With his chiseled, bodybuilder-type physique, Steve Cunningham looks like he could move to Hollywood and carve out a career as a cinematic superhero when his boxing days are done.
But while acting isn’t expected to be part of Cunningham’s future, his days as a superhero might just be beginning to take flight.
Pursuing a passion that originated when he was a schoolboy, Steve “USS” Cunningham is the creator of USS Comics, which feature the two-time 200-pound world champion as an illustrated superhuman.
In his comics, Cunningham is a Navy sailor who is transformed into a super soldier after being recruited for an experimental program.
“This rogue captain uses me as the guinea pig. I get these powers from a super serum, and I have no secret identity,” says Cunningham, who actually served in the Navy as an aviation boatswain’s mate from 1994-98 before beginning his pro boxing career. “I’m more like an undisguised Captain America. The serum enhances my abilities: extra speed, strength and sight.”
Cunningham, 39, became infatuated with comics as a kid and filled sketchbooks with his drawings growing up in Philadelphia. He dreamed of studying art in college, but instead ended up joining the Navy after high school, although he never abandoned his dreams of becoming an artist.
“When I was a kid, my older brother, Jermaine, was an artist, so you try to do what your older brother does. My mom, Jackie, was also an artist, and with that being in the family, I was an observant little guy who tried to imitate,” Cunningham says.
“I drew Transformers, G.I. Joes, cartoons and superheroes, and when high school came along, I was an art major. My initial idea was to graduate high school and go to an art college for graphic design, because I was so into drawing.”
In his USS Comics, Cunningham draws parallels between his real-life opponents in the ring and the fictional super villains in his stories.
"I’ve taken a piece of every guy that I fought during my cruiserweight career and made them villains,” he says. "I’m taking in-fight photos and making them the fight scenes for when I fight the villains.”
Cunningham (28-7-1, 13 KOs) looks to add to that narrative after he challenges 200-pound world champion Krzysztof Glowacki (25-0, 16 KOs) at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday night (NBC, 8:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. PT). It will mark Cunningham’s return to that weight class after four years of competing as a heavyweight.
Two of Cunningham’s past opponents already have found their way into his comics as super villains: Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, who split a pair of 200-pound title fights with Cunningham, and Tomasz Adamek, who defeated the Navy veteran twice.
“Wlodarczyk is ‘Diablo,’ which is the nickname he goes by in the ring. So he’s a guy who looks like the devil with these chains that have balls with spikes on them," Cunningham says. "‘Metallico’ is Tomasz Adamek. I hit that guy with the kitchen sink, and he just wouldn’t move.
“From those fights, I made Adamek to be basically a man of metal, sort of like Colossus from X-Men. He and Diablo are two of the coolest to draw. Once I deal with the originals characters, I’ll have space for others. So there are possibilities for a Krzysztof Glowacki character.”
For complete coverage of Glowacki vs Cunningham, visit our fight page.