By Kurt Wolfheimer
The fans at the Liacouras Center at Temple University witnessed a classic crossroads battle of wills, as Steve “USS” Cunningham (27-6, 12KO’s) got off the canvas twice to win a come from behind ten round unanimous decision victory over the hard punching Amir “Hardcore Mansour (20-1, 15Ko’s), for the coveted USBA Heavyweight title. The seven bout card promoted by Main Events saw WBC #11 ranked middleweight contender Curtis “Showtime” Stevens (27-4, 20KO’s) snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, with a late tenth round stoppage of Tureano “The Bull” Johnson in the co-feature of the evening. The card was televised live nationally on the NBC Sports Fight Night.
The main event was a fight, according to matchmaker Russell Peltz that had all the implications of a clash of styles and both fighters needed the victory to make their moves in the heavyweight division. For Cunningham, a loss could possibly have put him out of title contention for the final time and move him to almost journeyman status. Mansour at the age of 41 years old was facing the former cruiserweight champ and a loss would put him in the unenviable task of having to re-climb the ladder and many fighters would again duck the powerful southpaw.
Could the boxing ability and vast experience of Cunningham win out or would Mansour and his unbelievable power take into the top ten in the world as they battle for his USBA heavyweight belt? Those questions would be answered tonight.
Right off the bat, there was a psychological delay as both camps refused to come out first. Finally Cunningham emerged and the bout was about to begin. Surprisingly they announced the USBA champion Amir Mansour first in in another odd moment. Mansour paced in the corner as Philly’s challenger Steve Cunningham was announced to his hometown crowd.
The introductions were finally over and the fighters were ready to go to war as the bell sounded to open the fight.
Mansour looked hyped and a bit tight, but landed the first strong jab. Cunningham jabbed back, but Mansour appeared to squeak out the razor thin feeling out round with a few wild swings late as the aggressor.
Cunningham rocked him off balance early in the second round, by timing and countering a hook with a straight right. Mansour came back with two hard lefts and the war looked to truly begin. Mansour caught Cunningham in the corner with a hard left up top and followed up with another heavy left on the button. Cunningham clinched before taking a big breath and moving out of the corner.
Mansour missed with a couple wild shots in the second, but the power of his hooks had done their Damage and blood was flowing from the nose of the former cruiserweight champion. Cunningham wouldn’t back down though and started snapping his shots from distance and keeping Mansour off balance. Mansour was swinging hellacious shots and almost spinning himself around like a top when he missed and it was taking a lot of his energy. Cunningham backed him up late with his best right hand of the fight and it cut his left cheek. The hooks of Mansour also open a cut over the right eye of Cunningham as the third came to close.
Mansour was tiring in the third and Cunningham was boxing well as the pendulum swung to his side. Mansour went to the body late, but Cunningham tied him up to limit any real damage. The extraordinary reach of Cunningham opened another cut over Mansours right eye and his cheek was swelling badly.
The corner took a long time to get the end swell on the puffed cheek of Mansour, which looked like it would be a factor if the fight went the distance. Cunningham was had begun to take over as the fourth moved on and he buckled the knees of Mansour with a straight right. Mansour switched to orthodox, but Cunningham clinched to avoid any hooks as the round came to a close.
The fight appeared to be even going into the fifth. Cunningham seemed to have the range in the early going and was boxing well. Mansour was headhunting and missing a lot. That all changed in the closing thirty seconds, as Amir Mansour went hard core and stood up Cunningham with a hellacious left. Cunningham tried to back out straight, but another left put him on the canvas. Cunningham reached his feet at the count of eight. Referee Steve Smoger took a good look and wiped off the gloves, before allowing it to continue. Cunningham went back to the canvas with another big right on the button. Cunningham again rose and wobbled as Smoger checked him again. Many referees would have stopped it, but Smoger said later that Cunningham told him he was good and wanted to continue, so he let it go on. The extra time taken, allowed Cunningham to survive as just seconds later the bell sounded to end the round.
Cunningham looked like he was not all there as the sixth round opened, but he was boxing well, while sliding along the ropes as Mansour carefully followed him around early in the sixth, trying to cut off the ring. Mansour swung for the fences several times, but missed several close shots. As the round progressed, Cunningham found him with a big right, which appeared to take the champ’s wind. In the final seconds, Mansour found him with hard hook up top as the bell sounded.
Mansour went to the body late in the seventh. The distance and movement had given Cunningham time to regain his composure and he was boxing well, peppering the face of the tiring Delawarean. The eye of Mansour was closing and he looked exhausted as the seventh round came to a close.
Cunningham dug a good body shot early in the eighth and the fight started to sway in his favor. Mansour caught him with a right hand but Cunningham came right back with good two punch combination to win the round.
