By Wolfgang Schiffbauer
Photo: John DiSanto Philly Boxing History (.com)
At age 36 and after a disappointing decision loss to IBF champ Yoan Pablo Hernandez, former two-time cruiserweight champion Steve “USS” Cunningham decided to move up to the heavyweight division. After a clear cut win over Jason Gavern, he headed into a rematch against former light heavyweight and cruiserweight titleholder Tomasz Adamek, who had beaten Cunningham by split decision in 2008, knocking the American down three-times en route to winning the IBF belt from “USS.” Most people did not give Cunningham a shot in hell to beat Adamek in the rematch. But, as it often happens in boxing, the former Marine silenced his critics by mostly outboxing Adamek last December, two days before Christmas Eve. But Christmas came early for the Pole, who was awarded a split decision over Cunningham. FightNews sat down with Steve Cunningham last week to discuss the Adamek bout, his intentions at heavyweight and his career.
FightNews: Steve, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Did you enjoy the holidays despite the controversial nature of your loss to Tomasz Adamek?
Steve Cunningham: Yeah, I rested and relaxed. I feel great. Actually, I’m getting back in the gym today (editor’s note: last Thursday, Jan. 10th).
FightNews: Let’s go back to your fight against Adamek. How do you rate your performance?
Cunningham: I’d rate it a B+. It was a good performance. I felt it truly was. I did exactly what we trained to do. I outboxed him, I outsmarted him, outspeeded him, outpunched him. I felt we did what it took to win the fight. You know, obviously, two of those judges didn’t see it that way but the fans saw what happened and they made a big fuss about it. I don’t feel like I lost, you know what I’m saying? In a fight, after a fight, you know when you have lost. You have a feeling that says you lost; you just know it. And I didn’t have that feeling at all. I know Adamek does, cause he is making all kinds of excuses and press releases covering his back. But I feel good about what I did and I’m sure I won the fight.
FightNews: Did you feel confident throughout the fight; did you feel like everything was going as planned from the opening bell?
Cunningham: Yeah, I mean, this thing about a guy like Adamek is – he is a one-dimensional fighter. I proved that. The first fight, I fought his fight. I didn’t box, only in the first round actually and I did well in that. The second round I went out trying to knock him up and when the knockdowns came I played catch-up with the scores. I fought his fight and I saw the mistakes I made. I wanted to correct them for the rematch. The second fight was perfect! All I can do is outbox this man; I don’t feel I have to fight his fight. I controlled the ring, I controlled the distance – I controlled everything. He only came on in the last ten seconds here and there and he wasn’t even successful doing that. I honestly don’t see how he won that fight.
FightNews: Most people I talked to had you ahead; I scored the fight 116-112 for you. From the beginning I felt that he wanted to walk right through you. It looked like he was sure that he could knock you out whenever he wanted to. Did he even manage to hurt you in the fight?
Cunningham: Yeah, he hurt me one-time in the fight and that was a headbutt. That hurt, oh my goodness that was painful. That was the one punch that hurt me the most in both our fights – and it wasn’t even a punch! That was the worst pain I felt. Other than that, he caught me with some flush right hands and other shots but none of them hurt. He and his trained figured that since I was a small heavyweight they could run over me. They thought I couldn’t stand up to him because of the three knockdowns in the first fight. I’m so happy that I proved it was my mistake in the first fight and nothing Adamek did. It was what I didn’t do. I showed that in the rematch. After I took a few of his shots, I felt, yeah, we are in this, this is great.
FightNews: Adamek was at the better end of some close decisions recently, for example against Eddie Chambers. When the final bell came in your fight against him, did you think that they could take the decision away from you?
Cunningham: No, not at all. When the final bell came I was about to start crying because I performed, you know? I did what we set out to do. I felt this was a unanimous decision for me. In my mind, there was no way he won that fight. Him winning wasn’t even on my mind. I was like, great, yes, it’s celebration time! And then the scores came and it was a draw. And I was like – a draw? Even that wasn’t acceptable. Even that was bogus. But then they switched the draw to a decision win for him. And that was just flat out cheating.
FightNews: What do you think about his post-fight comments, saying that he won the fight cause you run all night and he was the aggressor?
Cunningham: I think its just making excuses. He knows he lost, he knows he looked bad and he knows he can’t deal with a boxer. We knew that and that’s why we choose to box him. And we landed some very telling right hands and some lefts. I mean, he is making excuses like someone who lost. That’s why I’m saying, come on, Adamek, you got the win, take the win and shut up. He made himself look even worse with all the excuses; saying why he didn’t do this and that. He acts like a little baby, just whining and crying. I got so much love from the fans, especially from Poland on my “USS” Cunningham Facebook fan page, and they are really cutting into him for his performance. Or better for the gift he received. And that decision was nothing but a gift.
FightNews: Do you want to fight him again?
Cunningham: I would do a third fight. I did badly in the first fight and I wanted to correct that. And I believe I did that in the second fight, so a third one is not necessary in my mind. However, with the official decision, I would certainly do a third fight. I would be able to fix even more mistakes and do even better. Like I said, he is one-dimensional. All Adamek does is going forward. He is not fast, especially at 220-something pounds. He is better off at a much lighter weight. But apparently he wants to be big. These guys think just because they are heavyweights, they can come in fat and just eat. That’s not an athlete, that’s just some guy who’s eating. I want to be athletic as a heavyweight. I might never come in at 220. Not even at 215. I believe 210 pounds is where I’ll stay. My weight for the rematch was so low because I had a stomach virus the week before. I didn’t want to cancel because my body felt good, but I was going back and forth to the bathroom. My body was getting rid of everything and that affected my weight, that’s why I came in at 203.
