Friday, January 20, 2012

The SNB Interview: Steve Cunningham -- Part I

Saturday Night Boxing recently talked to Steve Cunningham, the former two-time cruiserweight champion, in a wide-ranging interview that touched on many aspects of his boxing career and his life outside of the ring.  On February 4th, in Frankfurt, Germany, Cunningham faces Yoan Pablo Hernandez in an IBF-mandated rematch of their first fight, which took place in October, 2011. 

In Part I of the interview, Cunningham discusses the controversial ending of the Hernandez bout, where Hernandez was awarded a technical decision as Cunningham started to establish control of the fight.  Cunningham, a Philadelphian who has fought in Germany, Poland and South Africa, also talks about his experiences fighting overseas, German boxing culture and the unique situation of being an American boxer affiliated with a German promoter.  He also touched on his relationship with Naazim Richardson and how the world-reknown trainer has made improvements to his boxing style. 

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

SNB: You are preparing to face Yoan Pablo Hernandez on February 4th in Germany. My first question for you is how is your German?  It seems like Germany is your second home.  Do you have any good restaurant recommendations?

SC: Yeah. We go to a place called the Blockhouse – Blockhouse Steaks when we are in Berlin.  But the fights are always in a different part of Germany.  This time it’s going to be in Frankfurt.  This will be my first time going to Frankfurt.  With German, we just bought Rosetta Stone, so we’re working on that. We’re trying to learn German better.  Much better (laughs). 

SNB: Let me ask you about the first fight with Hernandez. When the fight was stopped in that nature, what was going through your mind?

SC: When the fight was stopped, we were confused.  You know the first cut [on Hernandez] that happened from accidental head butt was bad.  It was the first round I think.  No, it was the third round.  That cut was bad.  It was bleeding a lot.  I thought the fight might have been stopped because of that.  But when they stopped the bleeding, everything was cool.  So, we continued on and the second cut happened, and there was no bleeding.  There was no bleeding from it.  So when they stopped the fight on the cut, I was thinking it was from the eye cut.  When we saw what they were doing, what it was, I just knew these guys were trying to end it. I knew his trainer was very popular there and really cool with the doctor and some of the judges.

So we asked the ref, “Hey ref, what the call?”  The ref told us initially a technical draw, so we were like, OK, whatever.  But I felt I was winning the fight.  I felt in a few more rounds he would have went down. He was just weak.  When they gave the decision, not that I was blown away, but I was very angry. I felt, “Wow, how could they do this?”

SNB: You are promoted by Sauerland Events, as is Hernandez.  When you see Hernandez’s trainer, Ulli Wegner, who is basically the house trainer for many of Sauerland’s champions, wearing the Team Sauerland jacket in the corner, what’s your reaction to that?

SC: In Europe, the promoter can also be the manager.  Sauerland also manages [Marco] Huck and Hernandez.  When we see that…it’s one of those things.  You know truthfully I’m in Europe because I have to. I’m a cruiserweight. No promoters are willing to pay me what the European promoters are willing to pay.  There’s no television for cruiserweights in America.  I got to go where the exposure is.  I’m there, but I also feel like I am the best cruiserweight in the world.  So they can get as underhanded as they want.  No matter where you go they are going to be underhanded.  Even in America, underhanded things are going on. 

I just feel I’m so much better than these guys that I can beat them even with the help.  I have to think that way (laughs).  What the heck.  Knowing these guys are all together, I know that they got a little bit of the upper hand, if the hand gets shifted.  But it’s our job to work harder in the gym, so it can be obvious to people I won.   

SNB: How would describe your time or your experience fighting under Sauerland?

SC: It’s been good.  We got a real relationship, to an extent.  We signed with them in hopes of getting a rematch, but not totally on the Huck rematch.  Truthfully, the rematch with Huck, I beat him already.  I would love to unify.  If we could have made that happen, that would've been great.  I signed with Sauerland because they got shoe holds.  We already had a fan base in Europe, in Germany, so it made sense.  And then with the possibility of the Huck rematch being made, that was just a great incentive to go ahead and sign.  It’s been cool.  They flew us out to the fight, to watch Huck fight.  We were trying to rev up the Huck rematch.  They do decent business.  It’s just that with every promoter there are ups and downs. 

SNB: I think American boxing fans would be really interested in your experiences with fighting in Germany.  What are the fans like over there?  What’s the boxing culture?  What are some similarities and differences that you’ve noticed? 

