After a mixed bag of results as a heavyweight, Steve Cunningham is sliding back down the scale to the 200-pound division—a weight class that seems to suit him better physically and mentally, and where he twice held a world championship.
He's not exactly easing back into the division with a favorable tuneup fight, however.
Steve Cunningham (28-7, 13 KOs) will challenge current 200-pound champion Krzysztof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on April 16. The title bout is the co-feature to the showdown between unbeaten 147-pound contender Errol Spence Jr. and former 140-pound champ Chris Algieri (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT).
Glowacki, a 29-year old southpaw from Poland, comes into this fight after a thrilling comeback in his most recent bout. Facing longtime world champion Marco Huck in August, Glowacki rose from a devastating sixth-round knockdown, battled back and floored Huck in a vicious 11th-round knockout. The contest was widely recognized as a 2015 Fight of the Year candidate, and the sixth round was on many Round of the Year lists.
Huck was going for a record 14th consecutive title defense before Glowacki derailed him. Prior to that bout, Cunningham was the last 200-pound fighter to defeat Huck, stopping him via 12th-round TKO in December 2007.
Cunningham witnessed Glowacki’s dramatic victory, as he faced Antonio Tarver in the main event on the same card at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. In that 12-round heavyweight match, the two veteran boxers fought to a split draw, after which the 39-year-old Cunningham made a career decision.
“Right after the Tarver fight, I was like, ‘Wow, if I can’t inflict enough damage to beat this 47-year-old, sloppy-looking guy, then I need to do something else,’” says Cunningham, who went 4-3-1 with one knockout as a heavyweight. “I was thinking I needed to either sit down permanently or make a move back down to cruiserweight. I only weighed 204 pounds [for the Tarver fight], so really I was barely a heavyweight.”
Before the Tarver bout, Cunningham lost a unanimous decision to heavyweight contender Vyacheslav Glazkov in a bout many ringside observers thought Cunningham deserved to win.
“With me losing those fights, it just felt as if the judges weren’t respecting me as a heavyweight,” Cunningham says. “I was doing damage and had demonstrated numerous times that size means nothing, but they just didn’t respect me in that division.”
“ Right after the Tarver fight, I was like, ‘Wow, if I can’t inflict enough damage to beat this 47-year-old, sloppy-looking guy, then I need to do something else. ” Steve Cunningham
Cunningham’s departure from the heavyweight ranks coincides with Tyson Fury’s world title-winning victory over Wladimir Klitschko in November. That’s worth noting because Cunningham fought the 6-foot-9 Fury in 2013.
Fury entered the ring that night with a 44-pound weight, six-inch height and six-inch reach advantage over Cunningham. Despite that, the U.S. Navy veteran dropped Fury in the second round, but he couldn’t finish him off, as Fury got up and prevailed by seventh-round TKO.
With three years of experience as a heavyweight under his belt, Cunningham believes he is more than ready to handle the powerful Glowacki.
“Glowacki’s a good, tough fighter who is a strong southpaw and brings the heat, so we’re going to prepare for a monster,” says Cunningham, who is coached by veteran trainer Naazim Richardson. “I’m an intelligent fighter, and I believe that his rugged style plays right into our hands. If we need to go and mix it up with this guy, then we can do that and be successful.”
One thing Cunningham won’t have to worry about against Glowacki is being on the wrong end of a stark weight disparity, which was always the case when he fought as a heavyweight. He weighed 207 for his heavyweight debut in 2012, a unanimous decision over 239-pound journeyman Jason Gavern. Three months later, he was 203 pounds for a disputed split-decision loss to a 223-pound Tomasz Adamek.
“Keeping the weight on was an issue,” says Cunningham, who weighed a career-high 210 pounds against the 254-pound Fury. “As a cruiserweight, I was always barely making 200, because I love being in shape and I train all the time. But as a heavyweight, I had to do things that I hadn’t really done before just to maintain the weight.
“I had to eat a lot, drink a lot of milk, lift a lot more weights, all of these things, and I would still barely weigh more than 205 or 206.”
Cunningham hasn’t fought at 200 since losing consecutive fights to Yoan Pablo Hernandez in late 2011 and early 2012. But the Philadelphia native still has a 24-4 record with 13 knockouts in the division, and welcomes the opportunity to return after a four-year absence.
“I was disgusted with myself for not being able do more against Tarver,” Cunningham says. “Regardless of how my heavyweight career ended, I knocked down a guy [Fury] who is now the heavyweight champion. I did a lot of things that people didn’t believe I could do.”
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