt, but he had to go to Poland for that. They fought on 25 November 2006, in Warsaw. The fight was very close and difficult to score because many rounds had little exchanges and activity. In the end, as it usually happens, the home favorite got the nod by a split decision. He asked for a rematch and got one, but again in Poland, this time in the lesser town of Katowice. It was on 26 May 2007 that Cunningham could finally call himself the IBF champion, as he put Wlodarczyk down in round 4 and puffed him up around the right eye eventually. Still, one judge curiously had it even, but the other two scored it for the Philly guy, 116-112 and 115-112. Cunningham then again went to Europe to defend his belt, this time Germany. His opponent was the 23-yearold Marco Huck, who was a rising star at the time, but relatively unexperienced due to his youth. Huck at 6'2 was just an inch shorter however and physically strong and had a good stamina and handspeed. As he was known for his mauling and aggressive approach, the fight was very rough but also exciting.


It was on 29 December in Bielefeld and Huck opened strong in the first two rounds before Cunningham came back in the third. In the fifth, USS landed a good right hand that seemed to rattle the young Serbian-German. Huck came back and had a strong round six, but in round seven he started bleeding from the ear. Cunningham outworked Huck in rounds 8, 9 and 10 and Huck came back in round 11, but exhausted himself there and had nothing left in the tank for round 12. Cunningham then went on the offensive and staggered Huck with a series of big uppercuts before chasing him around the ring and finally stopping him against the ropes with a short barrage. This would remain his crowning achievement, as he managed to come out on top against a young lion and even stop him in the end. Huck would not lose another fight at cruiserweight in almost 8 years and would reign as the WBO champion for 6 years after this fight. He then signed to fight Tomasz Adamek, who was coming up from 175 after being the WBC champion there. Adamek had dismantled O'Neil Bell, the former undisputed champ, in his first cruiserweight fight and was hungry for glory at 200. This time, Cunningham could defend at home in America, however it was in Newark, where there was a substantial Polish population, so almost the entire crowd was against him. Must have felt the same as fighting in Poland, lol. The fight happened on 11 December 2008, almost a year after his last one, and was a classic and a barnburner. Cunningham opened best in the first round and also had a good second round, until he was dropped by a quick counter punch from Adamek at the end of the round. He was again down at the end of the fourth and in the eight, but in between he had some very good moments and exchanged frequently with Adamek. He came back to close strong, but the knockdowns went against him and in the end he lost by SD. Compubox stats showed him outlanding Adamek with 205 overall pnnches to 186, and also won the jab battle 61 to 30, but Adamek beat him in the power punch battle with 156 to 144. It was a candidate for the fight of the year and Adamek won The Ring title as well. Thus, he lost again but in a honorable way. He came back by decisioning former WBC champ Wayne Braithwaite in July next year, in another IBF-eliminator. As Adamek had vacated the title after only two defenses to step up to heavyweight, it became vacant and Cunningham got to fight for it against Troy Ross. Despite both being Americans, the fight curiously took place in Germany, Neubrandenburg, 5 June 2010. The first three rounds were even but in the fourth, Ross floored Cunningham with a straight left. Cunningham got up and then ended the round by hitting Ross in right eye with his thumb, which led to a bad cut on the eyelid. Instead of calling it a no-contest, the referee declared the injury came from a legal punch and awarded Cunningham the victory by a TKO. Thus, he became a two-time IBF champion.


