By Keith Idec
NEW YORK — Their post-fight press conference grew tense Saturday when Steve Cunningham continuously complained that Tyson Fury regularly got away with illegal tactics during their heavyweight fight.
Cunningham seemed most bothered that his brash British opponent used his left forearm to keep Cunningham in position prior to landing the crushing right hand that ended their fight late in the seventh round in The Theater at Madison Square Garden.
“I feel I was a little wronged,” Cunningham said, as Fury sat beside him at ringside. “When they showed me the highlight when they were interviewing me after the fight, it’s like, ‘Wow! It’s a forearm lift-up and the right hook.’ It’s like, ‘Wow! Isn’t that illegal?’ But it’s over.”
Cunningham was winning the fight on two scorecards (77-75, 77-75, 76-76) when referee Eddie Cotton counted Cunningham out at 2:55 of the seventh round. The former cruiserweight champion from Philadelphia had floored Fury with an overhand right early in the second round, but the 6-foot-9, 254-pound Fury reached his feet, regained his senses and kept his unblemished record intact.
Cotton deducted a point from Fury (21-0, 15 KOs) in the fifth round for intentionally head-butting Cunningham in a clinch. Cotton also warned Fury for questionable tactics at other points during their IBF elimination match, which was broadcast by NBC.
“If you look at the tape and you see so many fouls, and all of the shoulders and elbows,” Cunningham said. “He said he couldn’t out-box me. He knew he couldn’t out-box me. He knew he couldn’t beat me like that. So he went and took it to the alley way, [did] some illegal things in there that he got away with. But we’ll see what the [New York State Athletic] Commission says and whatever. But like I said, I fought my heart out. I fight. That’s what I do.”
Cunningham’s complaints might’ve stemmed from his disappointment over suffering the first knockout defeat of his 12-year pro career. His trainer, Naazim Richardson, also acknowledged Fury’s rough tactics, but added that he didn’t fault Fury for doing whatever was necessary to overcome Cunningham (25-6, 12 KOs).
“I knew that he was going to grab [Cunningham], put him in a headlock,” Richardson said. “And don’t get me wrong … I come from the streets. I respect [Fury]. I respect that you do what you’ve got to do sometimes to win. He did what he had to do to win. It’s for someone else to say, ‘Hey, that’s not right.’ That ain’t for him. If [someone] put me on my [butt], I’m going to get up and fight like a wild maniac, too, do whatever I’ve got to do to win.
“This joker looked up and said [Steve is] a small guy, a small guy. The next thing you know, he’s looking up at the lights. He got up and started panicking. He was like, ‘I’ve got to go put my elbow in his throat, step on his toe. I’ve got to do whatever I’ve got to do. I’ve got to get this dude. That’s what happens. We’ve seen guys panic in the ring and bite people. You do whatever you’ve got to do. … Steve is just looking at it from the perspective of he figured somebody was going to do something about it. He figured judges weren’t going to judge those rounds in favor [of Fury]. If you see a guy hold you here and then hit you, you figure judges aren’t going to say that’s a legal blow. That’s what Steve was anticipating, but me, I tell my guys all the time that sometimes in a boxing match a fight breaks out. And that’s what happened. Now, I was surprised that a big man would have to resort to that, based on the things that he told me at the press conference and the other meetings. I was kind of shocked.”
Keith Idec covers boxing for The Record and Herald News, of Woodland Park, N.J., and BoxingScene.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Idecboxing.