By Gianluca (Rio) Di Caro
On Saturday Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham, will make his first defense, of his second reign, as the IBF Cruiserweight Champion of World against the tough Serbian born Enad Licina at the RWE Rhein-Ruhr Sporthalle in Muelheim, Germany.
During his career Cunningham has proven to be one of the few World Champions who is unfazed by fighting on his opponent’s home turf. In fact it seems that he actually thrives on this type of challenge, which is handy because on Saturday night Cunningham will again be fighting in his opponent’s home country – Licina has fought eighteen times, out of his twenty one fight career, in his adopted homeland of Germany.
Cunningham, who had fought all over America before hitting the International scene, has never had a true ‘home’ fight, the nearest he fought to his home city of Philadelphia being when he faced Tomasz ‘Goral’ Adamek in Newark, New Jersey back in 2008.
Ports of call for the former Navy man include Brakpan, South Africa, where he beat former WBU & IBO Cruiserweight Champion Sebastiaan Rothmann, Katowice and Warsaw in Poland, Bielefeld and Neubrandenburg in Germany.
Both of Cunningham’s Championship winning bouts took place in Europe. His first, against Krzysztof ‘Diablo’ Wlodarczyk was at the Spodek in Katowice, Poland on the 26th May 2007. This was Steve’s second trip to Poland to face Wlodarczyk following a highly controversial ‘Home Cooked’ split decision in favour of ‘Diablo’ when they first met in Warsaw for the vacant title some six months earlier.
At the IBF ordered rematch Cunningham plain outboxed Wlodarczyk, as he did the previous time, and in the fourth round forced Wlodarczyk to take to one knee for a count which proved to be just enough to overcome any home advantage Wlodarczyk held and for Cunningham to emerge victorious.
For his first defense the globe trotting Cunningham set sail for Germany and a meeting with Marco “Kapt’n” Huck on the 29th December 2007. Against Huck, the bookies favourite, Cunningham looked stronger, tougher and harder punching than he had either time against Wlodarczyk. Huck was struggling to hold up against Cunningham’s aggressive approach and was being backed up and hurt nearly every round. The final round was an even more one sided affair with Cunningham chasing Huck around the ring throwing heavy right after heavy right until Huck’s corner, with just one minute and 4 seconds to go, threw the towel in the ring to save their charge further punishment or worse still a knockout loss.
Next up for Cunningham was a far shorter trip, just an hour or so train journey from his Philadelphia home, to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to face Jersey City based Polish expat Tomasz “Goral” Adamek. Whilst on paper this could be deemed a home fight for Cunningham to those ringside it felt more an away match due to many Polish fans that had turned out to support their hero.
From the opening bell Cunningham out punched Adamek and looked set to cruise his way through the fight dominating and controlling it in supreme style. However in the second round, just as Cunningham looked to be going for an early finish, Adamek threw a countering hook catching Cunningham with his forearm and sending Cunningham off balance and down to the canvas. Cunningham jumped up in an instant.
Determined to win back the lost points, Cunningham fought even harder and in the fourth had Adamek reeling and rocking. With just seconds to go Adamek, who had barely thrown a punch for almost the whole round, caught the off balance Cunningham and put him on the deck once more. Again Cunningham leaps to his feet after barely touching the canvas.
With two knockdowns against him Cunningham seemed determined to go for a knockout and looked well on his way to getting it when in the eighth the very same thing happened again. Just as Cunningham looked to finish his challenger off after a frantic exchange, Adamek caught a fast back stepping Cunningham off balance to send him down again, Cunningham was up again before the referee could even start the count.
The final rounds were superb Cunningham fought like a demon to try and make up the lost points and Adamek fought hard for survival.
When the final bell rang the consensus of the majority of the press corps was that the champ had done enough to be declared victor or, at least earn a draw to retain his crown. However the judges saw it differently and gave the victory to Adamek by split decision.
This battle was so magnificent that the vast majority of press reports claimed Cunningham-Adamek the all-time best cruiserweight fight and contender for ‘Fight Of The Year 2008’ honours as well as calling for a rematch.