The face of Mansour looked a mess and his tank looked to be on empty as Cunningham pushed him backwards with a big overhand right in the ninth. Mansours’ mouth was open, but he gamely fought, finally getting inside with three short hooks. Cunningham rocked him with a right as Mansour was reaching with a long left. The last minute was all Cunningham as he snapped hard combinations until the bell sounded.
Both fighters looked to land the telling blows taking turns in the opening minute of the final round. Cunningham went low. Cunningham sent him to the canvas with a short left as both tangle feet, but it was ruled a slipped but appeared to have been caused by a punch and should have been ruled a knockdown. Mansour came back with a big left and Cunningham clinched. Both fighters connected with rights and Cunningham’s did the most damage. It looked like Mansour was on empty and his hands were low. The opening was there and a hard straight right caught him on the button. Cunningham jumped on the exhausted Mansour with a combination. Mansour fell backward and his glove touched the canvas, forcing a knockdown. The final bell sounded and the fight went to the scorecards.
One judge saw the fight a preposterous 97-90, while the other two had 95-92 in favor of the new USBA heavyweight champion, Steve “USS” Cunningham. Scores were mixed by the writers polled at ringside. This writer saw Mansour ahead by one point, but acknowledges the fight could have gone either way.
The punch stats afterward showed Cunningham had a total punch landed advantage by 117-110. However, the heavier punching Mansour landed the more power shots by 99-91.
The new USBA heavyweight Steve “USS” Cunningham was jubilant at the post fight press conference afterward. “Mansour is a powerhouse. We all knew he was a power house. If he didn’t wobble me or knock me down, he was a fraud. I was doing good and got a little over confident and the knockdowns shocked me right back up. My hat goes off to Mansour and his team, but team USS is moving on their way to a world heavyweight championship.
In the co-feature of the evening, Main Event’s own and WBC #11 ranked middleweight Curtis “Showtime” Stevens (27-4, 20KO’s) pulled a rabbit out of his hat with a come from behind last minute stoppage of former Olympian Tureano “The Bull” Johnson. Johnson appropriately nicknamed “The Bull,” quickly found himself with his head in the chest of Stevens late in the first banging away with hooks. Stevens covered, choosing to let Johnson bang short hooks off his tight defense and land sharp clean counters. Stevens looked comfortable working on the inside, but Johnson wouldn’t back down as the round came to a close.
The flashy Stevens continued to fight well off the ropes in the second, with short uppercuts. Johnson found his mark with a few of his own to even the round.
The pressure continued from Johnson in third as he caught Stevens with a good right hand up top. The highly touted Stevens looked to weather the storm and countered with single shots. It would not stop “the Bull” who continued to up his punch output and it was beginning to take its toll on the surprised Stevens.
The fight heated up in the fourth as former Olympian banged 3 good right hands. Late in the round, Stevens hurt Johnson with a big left hook and followed it up with a nine punch flurry that included a heavy uppercut. Johnson covered and Stevens appeared to have punched himself out. Johnson pushed him back with hooks and both traded away at the final bell as the crowd rose to their feet in appreciation.
Johnson pushed the fight again in the fifth, with four unanswered hooks but he finally let his guard down. Stevens stood him up with an uppercut. The quick hands of Curtis “Showtime” Steven went off with a lightning quick flurry as he came off the ropes, but Johnson ducked under his swings and came back late with a right uppercut as the round came to a close.
Johnson continued to put the pressure on as Stevens gamely fought while on retreat. The constant aggression of Johnson was wearing Stevens down. The flashy contender could only counter punch every now and then, which allowed Johnson to batter away at will in both the sixth and seventh rounds as his lead began to widen. Each fighter had their moments in the final minute of the eighth, but Johnson seemed to be winning the exchanges. Johnson walked to the wrong corner as the round came to a close.
Stevens went out boxing right off the bat in the ninth and the tired Johnson looked flustered for a few moments, but then he finally found his way inside again and chopped away. Both fighters were taking their turns flashing hard combinations in a brutal war as the round came to a close.
Johnson looked ahead as the bell sounded to open the final round, but he didn’t want to play it safe and continued to pressure his dangerous opponent even a heavy right hand up top. He was tiring though. It looked like Stevens was about to take the loss when a landed right hook that stood up Johnson, who backed to the ropes. Immediately Stevens bounced his head up again with a one- two combination and Referee Gary Rosato stepped in and waived the fight off at 2:09 of the tenth round.
The crowd booed as Curtis “Showtime” Stevens was announced the victor. It is a shame that Tureano Johnson wasn’t able fight his way out like a champion. Afterwards, the scorecards were shown and Johnson was clearly in front (89-82 x 2 and 87-84) entering the final round and would have won the fight if he survived the last minute of the fight.
“I was hurt constantly throughout the fight,” said emotional Johnson afterward. “I would have fought, back but was not given a chance. It was my fault. I got caught and I give credit to Curtis. He is a great fighter, but I want an immediate rematch if he is willing to fight me.”
