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USS Cunningham Hopes to Stay Afloat vs. Amir Mansour

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In his fifth fight in the heavyweight division, 37-year-old Steve “USS” Cunningham, 26-6 (12), is in a crossroads bout. Pitted against fellow Main Events stablemate USBA titlist Amir Mansour, 20-0 (15), a 41-year-old “prospect,” Cunningham is fighting for Mansour’s belt, a higher ranking and a shot at a world title. The bout will be televised live on Friday from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the NBC Sports Network. The bout is co-promoted by Main Events and Peltz Boxing in association with BAM Boxing and Joe Hand Promotions. Imagine that. Boxing promoters working together.
 
The fight is a bit of a risk for both men and companies. Mansour is rising quickly in the rankings and is becoming a TV favorite. Cunningham is an established brand making a run in a division in which fortunes can rise and fall with one punch.

“The guy who holds the belt is guaranteed a top-10 ranking, so that is something Steve is going to be after,” Kathy Duva of Main Events told Maxboxing.com, Monday afternoon. “What it does for their career is it keeps them active. It keeps them in the news. It keeps them relevant. We’ve never been a fan of having fighters sit and wait for an opportunity to come and find them. We want to go out and pursue those opportunities. And the way you do that is to give people exposure. And to let them do what they do: box. It’s hard, I think, for athletes to sit out a year or two years, six months between opportunities to fight, so we need to keep them active. We need to give great programming to NBC. Amir has a very short window to prove he is a viable heavyweight. Steve wants to get that top-10 ranking.”
 
With former WBC heavyweight titleholder Vitali Klitschko retired, his belt is now vacant. His brother, Wladimir, the established heavyweight champ, who holds the remainder of the belts, surely is close to ending his reign. Let the battle for vacant straps begin.
 
“There is a point that we are seeing where Vitali is retired. His title is up for grabs now. I can’t imagine Wladimir Klitschko is much further behind. I think there are a lot of good heavyweights that will be jockeying for position for those vacant titles. So moving up in ranking is very important right now because it could be a year or two or even less before all the titles are open and I think that is what everyone is thinking,” said Duva.
 
“I expect [preparation] from [Mansour], I expect him to come prepared. You know, we sparred together before and he kind of knows a bit of what I am going to bring. We believe he knows I am a better athlete and a better boxer, so I believe he is going to be prepared for something special. What I expect to bring or am thinking of bringing or want to bring is the best Steve Cunningham that anyone has ever seen as a heavyweight. Especially with a powerhouse like Mansour, that’s typical Steve Cunningham right there: going against the odds,” laughed Cunningham, Monday evening. “I’ve faced [Tomasz] Adamek as a heavyweight, all these things, fighting in Germany but still I was successful in areas. I am going to have ultimate success against Mansour and that’s what I plan to do.”
 
Mansour is a young 41 in terms of experience. He’s boxed a mere 68 rounds to Cunningham’s 229 rounds, the latter against the likes of Tomasz Adamek, Tyson Fury and Marco Huck. Cunningham has been overseas and in deep water. Mansour is stepping up to that level.
 
“Oh, yeah. Experience, especially when they are calling me a ‘boxer’ and him a ‘boxer/puncher.’ When you have a boxer vs. a hardcore stone-cold puncher, yeah, the experience is what can tilt the scales or should tilt the scales. My thing is staying to the game plan and keeping it going for 10 rounds if it goes 10 rounds. I want to get in and literally do things that people didn’t know I could do to this guy,” said Cunningham.
 
Cunningham is familiar with Mansour, of course having sparred him in 2010 but experience will be a key factor. However, it can be argued that Mansour got the better look since Cunningham was the more complete fighter at the time.
 
“We sparred a few times on two different occasions. It was some good work,” said Cunningham, who acknowledged that Mansour can punch. “Just because of the sparring, I am not basing a win just for that solely. Sparring is sparring. It was 2010. He was just getting out of jail but it does get you look at a guy and it gives you a feel. But 10-ounce gloves, anything can happen and that’s why I can’t let anything happen.”
 
Cunningham does watch tape but admitted he has not spent a lot of time watching tape of Mansour. The sparring session and simply watching his last fights was enough. When it comes to his game plan, Cunningham leaves it up to his corner to work it out. Execution is up to the fighter.
 
“The rest of the tape watching is for my trainers, Buddy Osborne and Brother Naazim [Richardson]. They come to me and go, ‘Hey, this is what we need to do. When he does this, we need to do this. When he steps like this, we need to do this to make this happen.’ Boom, that’s the game plan. The trainers, they cook the formula up. I’m just the…I don’t want to say ‘test dummy’ but I’m the ‘monkey.’ I gotta go out there and fly into space before the humans to see if there are aliens or stuff so they can do their stuff on me,” he said, laughing. “The game plan is the game plan and they shoot me up with the game plan, I have to go out there and perform,” said Cunningham.
 
Mansour is an awkward southpaw with what appears to be real power. Cunningham is a former two-time cruiserweight champ now fighting at heavyweight. While he is the bigger man at 6’3” with an 82” reach to Mansour’s 6’1”, 74” reach, Mansour is the heavyweight puncher here.
 
“There is a big difference when you get to the Wladimirs and Tyson Furys and Vitalis,” said Cunningham of moving up to heavyweight, “but even then, they can be beat. They can be handled; they can be dealt with, with the right game plan and such and such. Me, fighting Fury, he knows how to be a big man. He knows and he used that against me and it worked for him. Being a heavyweight, my main thing was getting up to 210 and that’s basically where I want to stay. 210 to 212 and I don’t want to be higher than that. I know I already have power, which people don’t believe me but I showed that against Fury. If I didn’t have power, Adamek would have walked right over me.”
 
If Cunningham can keep the fight long distance and walk Mansour into shots, he has a very good chance of winning.
 
“I need to be Steve Cunningham in this fight and just like you said, I need to be fundamental. I need to be fundamentally sound against a southpaw and a puncher,” explained Cunningham. “I think he is going to try and box with me, which, if he does that, we’ll see. We got something for everything. This is about me, Steve Cunningham, doing what I have to do as long as this fight lasts.”
 
A regional belt to improve his standing and a second win in a row following two tough losses to Tomasz Adamek (in a close one) and a stoppage at the hands of Fury, could do a lot for Cunningham. He had no illusions about what this fight means, pointing out he does not look any further than the fight in front of him. Winning and doing it in high style is what Friday night is all about.
 
“It’s about all of that,” said Cunningham, “improving my position and getting a belt. It’s also about looking impressive because when you look impressive, then you get the big look from HBO, then you get the big-money possibilities. I don’t want to penny-pinch at any point in my career, so I need to look impressive also.”
 
You can email Gabriel at maxgmontoya@gmail.com, follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/gabriel_montoya and catch him every Monday on “The Next Round” with Steve Kim, now at its new home, www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround or via iTunes subscription at https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/leave-it-in-ring-radio-blog/id316004573?mt=2. You can also tune in to hear him and co-host David Duenez live on the BlogTalk radio show www.Leave-It-In-The-Ring.com, Thursdays at 5-8 p.m., PT.
 
 
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