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STEVE 'USS' CUNNINGHAM

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 15, 1976

Height: 6' 3" Weight: 194 (Cruiserweight) Record: 21-1, 11 KOs

 

Steve "USS" Cunningham was born and raised in Philadelphia and started boxing when he joined the Navy straight out of high school in 1994.

While fueling jets and helicopters on Navy aircraft carriers in the Navy [until 1998], Steve tried out for the All-Navy Boxing Team. In his first amateur fight, he defeated the All-Navy Light Heavyweight Champion, a harbinger of great things to come. After successfully representing the Navy in numerous boxing tournaments, Cunningham was at the end of his enlistment and decided to attempt to earn a berth on the Men's U.S. Olympic Team. After losing a controversial bout in the 2000 USA National Boxing Championship quarterfinals opposing the reigning light heavyweight world champion Michael Simms Jr., Cunningham decided to become a professional prizefighter.

Steve started his pro career in October 2000 and subsequently ripped through 11 opponents in just 11 months, scoring eight stoppages including an imposing run of four consecutive first-round knockouts.

Longtime champion trainer Richie Giachetti, who was in Virginia training former world heavyweight champion Oliver "The Atomic Bull" McCall, saw Cunningham in the gym in 2002. "I liked what I saw in Steve," Giachetti said. "He's tall, has a long reach, and doesn't mind taking direction because he was a sailor."

Not only did Giachetti immediately begin training Cunningham, but he later bought out Cunningham's contract to become his manager as well. "Steve was a kid that had talent-he reminds me a lot of the young Larry Holmes-but he was confused about how to move to the next level. He was at a crossroads. He needed direction and somebody to believe in him. I decided it would be me."

One of Giacheti's first moves was to have Don King become Cunningham's promoter. "Don and I both knew the best path to take with a fighter like Steve. In fact, we used a similar plan to the one that made Larry Holmes world champion: Fighting good opponents, working hard in the gym, and forging a close bond between me and Steve. A fight fighter needs that to succeed."

On March 29, 2003, Steve realized a boyhood dream when he won a unanimous decision over Demetrious Jenkins (21-8-1) in his hometown of Philadelphia in a bout that took place at the world-famous Spectrum.

On May 22, 2004, The "USS" rolled into Brakpan, South Africa, where he won a majority decision over world-rated Sebastian Rothmann (17-2-2) on Rothmann's home soil.

Steve made the biggest appearance of his career to date on the undercard of Felix "Tito" Trinidad vs. Ricardo "El Matador" Mayorga at Madison Square Garden on Oct. 2, 2004. He took on the very capable Forrest Neal (16-4) and disposed of him by knockout in round four.

Still undefeated, Cunningham continued his winning ways in 2005, notching his most impressive victories yet. On April 2 he showed his boxing skills and versatility by winning a split decision over the legendary tough Panamanian Guillermo "El Felino" Jones (31-2-2) in Worcester, Massachusetts.

A rising star, Cunningham proved his mettle again on Sept. 3, 2005, in a dominating performance against former International Boxing Federation champion Kelvin "Konkrete" Davis (21-3-1) for the IBF No. 1 ranking. Cunningham put on a boxing clinic that frustrated the former champion, causing Davis to resort to throwing bombs in vain attempts to catch the quick-boxing and elusive Cunningham. Davis was clearly outmatched, ending up on the losing side of a unanimous 12-round decision with one judge scoring the match 118-110 and the two remaining judges at 117-111.

The next goal for Cunningham was to stay undefeated and to win a world title. He eyed the competition on the same card where IBF champion O'Neil "Supernova" Bell defeated World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council unified cruiserweight world champion Jean-Marc Mormeck at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 7, 2006, becoming the first undisputed world cruiserweight champion since Evander "The Real Deal" Holyfield held that distinction in 1988. Cunningham dominated slick veteran Lloyd "Jabba" Bryan and scored a technical knockout in round five.

Cunningham called out Bell after his match at the post-fight press conference. Bell said he was willing to take on all comers, but he didn't fight for 14 months and was stripped of the IBF crown. The IBF subsequently ordered the No. 1 -ranked Cunningham to take on the leading available contender Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (36-1, 27 KOs), from Poland.

Wlodarczyk's promoter, Warriors Boxing, won a purse bid and promoted the first-ever world championship match in Poland at Warsaw's Torwar Sports Hall on Nov. 25, 2006.

Several irregularities emerged during fight week, the most prominent of which were the assignment of officials for the match. A German, an Italian and an American were supposed to judge the fight. The Polish commission said they wanted to have a Pole judge the fight.

The German judge was supposed to step aside in favor of the Pole until it was discovered that the Italian judge shared the same last name as Cunningham's trainer, Giachetti, even though there was no relation. The German judge was re-instated in place of the Italian judge and a Pole, who had never judged a world championship fight, Wlodzimierz Kromka, was given the assignment even though he was never approved by the IBF.