Cunningham’s hopes of a voluntary rematch with Adamek failed to materialise, instead Cunningham was ordered to face former WBC Champion Wayne ‘Big Truck’ Braithwaite, at the BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, Florida on the 11th July 2009, in an IBF final eliminator that decided who will be Tomasz ‘Goral’ Adamek’s mandatory defense later that year.
Cunningham won the fight easily via a twelve round unanimous decision (119-109, 117-111, 118-110) and the scene was set for the long awaited rematch with Adamek.
However, the fight was destined to never happen as Adamek vacated the title and moved to the Heavyweight Division.
Originally Cunningham was set to face Matt ‘Too Smooth’ Godfrey for the now vacated title but due to a rather confusing series of events that first see Don King Promotions pull the plug on the fight closely followed by Main Events’ Kathy Duva coming to the rescue, by taking over the ESPN televised event promotion.
Cunningham continued training throughout, but for some reason Godfrey decided to leave his training camp and subsequently pulled out of the fight.
Shortly after the Godfrey fight fiasco Cunningham’s eight year promotional contract with Don King Promotions came to an end and he signed with German promoters Sauerland Event.
Within a week of signing promotional papers with Sauerland the IBF announced that Troy Ross would be his next opponent following swift negotiations between Sauerland and Ross’ promoter Yvon Michel.
Once again the globe trotting ‘USS’ Cunningham prepared to leave his Philadelphia home and set sail for Europe.
On the 5th June 2010 Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham faced Canada’s Troy ‘The Boss’ Ross, at the Jahnsportforum, Neubrandenburg in Germany, for the vacant IBF Cruiserweight crown.
From the first bell Cunningham dominated the center of the ring using his wickedly fast jabs to keep the shorter Ross at bay. Ross, a seriously tough southpaw, seemed willing to take a few punches in order to get in closer to let off some wicked bombs.
Rounds two and three produced more of the same, although Ross was getting a little more success. The problem for Ross though was that his getting in more also meant he was taking more shots, causing noticeable swelling to his left eye.
Round four produced both a serious problem for Ross, who received a serious cut to the lower eyelid, and a scare for the Cunningham team as they see their man reel backwards and down to the canvas following a straight left to the chest.
Thoughts of a repeat scenario to the Adamek fight were dispelled within minutes as prior to the start of the fifth the referee, Bill Clancy, sent Cunningham to a neutral corner and called for the ringside doctor to check out Ross’ badly cut eye. The doctor had no choice but to stop the fight as it was clear that the Canadian’s eye injury was serious.
Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham was once again the IBF Cruiserweight Champion of the World which brings us nicely to date with Cunningham set to defend his newly regained crown against the seriously tough former IBF Inter-Continental Cruiserweight Champion Enad Licina on Saturday 12th February 2011.
Cunningham will have his hands full with the heavy hitting Licina, who has stopped ten of his opponents, however Cunningham’s 3” height advantage and superior reach, along with his seriously impressive movement and hand speed, could well be hurdles that Licina may not be able to overcome with his shuffling European style, which has been likened to that of Marco Huck – and of course we all know what happened when Cunningham met Huck.
Steve ‘USS’ Cunningham versus Enad Licina for the IBF Cruiserweight World Championship co-headlines with Cuban Yoan Pablo Hernandez versus France’s Steve ‘Centurion’ Herelius for the interim WBA Cruiserweight World title at the RWE Rhein-Ruhr Sporthalle, Muelheim, Germany on Saturday 12th February 2011.
Supporting the two Cruiserweight Championship headliners, at the Sauerland Event promoted show, are ‘King’ Arthur Abraham against Stjepan Bozic in a ten round Super Middleweight clash, Dominik Britsch versus Joe Rea in an eight round Middleweight bout, Francesco Pianeta faces Samir Kurtagic in an eight round Heavyweight contest.
In addition there are three Light Heavyweight bouts – Eduard Gutknecht vs. Oleksandr Cherviak, Karo Murat vs. Christian Cruz and Erik Skoglund vs. Valerijs Rogozins.
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