Like in his first reign, he made one successful defense, by UD against Enad Licina, a stablemate of Huck's, 12 February 2011, again in Germany. He then had his third straight fight in Germany when he defended for the second time against Yoan Pablo Hernandez, who was even taller at 6'4. It was on 1 October same year and Cunningham went down in the first round and looked like he was in danger of being stopped early, as Hernandez punished him constantly in the first two rounds, but he managed to survive and even come back throwing. Until round 6 that is, when the fight was stopped after Hernandez was cut by an accidental headbutt and the fight went to the scorecards. Hernandez was the winner, yet one judge curiously had Cunningham ahead by 57-56. They had a rematch 4 February next year, in Frankfurt and Cunningham was down twice in the fourth round but came back to hurt Hernandez in the fifth with a right hand. Cunningham got cut later in the round however and the cut would continue to plague him thruout the rest of the fight. The rest of the fight was back and forth, with both guys having their moments, but Hernandez closed best and staggered Cunningham in the final round. Naturally, he won and by a unanimous decision this time: 115-111 and 116-110 twice. Having lost his second consecutive title fight, Cunningham decided the time was right to enter the heavyweight ranks. He had his first fight there 8 September same year and beat Jason Gavern by UD10. He then got a rematch against Adamek, on 22 December in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-which was more his ground than Adamek's, one can say. This time, there were no knockdowns and Cunningham outlanded Adamek also in the power punches department, 120 to 80 and 209 to 169 overall, yet was denied the victory and once again lost by a split decision. Both BJ Flores and Bryant Jennings, the guest commentators, scored it for Cunningham, 115-113 and 117-111 respectively.


Despite the loss, Cunningham was by many recognized as the true winner and got to fight the new rising star: Tyson Fury. Fury was of course much larger at 6'9 and he came in weighing for the fight at 254 or 115 kilos, while Cunningham weighed 210 or 95 kilos. The fight was at Madison Square Garden on 20 April 2013 and after a good first round, Fury arrogantly pushed Cunningham. USS paid him back by putting him on his back early in round 2 with a perfect right hand. Fury got up but looked hurt, however he was known for taking punishment well and he weathered the storm. Cunningham also looked stronger in the next couple rounds and landed some good punches, but Fury came back in round 6 and hurt Cunningham, and then in round 7 he pinned him against the ropes and landed several big shots and knocked Cunningham out. He used some unorthodox tactics in setting up the knockout, apparently holding Cunningham with one hand before landing the finishing right. It was the first ko loss of USS's career and to this day the only one as well. His greatest success as a heavyweight was in his second fight after this loss, when he decisioned the hard-hitting Amir Mansour by UD10, after being down once in round 5 and then sending Mansour down in round 10. That was on 4 April 2014 and won him the USBA title. After stopping the 10-0 Natu Visinia by RTD7, he fought Vyacheslav Glazkov in an important fight and once again, despite looking like the better man, he lost a controversial decision to the Ukrainian, who was then a rising contender but turned out to be overhyped eventually. He knocked out Glazkov's mouthpiece and swelled and cut his right eye, yet somehow two judges gave it to Glazkov by 116-112! ESPN's scorer gave the fight to Cunningham with the same score. The reason for him getting robbed is that he was on the back foot too much, it seems, while Glazkov was more aggressive but landed little. He then had a fight against Antonio Tarver and it ended a draw after a defensive fight. USS decided to return to cruiserweight and challenged the new WBO-champion Krzysztof Glowacki, who had dethroned Huck. The fight was at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, 16 April 2016 and Cunningham made a mistake by trying to knock Glowacki out, instead of being active as usual. He was down twice in round 2 and once in rounds 10 and 12 and naturally, lost the fight by a clear UD.


After losing another important cruiser fight against Andrew Tabiti by UD10 in August 2017, everybody thought Cunningham was done. And he seemed to retire, but on 17 April this year he came back to fight the former UFC champion Frank Mir at heavyweight. Despite weighing 70 pounds less than the 276-pound Mir, his boxing pedigree made him win the 6-round fight on points, two judges giving him all the rounds. His record now stands at 30 wins with 13 ko's, 9 losses and 1 draw. Steve Cunningham is a warrior who possesses incredible physique and physical talents and he always remained in top shape for his fights. He has been robbed a few times, as stated, and was not always favored by the judges or the audience, but he always came to fight and gave it his best. He was also willing to fight anybody, regardless of their size. Kudos to him for that.



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