SC: The fans really respect boxing.  They respect the fighter.  It’s not about “Oh, that’s a star, or this guy is just a beginner.”  They respect the athlete, which is beautiful across the board.   It not “Oh Floyd’s not fighting, so I don’t care. Or Manny Pacquiao’s not fighting, so who cares.”  It’s not that.  The fans show up to support fighters.  Fights are on television all the time.  It reminds me of the ‘80s with boxing in America, to an extent. 

SNB: Going back to the Hernandez fight for a second, for me, it seems that he did hurt you in the first round with the counter left hand before you established control as the fight progressed.  What adjustments, if any, are you making for the rematch?

SC: With that shot, it was a very good, well-placed shot.  It was one of those things where the trainer says you keep your hand up all the time and you keep your defense up all the time.  You see why, in that situation right there.  We spun.  We turned.  I went for a wide, looping hook.  He went for a straight shot.  The straight shot makes it there first every time.  It was on point.  It hurt me, obviously (laughs).  We got up and the game plan is still the same – just go to work.  And he faded much faster than I thought he would, so it made it easier for me to do what I had to do. 

The game plan [for the rematch] is to win – win at all costs.  But not just win, to rip this title [belt] off his waist.  Go in and establish dominance and to let the world know, let this division know, I am the best cruiserweight in the world.  I have been.  I am and I always will be.  We’re going to rip this belt off of his waist and keep it here.  That’s the game plan.   

SNB: I noticed throughout your career you fought a lot of heavy hitters in the cruiserweight division – guys like Guillermo Jones, Wayne Braithwaite, Troy Ross, Krzysztof Wlodarczyk, Tomasz Adamek and Marco Huck.  Who’s been your toughest opponent in the cruiserweight division and why?

SC: The toughest opponent was Sebastiaan Rothmann. I fought him when I was 16-0 or 14-0 [he was 14-0].

SNB: That was in South Africa, right?

SC: Yeah. It was tough because it was my first trip abroad.  It wasn’t too much of an adjustment getting in.  My thing is if we fight, we fight. It’s getting used to different faces in the crowd.  The altitude was bananas.  The altitude was really off-the-hook.  It was somewhere between 7,000 to 9,000 feet where we fought, something like that. 

He was a good fighter.  He was a former world champion.  He was an IBO world champion and he just lost his title.  He was a very good fighter and we were fighting in his home country.  With the altitude, I felt like I was fighting two people.  It was just unbearable. I pushed through.  From the fourth round on, it was just a push, an extreme push.  But I just wouldn’t be denied.  I kept going and working. 

SNB: I’ve seen a lot of your fights.  I’ve seen you definitely box at times.  I’ve seen you really open up and brawl.  What would you describe your fighting style?  How would you say “this is the way Steve Cunningham fights?”

SC: Some people consider me a boxer-puncher.  I consider myself more of a boxer.  I do crack here and there.  I don’t know.  I let the fans do that.  I know that growing up you let other people say or give you their assessment of what you are doing.  We always get a gauge of what I think I am (laughs), and then someone informs me of this and that. 

Truthfully, I’m just a guy that works hard, who will give it all to win, who will work hard in the gym and even in the offseason to be the best.  I’m still learning.  I feel like I still have room to get better and better and it’s getting better that has got me here. 

SNB: What are some of the changes that Naazim Richardson has made to your style and how has he been different for you than your previous trainers like Richie Giachetti and Anthony Chase?

SC: He’s [Richardson] way better than Giachetti because Giachetti really wasn’t hands on.  Giachetti couldn’t work pads.  Giachetti had been in the business so long that he’s like a stubborn-type trainer.  It’s either this…or nothing else works but my way.

With Naz versus Giachetti, Naz is hands on.  He’s more of a teacher than Giachetti.  He’s more of a friend than Giachetti. He’s someone you trust and you believe him and he shows you this is why it works.  He’s more of a talker and a teacher and explains it.  He does so much and he makes it a mindset.  It’s not just “this is what you do.”  It’s a mindset.  It’s a way of life with Naazim. 

He’s like a step up from Anthony Chase.  Anthony Chase was my amateur trainer.  Me and him have a great relationship; we still do.  It’s just with Anthony Chase, I was his introduction to the professional world title scene, and there were things that he didn’t know that Naz does know, because Naz has been there.  I think he’s a few steps up from Anthony Chase.  Anthony Chase just needs more experience and he’ll get to that level. 

But Naazim, oh man.  He brings a mindset.  He brings weapons that you don’t think you have.  He brings to mind things that you didn’t even know were there.  It’s like a knife if your boot that you forgot about when you’re getting jumped (laughs).  It’s something like that.  Naz is so intelligent and knowledgeable.  It’s unbelievable. 

Part II | Part III

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1 comment:

  1. Fantastic copy, Mr. Abramowitz. Well done.