Lee makes Irish proud
Notre Dame graduate and undefeated light heavyweight sensation Mike Lee (12-0, 7 KOs) thrilled his local Irish contingent with a sixth round stoppage of formerly undefeated “Lightning” Peter Lewison (6-1, 5 KOs). Lee sent Lewison to the canvas in the sixth round with a hard straight right on the button. Lewison rose to his feet, but was on unsteady legs. The Notre Dame standout would not let him off the hook, as he continued to batter him across the ring, until Lewison’s corner stepped onto the apron, forcing veteran referee Steve Smoger to waive the bout off at 1:39 of the sixth and final round for the well-deserved TKO victory.
“I had eighteen months off and it is a long time,” said Lee on his rough early going. “I felt relaxed, but it is about getting that little half step in or the little half second in every fighter will tell you. The first four rounds, I felt a little clumsy and not sharp as I was in sparring, but then, finally in the sixth round I got my distance and hit him with that beautiful right hand. It broke his jaw and he is going to the hospital.
“It just feels great to get the one punch knockout,” continued Lee. There was a time between injuries and contract disputes, that I felt that I would never get to 12-0, but here I am and I feel blessed.”
Campbell outwills Acevedo
Unbeaten light heavyweight Lee “Silverback” Campbell (7-0,3KO’s) pulled the upset, by out willing Roberto Acevedo (8-2, 5KO’s) over eight good rounds of solid action to take the hard fought majority decision victory. Campbell went out for bear early, banging away with hard hooks, while applying pressure throughout the opening round. Roberto Acevedo appeared to get his distance and hurt Campbell early in the second with a right uppercut and followed it up with a good one two combo. The Silverback would not back down and went back to swinging hooks, while forgetting his jab. Campbell seemed winded as the round came to an end. Campbell gained his second wind in the third round and cut Acevedo under the left eye with a sharp hook and attacked away on the inside with wide bombs the had Acevedo back peddling and holding. Acevedo weathered the storm, but could never gain the proper distance to get his hands going.
Campbell was hurt in the fourth, but his power had done enough damage and Acevedo was forced to fight from distance behind the single jabs. Both fighters were gassed as the fight progressed, but Campbell was just able to summon up enough will to find his mark with hooks in rounds five through seven to take over. Acevedo could never match the power late, but Campbell was so gassed that he fell to the canvas twice while in clinches in the seventh. Acevedo boxing came back late in the seventh and early in the eighth round with good flurries, but Campbell had enough to finish the show on his feet. One judge surprisingly saw it even 76-76, but was overruled by the other two officials, who both had it in favor of Lee “Silverback” Campbell by scores of 78-74 and 77-75, for the eight round majority decision victory.
Barrera batters Pryor
Cuban born and undefeated light heavyweight Sullivan Barrera (11-0, 6 KO’s) made his successful debut under the Main Events banner, dropping Larry Pryor (7-8, 4 KO’s) once, on his way to a one sided, six round unanimous decision victory. Barrera captured the knockdown late in the first round by forcing Pryor to the ropes with a strong combination. Pryor tried to cover, but another right had him off balance and he had fell to the second rope, before Referee Gary Rosato stepped just as another right hand landed from Barrera, before calling the knockdown.
Barrera was patient and targeted the body in the second and came on strong late as he stood down on his hooks. Pryor tried to keep him off with his superior reach while countering as he slid off the ropes. The heavier handed Barrera was not flustered and continued to walk him down, winning the exchanges throughout rounds three through five. The lanky Pryor tried to pull the upset a couple of big counters hooks in the final round, but Barrera walked through them and worked on the inside, to secure the victory. All three judges saw it the same way, giving every round to Sullivan Barrera by scores of 60-53 across the board for the one sided six round unanimous decision victory.
Cherry overcomes Osiobe
In the opening bout of the evening, former world title challenger, Edner “Cherry Bomb” Cherry (32-6-2, 17KO’s) pounded out a hard fought eight round unanimous decision victory over dangerous super featherweight Robert Osiobe (14-9-4, 6KO’s), by scores of 79-73, 78-74 and 77-75. Cherry controlled most of the fight, rocking Osiobe several times, but had to survive a late round cut over the left eye to win his fourth straight on his comeback trail.
Dixon blows away Torres
Junior welterweight Evincii “Prize fighter Dixon evened his record at (4-4-1, 2KO’s) dropping late replacement Edgardo Torres (2-3, 2KO’s) twice on his way to the second round TKO victory. Dixon sent Torres to the canvas in the closing moments of the first round with a straight right as both fighters traded away. Torres was able to get up and survived until the bell sounded to end the round. It would not matter though as Dixon saw his wounded prey and immediately jumped on him with a one two combination. Edgardo Torres fell hard to the canvas, forcing Referee Shawn Clark to waive the fight of at 15 seconds of the second round, giving Evincii Dixon the TKO victory.