The city of Philadelphia has been a hotbed in the boxing world the past couple of months. Boxers such as “King” Gabriel Rosado, “Fast” Eddie Chambers, and Danny “Swift” Garcia have been on the fast track to the top of their divisions. This isn’t the 1st time Philly has seen great boxers come from its town to become all time greats. “Smoking” Joe Frazier and Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins also once roamed the streets of Philly before embarking on their great careers. I caught up with yet another Philly guy who has been a 2 time IBF Cruiserweight Champion and now hopes to soon hold a heavyweight belt, Steve “USS” Cunningham.
Steve Cunningham is a 36 year old former cruiserweight, now heavyweight boxer with a record of 24-4 with 12 KOs, 2 of those losses coming by way of split decisions that could have gone either way. He joined the navy in 1994 and began technically boxing in 1996 at age 19, but as he has admitted, he has been though a few street fights of his own growing up in a town where he had to defend himself. When asked what motivated him to go into boxing, he responded, “When I was younger I had my share of fights, I had to defend myself, plus there were boxing gyms all around, so there were 2-3 gyms around every town I went to.”
While in the Navy, Cunningham went to Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia, but he said that Little Creek Amphibious Naval Base was just 5-10 minutes down the road and that was where he went to box. He also said the Navy helped him in the ring as it helped him push through mental and physical barriers that his opponents couldn’t. He stated, “When things got tough, 2 things helped me get through it, the training camp I went through there and the help of my beliefs.” He continued, “When I say I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it, and I’m going to do it 100%.”
Cunningham has recently signed with Main Events Promotions, and I asked what made him decide to not only go with them at this time, but also to move up from Cruiserweight to Heavyweight. He said, “I talked with them in 2010 before I went to Europe, but at that time I was not mentally prepared to move to Heavyweight and I wanted my belt back.” He went on to say, “I spoke with some European promoters and I spoke with my friend Chris Bryd, and 1 thing he said he regretted is not going on a European tour, so I decided that was the move for me.”
With the debatable loss to Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in Germany, Wlodarczyk’s home country, and then the questionable loss to Tomasz Adamek in Newark, NJ, also known as Polish town USA, I asked if he’s tired of fighting in his opponent’s backyard. He responded, “I don’t care about going into their backyard, I’ve only had 1 fight in Philly so I don’t even know what it’s like to fight with a home field advantage. But I was all over the world, South Africa, the US, Germany, so it takes a toll on the body.” So after going all over the world, I asked how happy he was to be back in the US, and not only in the US, but fighting in an area where his family and friends from Philadelphia can see him. He said, “I don’t know what it’s like to fight at home anymore. It’s weird that we don’t have to plan 8 hour flights. I don’t even know how to act.”
Cunningham has an upcoming fight on September 8th against Jason Gavern, who is 21-10-4 with 10 KOs. He said that he is currently up to 206-207 lbs and he plans to be around 208, but no heavier than 215. He said “I’m going to just go into the fight at a comfortable weight for me.” I then asked him what he knew about Gavern and he said, “He’s a rugged, durable, and a crafty fighter. My trainer spoke of him before I even decided to move to Heavyweight. I know he’s a Christian as I am, so we will do our thing and we can pray together after,” as he laughed.
At the age of 36, most boxers are on the downside of their career, so I asked what his goal was. What else does he want to accomplish before he does decide to hang it up. He stated, “Another title or a big money fight would sound great. I’ve been champion twice, but being an African American boxer who is not a KO artist is not a lucrative career. If you’re not on HBO, the casual fan doesn’t know you. I was at a showcase with Danny Garcia and I’m a 2 time champ and no one knew who I was, but Danny, who is a good dude, got recognized, I’m happy for him. I want to be known as a Cruiserweight and a Heavyweight Champion. I wanted to be the most dominant Cruiserweight ever, but I really wasn’t pushed or promoted at that time.” Cunningham was previously promoted by Don King and then Sauerland Events, a European based promotional company.
Then we got into his plan after he retires from boxing. He said, “We got a few properties, but I want to get to the point where the properties are paying the bills. I don’t want to work after I’m done boxing. I had 16-17 hr days working in the Navy, and then washing planes, I’ve worked hard. We want to get our own gym so we can run our own classes. Also currently the Fellowship of Christian Athletes sends me to speak kids around the country.”
Cunningham’s final message to his fans was, “I hope you guys watch and enjoy my upcoming fight. I’m putting my best foot forward and you’ll be seeing the best Steve Cunningham you can see.” Steve can be reached by his fans via twitter at @USSCunningham or on facebook at “Steve Cunningham”. It was a pleasure to speak with Steve and you could tell that he didn’t hold anything back, he spoke from the heart and he held no punches. We need more boxers in the industry like this proud Philadelphian, Steve Cunningham.