“You know what I think about power right!” Naazim Richardson, Steve Cunningham’s trainer, said after the fight to a group of reporters. “You see there is an elephant in the zoo, right? The elephant is so strong, yet he sits in that cage by a man who has no where near the power of him, why? Smart beats power every day.”
These words contextualize a career defining fight for Steve Cunningham, the famed cruiserweight, who at 36 has spent the past year and a half at the heavyweight division. It is a division that Cunningham isn’t quite a natural in, but nonetheless one of the most talented in terms of skill. Cunningham tipped the scales at a whooping 206 lbs prior to facing Amir Mansour, a man who is a full bodied heavyweight and just flat-out physically stronger than Cunningham. The one thing Mansour didn’t have was the foundation of the technical ability that Cunningham had.
“He was a monster, that’s what y’all made him out to be – don’t take the claws off him now that we beat him.” Naazim Richardson said afterwards. Yet it was not all sunny skies and smooth sailing for the former naval officer. Mansour charged Cunningham in the first, but found Cunningham to be gone more often than there when Mansour threw his looping left hand. Richardson would later reflect upon Cunningham’s elusiveness citing the Marvel comics character Nightcrawler, a superhero who was known for disappearing and reappearing in different locations.
In the second though, the forceful Mansour imposed himself on Cunningham. A left uppercut took a piece of Cunningham’s flesh and it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before Mansour would physically wear out Cunningham not unlike Tyson Fury did. It felt as though tucked in the bowels of the arena and some within the press section, the feeling was Mansour ought to win this one as he does have a video on YouTube entitled “The Next Mike Tyson” showing him horrifically knocking out people. The fight was operated on two planes though, when Cunningham got hit he was stunned, but Mansour didn’t set up shots with anything it was just all brute force.
It was a baseball looking pitch of haymaker left hand that Cunningham would get out of the way, the straighter punches often met with even straighter counters from Cunningham. Then in the fifth round Mansour feinted a left hand and come over with a check right hook that kept Cunningham in place to land a thunderous left hook that sent Cunningham to the floor and the crowd out of their seats. Cunningham looked confused when he was hit with it and later reflected that he was stagnant at that point in the fight. Referee Steve Smoger counted clearly to Cunningham whom if the fight was refereed the same way as the prior match probably would of been stopped. Instead a groggy Cunningham got up and tried to fight back landing a counter right only to have Mansour swarm him once again and send him to canvas.
Cunningham would get up, but barely! A usually calm Naazim Richardson was livid as a slight delay occurred in between rounds as Cunningham had a bit too much Vaseline over his face, possibly a veteran trick to get the most amount of time for a stunned fighter. In what was more of a clear cut boxing lesson from Cunningham became the fight fans had of hoped for as the bigger man landed “the punch” that quite possibly changed the fight. Even then Cunningham refused to go away.
“[Mansour] had to hurt me or else he wasn’t for real.” Cunningham would later say. In a round most would figure Cunningham would just, just trying to survive, Cunningham stayed elusive and made the round competitive. Cunningham found his groove in the later half as Mansour was reliant on big explosive shots and was hoping for something to dramatically alter the affair. The later the fight went the more the class between the fighters was shown.
Mansour is tough, game and powerful. Mansour whom spent most of his prime behind bars for drug trafficking and now at 41-years old uses what he has power and toughness. Mansour, who had said he was in prison at the same time as others who had trained in boxing worked on his craft and body while serving time. Mansour will give most heavyweights fits, but the question is will he give anyone who is in the top 10 a challenge since the assumption would be they would have some semblance of elite level boxing skill and timing.
In the final frame, Cunningham dropped Mansour to solidify the win with one of Mansour’s coaches sitting in front of me putting his hands over his head dumb founded how a potential win could go so wrong. Cunningham finished strong with a powerful showing in front of his hometown crowd. The fight was closer than it should of been due to the 10-7 round, but I had Cunningham just barely winning – but still winning. Cunningham who was on the shoulder of a corner man was immediately chastised by Richardson “You are a champion, this what you are expected to do get down from there!”.
As the judges saw the fight 95-92 two times and oddly wide with 97-90 for Cunningham. Some members of the media seemed dismayed by the result and I take that in part that the concept of a monster puncher coming out of jail and going on a destructive mission in the heavyweight division is so romantic, that boiled over into frustration. Mansour had his moments, but it showed that he didn’t have the experience of Cunningham who was just far too game.
“I have my passport ready, if they want me to travel – I’m coming for the belts!” Cunningham said implying big fights on the horizon. Cunningham took time speak of the tragedy surrounding his family mainly his daughter who needs a heart transplant for the congenital heart defect with which she was born with. For Cunningham, boxing was his relief from a world of chaos that has not made sense for some time and pulling out of this fight was not even an option since it was one of the only things in his life he had control over in such a dramatic and serious moment in Cunningham’s life.
“I beat [Tomasz] Adamek, but didn’t get the decision. I fought the biggest guy in boxing in Tyson Fury and he had to use what we feel were dirty antics to win. Now I beat the biggest threat coming up.” Cunningham who is now 2-2 in last four fights seems poised to cash in on a big payday as he stated “I’m looking for those six figure fights.” Richardson mirrored it as well as gestured with his hands to all of us. Cunningham is a name in division that is star driven and in this day and age that is what it takes to merit a big fight.
The underlying context of the aforementioned framework, Cunningham and team are gunning for a fight with WBA, WBO and IBF Heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. Mansour was unavailable for comment since he was taken to the hospital after the fight for evaluation.