FightNews: Do you already know you’re next step?
Cunningham: Not really. There have been talks, but so far it’s nothing more than that. I know that Tyson Fury’s people where talking with Main Events about a fight. But I don’t know how far the talks are. We offered to fight them last year already. A great fight would be a rematch against Marco Huck if he moves up to heavyweight. I would love to fight (WBA regular champ) Alexander Povetkin – that would be awesome. That would be beautiful. I’m a heavyweight and I’m here to be heavyweight world champion. So I’m going to fight whomever I have to achieve that.
FightNews: What do you think about a fight against either one of the Klitschko brothers?
Cunningham: With all due respect to Wladimir and Vitali, I think they are great champions, it’s awesome what they do as brothers in boxing and they are the heavyweight champions. I sparred with Wladimir for the David Haye fight and he is a very nice guy. They work really hard; they are not just big guys. They don’t beat everyone because they are big. Wladimir is always in great shape and works really hard. I like watching both of them fight. That would be an awesome challenge to fight the best in the world. I would do it.
FightNews: What do you think about the rematch between Johnathan Banks and Seth Mitchell next month?
Cunningham: I believe Mitchell has been pushed by America too fast. He got a few good knockouts; he beat Chazz Witherspoon. I know Chazz closely and he told me about the mistakes he made in that fight. Mitchell is learning on the job but he should have been brought up a little slower. Banks has been through the amateur program and fought in two divisions as a pro. I mean, Mitchell can beat him – after all, he wobbled Banks early in their first fight. This is a 50/50 fight in my book, either man can win. Mitchell might come out on fire; Banks might come out feeling he can beat him again.
FightNews: Let’s focus on your career again. Do you have plans for your time after boxing or is that not on your mind right now?
Cunningham: Sort of. We got a few properties and a few things that are financially helping us. Boxing is the main income, though. But we own for example a pizza shop that we lease out. We just got a couple other business ventures that we are trying to get going. So, we got a couple things going but I just need that million-dollar-fight to do some more stuff that helps to secure my family and me. But in the end, God provides, even if I don’t get that million-dollar-shot.
FightNews: If we look back at your career, you had bad luck with the judges numerous times – against Krzysztof Wlodarczyk in your first fight, the stoppage in the first bout against Yoan Pablo Hernandez and some people even had you ahead in your first encounter with Adamek, despite the knockdowns. Why do you feel does that always happen to you? Even in your home country like against Adamek?
Cunningham: Overall, I believe that nothing happens to me that God won’t allow. I believe he has a plan for me. That’s what helps me staying where I am and mentally focused. I know I’m here for a reason. On the other side, I don’t know why this is happening. I can answer for the fights in Poland or Germany – I came in from America and fought the hometown guy. They wanted to give Wlodarczyk the belt and in the rematch, I beat him. I felt the first Adamek fight was a draw but I can’t argue with the loss because of the knockdowns. He did was he was supposed to do and got the win. The first Hernandez fight, though, that was really messed up. He was on his way out; I was working and chopping him down even after that vicious knockdown in the first. For that doctor to stop the fight at this point – that was really robbing me. For the rematch, I’ve known since my amateur days that I can’t fight angry but that’s just what happened. I was pissed at Hernandez; he didn’t even do anything to me! I was pissed at my promoter (editor’s note: Wilfried Sauerland at that time, who is also managing and promoting Hernandez). I was pissed at the doctor and the fans, who said Hernandez was beating me. I went in angry and I lost that second fight. But the second fight would have never happened if I would have been treated correctly in the first one. You know, I have four losses on my record that shouldn’t even be there. But you know, I’m still there, I’m still working and I believe God has a plan for me. I will be heavyweight world champion.
FightNews: Looking back, what was the greatest moment of your career so far?
Cunningham: Oh, man. But, well, I can say that. Right at this moment, the greatest moment was beating Marco Huck and stopping him in the twelfth round. Obviously, beating Wlodarczyk to win the belt was great. They say a true champion does not only win but also defends his belt. Huck was my first defense; he was a young lion fighting in his hometown. I was around 30. Everything was going against me. I was a 4-1 underdog with the bookies and no one believed I would win – not even in America. I looked at Marco Huck and his fights. He beat Tokarev to get a shot and I thought, man, he is good. So I thought, may the best man win. I took what he had but he was not able to take the storm “USS” Cunningham brought onto him. He felt. That was just unbelievable. Marco Huck talks so much trash and it was beautiful to shut him up. The greatest moment of my career so far.
FightNews: To conclude the interview, first, do you have anything to say in closing and second, I’ve read that many German fans, and I’m sure fans from all over the world, would love to by one of those USS scarfs: where can they get them?
Cunningham: That’s amazing – you can tell them to go to www.ussapparel.com to buy the scarfs and other merchandise. It’s awesome, thank you Germany. In closing, I want to become heavyweight champion and I will do everything it takes to archive this.
You can follow Steve Cunningham on Twitter @usscunningham. This writer can also be followed @wschiffbauer.