Cunningham boxed strongly for 12 rounds in a tough fight that the American judge Charles Dwyer saw as a landslide win for Cunningham at 119-109. The German judge Wallfried Rollert favored the Wlodarczyk 116-112 as did Kromka at 115-113.

The split-decision win for Wlodarczyk outraged Cunningham and his camp. "This is my livelihood," Cunningham said after the fight. "This is how I put food on my table. Despite all the factors working against me, I won the fight.

"I demand an immediate rematch. This time let's do in the States. He may have gotten the decision and maybe he has that belt but I know I am the champion."

Cunningham won the right to an immediate rematch after it was revealed the mandatory anti-doping tests were not administered after the fight according to the rules of the IBF. Cunningham also decided to part amicably with Giachetti and Anthony Chase, who has worked with Cunningham in Philadelphia since he was an amateur, took over as trainer. The rematch with Wlodarczyk took place on May 26 in Katowice, Poland.

Cunningham, as he did in the first fight, came out strong. Throwing even more punches than he did in their first fight while the Pole's output dropped to mostly single punches, Cunningham dropped Wlodarczyk in the fourth round. In the end, Cunningham did more than his rival and won a majority decision by scores of 116-112, 115-112 and 114-114 to become the I BF cruiserweight champion. "I had fun in there today," Cunningham said after the fight. "I knew he didn't have what it takes to beat me. Today just solidified what we have been saying all along, that I was the better man in the first fight.

"This has been a long hard road and we stuck to the game plan and proved to some naysayers that said we had to knock him out to win this belt."

Undaunted by the possibility of inequities when fighting outside America and wanting to be a true world champion, Cunningham agreed to face undefeated Marco "Captain" Huck, who had just scored a majority-decision victory over then-undefeated Vadim Tokarev in an IBF elimination bout to determine the No. 1 -ranked mandatory challenger.

To make matters worse, the fight was staged in Huck's adopted hometown of Bielefeld, Germany on Dec. 29. The hometown and German advantages led to the champion Cunningham being a four-to-one betting underdog leading up to the fight. "I have fought outside America before, so it's not like I don't know what I'm getting into," Cunningham said. "I know what I have to do to win and I will."

Huck, 23, knew he was in with a strong boxer in Cunningham, so he came out early looking for an opening to land his big right hand. Huck landed some strong punches, but Cunningham took them and gave as well as he got. "Some people thought Huck was giving me problems, but I didn't really have trouble with him at the start," Cunningham said. "I was just smarter."

Cunningham may have dropped some early rounds, but his jab was always effective, and he used his experience and defensive skills to keep his aggressor at bay. Cunningham stepped up the pressure in the seventh round, delivering strong combinations that included telling uppercuts and body punches that produced bleeding from Huck's left ear. Both fighters emptied their arsenals in the 11 th round with power punches being thrown at will. At the end of the round, Cunningham flurried with a barrage of blows punctuated by a staggering uppercut that sent Huck reeling. Both fighters threw caution to the wind in the 12 th and final round and went for the knockout. In the middle of the round, Cunningham began to land unanswered combinations against an exhausted but still-standing Huck, whose corner wasn't as brave as the fighter. Trainer Ulli Wegner wisely threw in the towel at the 1:56 mark.

"He hit me a couple of times but as a world champion you have to be able to take a few punches," Cunningham said after the fight. "I knew I was stronger mentally and physically and I have trained really hard. Huck has no reason to be embarrassed of himself. He fought a great fight, but there is no stopping me."

 

OUTSIDE THE RING... Steve is a successful model as he has been featured in ad campaigns for Target and is represented by Renegade Model Management... Steve has been featured on The Travel Channel program "24 Hours In Philadelphia"... Steve enjoys Paintball, Xbox/video games and movies...

Steve has been married for four years to his wife Elizabeth and has two children, [Little] Steve Jr., 4, and Kennedy, 1 1/2.

In November 2007, Cunningham and his wife took over a popular West Philadelphia eatery and named it USS Cunningham Pizza.

"This is a great opportunity to invest in the community," Cunningham said. "Everyone knows I love Philadelphia and this is a way I can show my roots run deep. This is where I want to be now and after my boxing career ends."

Cunningham's daughter Kennedy was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and endured two surgeries just after birth. In HLHS, the left side of the heart-including the aorta, aortic valve, left ventricle and mitral valve-is underdeveloped. She spent the first year of her life in the hospital with a tube in her throat and had a third surgery. The Cunninghams were told originally that she would have surgery and come home in a month, but there were complications. It was a difficult time for the young family.

Kennedy finally came home in September 2006 and is expected long term to live a normal life, although she still has one more surgery to undergo at the age of three. Steve, a deeply religious man, is grateful to have kept his family together during and after this long ordeal.

 

For more information log onto www.usscunningham.com

 

 

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