Steve Cunningham envisions ‘heavyweight’ move

By By Francis Walker BASN Boxing writer
Updated: June 22, 2012

It won't his last...

It won't his last...

NEW YORK, NY (BASN)—In attendance to watch old rival Tomasz Adamek’s dominant decision victory over Eddie Chambers at the Prudential Center, two-time IBF cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham (24-4, 12 KOs) not only enjoyed the fights, but he was also in present to announce his interest in resuming his career as a heavyweight.

Steve has accomplished a lot in the cruiserweight division, but let’s face reality. The name Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham lacks appeal in the U.S. Traditionally, the cruiserweight division has always had good fighters in recent years, but many fighters moving up from light-heavyweight skipped the cruisers. Some cruiserweights eventually move up to heavyweight unless they are either a world champion or a huge draw.

Antonio Tarver is making a name for himself as a cruiserweight. He stopped Danny Green in Australia last summer followed by a 12-round draw with Lateef Kayode earlier this month. Make no mistake, Tarver’s ultimate goal (like Cunningham) is to challenge the Klitschkos for the world heavyweight championship.

“I’m trying to solidify a fight with Antonio Tarver,” Cunningham said during an exclusive interview. “I’m still one of the best fighters on top. I’m trying to get a world title shot against Marco Huck. That didn’t happen.”

The cruiserweights lack appeal here America, but have enormous popularity in European countries like Germany. Regardless of the enormous popularity cruiserweights may have outside the United States, Cunningham, a two-time world champion, shouldn’t have to leave the United States frequently to find fights. Hopefully, with a move to heavyweight, Cunningham can establish himself as a marketable American heavyweight title contender.

“I don’t have time,” Cunningham said. “I need to start to build at heavyweight.”

Cunningham, 35, Philadelphia, PA, is willing to stay at cruiserweight for potential fights with Tarver and Huck. He can become a three-time cruiserweight world titlist, but at what cost?

“Unless I fight either Tarver or Huck, I’d stay,” Cunningham said. “If not, then why? To become a three-time champion? Why? I’d still move up to heavyweight?”

Cunningham signed with Sauerland Event to boost his profile globally. Cunningham, under Don King, was inactive and wasn’t being pushed. He couldn’t have been pushed because, King’s soured relationships with HBO and SHOWTIME eventually led to fighters like Cunningham to pursue offers from other promoters like Sauerland Event.

“It was a 50-50 thing,” Cunningham said of the uncommon action of an American fighter leaving home to be promoted in Germany. “It worked out great. We made some ok money [overseas]. Fighting here in America we would have made peanuts.”

Cunningham admitted that while the experience working with Sauerland worked out well, they were only interested in taking his belt and not helping him.

“They just wanted my belt,” Cunningham said. “They didn’t want to promote me.”

Cunningham has had success overseas. He has established a fan-base in Europe. In 2006-07, Cunningham twice fought Krzysztof Wlodarczyk to win IBF cruiserweight title in his second bid. Both fights were in Poland.

Cunningham’s first title defense was a thrilling slugfest against Marco Huck. Cunningham stopped Huck in the twelfth round to retain his title.

In December 2008, Cunningham lost a heartbreaking 12-round split decision against Adamek at the Prudential Center. Cunningham went down three times in what was a wildly entertaining fight. So entertaining that HBO was interested I doing a rematch that never came across.

Cunningham regained the title in June 2010 under the Sauerland Event banner by stopping Troy Gross (TKO 5) off a nasty cut.

Cunningham felt he was robbed of the IBF cruiserweight title against Yoan Pablo Hernandez last October. Although Cunningham went down in the first round, he fought gallantly back into the fight. A lot of people believed Cunningham was in control of the contest before an accidental headbutt occurred in the sixth round. Following the head-clash, Hernandez didn’t have any blood or lacerations. The referee and ringside doctor agreed to go to the scorecards which read: 54-59, 55-58, and 57-56 in Hernandez’ favor.

“The doctor stopped the fight,” Cunningham said. “He was friends with Yoan Pablo Hernandez.”

Cunningham rightfully deserved the rematch, but he was downright terrible. Cunningham was knocked down twice in the fourth round and was nearly stopped. Cunningham was simply out-hustled from the start.

“I fought the rematch angry,” Cunningham said. “I was so upset and that proved to be a mistake.”

The move to heavyweight couldn’t come at a better time. The Klitschkos are constantly searching for opponents to fight each year. Wladimir will be entering his fourth career rematch; third in heavyweight title fights he faces Tony Thompson next week. The two fought a competitive heavyweight title fight in July 2008 when Wladimir KO’d Thompson in the eleventh round.

Cunningham is familiar with Wladimir because, the two worked together in preparation for Klitschko’s career-defining unanimous decision against David Haye last summer.

“Once Haye said Klitschko was robotic I knew he was going to lose,” Cunningham said. “The Klitschkos are anything, but robotic. They are masters at what they do. They train very hard. ”

Cunningham could finally land that rematch with Adamek after all. Adamek has September 9th at the Prudential Center on hold. It’s a Saturday afternoon date which means that all of Poland can see Adamek fight in prime time on pay-per-view. When Adamek fights here on U.S. soil, Poland has to stay up (or awake) at 4 a.m. to see him fight.

Whether it’s Adamek, Tarver, or Klitschko, Steve Cunningham is fun and exciting to watch. I, personally, am concerned with the way Cunningham has been getting knocked down in the two Hernandez fights. Not to mention, he was knocked down three times against Adamek. Cunningham is a good fighter and a move to heavyweight is a positive.

A victory over Adamek will make Cunningham an appealing attraction for either Wladimir, or WBC heavyweight champion, Vitali Klitschko.