Saturday, January 28, 2012

The SNB Interview: Steve Cunningham -- Part III

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 III of the interview, Cunningham talks about the Philadlephia gym scene and recounts his memorable fight with Tomasz Adamek.  Cunningham also discusses his work with at-risk youth in Philadelphia and reveals what he wants to accomplish in boxing before he retires.
Here is Part I and Part II of the interview.

Interview by Adam Abramowitz

SNB:  I know you've sparred with a lot of Philadelphians, like Eddie Chambers and Yusaf Mack.  What’s the Philadelphia gym scene like these days and what does the phrase “Philly fighter” mean to you?

SC:  The gym scene is a lot smarter, more intelligent.  It’s guys who understand the business of boxing.  You got Mike Jones.  You got [Teon] Kennedy.  Philly's got a lot of up-and-coming guys: Danny Garcia, Eddie, myself, Yusaf.  You have other guys that you probably haven’t heard of as well – Hank Lundy.  These guys are winners.  Fighters now are business-minded more so than they were, and intelligent in the ring.  We’re more like a family here in Philly.  Of course, we spar each other.  I spar Eddie, Yusaf, Chazz [Witherspoon].  We’re like brothers.  We know we got to get in and work with each other, but we love each other.  It’s a family.

The Philly fighter to me now is a little bit as it is always has been – a rugged, underestimated, tough, intelligent boxer.  That’s a Philly fighter to me.  You know a lot of people, they hear "Philly," they say Philly gym wars.  That happens here and there, but not like the old days.  We’re smarter fighters now.  The Philly fighter is intelligent, business-minded, but he’s underestimated though.  That’s Philly.  They’ll call you for a fight and you steal the show.    

SNB:  You fought many of your biggest fights overseas. What was the feeling for you when you finally had that U.S.-televised appearance against [Tomasz] Adamek, which was close enough to home that your friends and family could be there to support you?

SC:  That was great, man.  That was like a dream come true, to an extent.  Thanks to HBO, actually the Versus network – but still, that did what it had to do.  I had friends there.  I had family there.  I had people from church. It was crazy.  It was unbelievable.  I was very happy to have that opportunity.  I’m thanking the Lord for that.   

When you go overseas, you think, “This guy’s good.” You always say that.  “He can beat me if, if, if.”  But then, when you go overseas, you got to deal with fighting the fighter and fighting the politics. At least, fighting at home, I thought it wasn’t going to be like that. 

With the Adamek fight, I was so hyped.  I was happy.  I was on a high.  I felt Adamek couldn’t beat me and I think that was my downfall with him.  I underestimated him a little bit.  He did what he was supposed to do and he got the victory, but that overall thing for me was that I gave 110% or 100%. I wasn’t mad at my performance that much – just the knockdowns did it.  I wasn’t mad; I was just mad at losing my belt. 

With the outpouring of respect and the love I got just for showing the heart…people think that’s something that I decided to do right there – pull the heart out.  That’s who I am.  “You’ve got to pull the heart out right now.  He just knocked me down, I got to fight.”  No, that’s who Cunningham is and I’ve always been [that way].  That was a big opportunity for me.  It did wonders for me, actually – even in the loss. 

SNB:  You’ve been a two-time champion.  You’ve traveled the world.  What’s been your best moment in boxing so far?

SC:  In the ring, or who I’ve beaten, or just best moment overall?

SNB:  What’s the one thing that you are proudest of or the one thing that you think about where you said, “I did this?”

SC:  That’s pretty easy.  I work with these kids down at the Rock Ministries gym in Philadelphia.  It’s a gym that basically brings kids off the streets to help them learn to box.  Also, it teaches them about Christ.  My best moment is just having these guys.  This is the roughest part of Philadelphia right here.  This place is in the heart of it.  You come out from Bible Study and you got dudes hustling crack ten feet away from the building.  It’s a zoo down there, but this is where a place like this is needed. 

Me being a part of this building and being a part of this ministry has been uplifting for me.  It helps drive me too.  It’s like, “Wow, these kids see a champ in a place like this.”  They go nuts and they really respect it.  You can see it in their eyes. Then, it takes me back.  This is where I grew up, so it takes me back.  Wow.  What if – when I was coming up, we had Sugar Ray Leonard; in basketball, we had David Robinson – what if David Robinson lived in my city and came to my gym when I was little?  I’d have went nuts.  That would’ve just been awesome! 

To be able to talk to these dudes and to just hear some of them and tell them what I think, that’s been so uplifting.  That’s basically been a big part of my career, a big, uplifting part of my career…the response that I get to just being a champion – what you can do with being a champion, the good stuff you can do with it.

SNB:  Before you retire, what would you like to accomplish in boxing?

SC:  There are a couple of things. I haven’t tasted big checks.  People would think that a two-time world champion has...I still feel that there’s a lot I want to accomplish.  Of course, making “x” amount of money would be awesome.  Make a million-dollar fight would be great. [laughs]  That would be sick.  To win a heavyweight world title from cruiserweight would be beautiful.  There’s a lot of on my list.  To unify, to be recognized as the best cruiserweight of all time, that’s my goal.  I want to try to do better than Evander [Holyfield] did.  That’s my goal.  There’s a long list.  Hopefully, we’ll just start chipping away at it.       

SNB:  I’ve read that you’ve been a male model.  You’ve opened a pizza shop.  I’ve actually seen you on ESPN when you did your guest spot of Friday Night Fights.  What do you see yourself doing when your career is over?  You seem to have a lot of options.

SC:  What we are doing now with the amount of money, with the little bit we make as champion, we invest in real estate.  We got a couple of properties.  We got a pizza shop.  We got an apartment.  We just bought another home at auction.  We try to do that a little more to help revitalize the neighborhood and to give us steady income.  So once boxing’s over, we’ve got our plans about how many properties we want that would bring in “x” amount of dollars per month.  If we can more, that would be awesome.  Even beyond that though, I see me getting a little deeper into ministry.  I see that happening.

Part I | Part II     

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