by David P. Greisman, live from the Liacouras Center, photo by Rich Graessle/Main Events
PHILADELPHIA — Steve Cunningham’s face was a bloody mess, the product of a cut that had been opened over his left eye early and had been punched several times since. He rose from the canvas once, then again, his legs weakened by the heavy shots that had landed, and the man that had thrown those punches was standing just feet away from him, hoping to finishing him off.
The bell rang. Cunningham survived. There were five rounds left. And while some might have thought those five rounds meant plenty more opportunities for Amir Mansour to clobber Cunningham, the experienced boxer used that additional time to recover, dodging wild shots thrown by the crude brawler, scoring a knockdown of his own and fighting his way to a unanimous decision win.
One judge had it 97-90 for Cunningham — seemingly far too wide at nine rounds to one, with two additional points taken from Cunningham from the pair of knockdowns in the fifth, and one point docked from Mansour for the knockdown in the 10th. The other two judges had it 95-92, or seven rounds to three.
This was a crossroads fight between too older heavyweights. Cunningham, 37, had long fought as a cruiserweight and won world titles there before moving up. He’d outpointed Jason Gavern in September 2012, lost a controversial split decision in a rematch with Tomasz Adamek in December 2012, was knocked out by Tyson Fury in April 2013, and then won a decision over Manuel Quezada this past December.
Mansour, 41, had turned pro way back in 1997. But his boxing career halted in 2001. Mansour went away to prison, not returning to the ring again until 2010. He had fought 11 times since then, with a couple of those victories coming against familiar names in Dominick Guinn and Maurice Harris. Yet he was essentially still a prospect, albeit an undefeated one.
He had the advantage in size, though — about the same height as Cunningham, but naturally heavier.
Cunningham sought to box intelligently against Mansour, dodging Mansour’s punches and then picking his spots to land his own shots. It was not quite a matador against the bull, though — the matador can make the bull miss every time. Cunningham couldn’t possibly dodge everything.
Cunningham had been able to land single right hands on the southpaw Mansour, but in the fifth round, Cunningham landed a right uppercut and then got caught with a big right hook. Cunningham just stood there, stunned, and Mansour followed with a second right hook that put Cunningham down hard.
Cunningham rose and referee Steve Smoger looked at him — and then pushed the approaching Mansour back. Cunningham landed another right hand, but Mansour responded with a right hook, then a second, then a third, then some more punches that put Cunningham down for the second time. Cunningham’s head was lying on the bottom rope. He beat the count, got up and was fortunate that the bell ending the round rang within seconds.
If Mansour thought he had Cunningham ready to go in the sixth, then he approached the round the wrong way, sending out home run shots that Cunningham was easily able to avoid, allowing Cunningham to recover.
Cunningham’s legs were back, and his confidence was coming back as well. The right hand continued to land for him. He was making Mansour miss more often than not. And he was able to withstand those punches from Mansour that did land.
Mansour’s left eye was closing, and he was also going late in a fight for just the fourth time in his career. Mansour had gone 10 rounds against Guinn, 12 against Harris and 7 rounds against Kelvin Price. Loading up on missed punches also likely took the steam out of him.
Nevertheless, in the 10th round Mansour landed a left hand as Cunningham approached, knocking Cunningham down. Smoger ruled it a slip, feeling that Cunningham was off-balance. Later, Cunningham landed a right hand, then two more, and Mansour was momentarily hurt, staggering backward, and his glove touched the canvas. As Smoger issued the mandatory eight count, Mansour leaned over the ropes, angry at himself.
In reality, it didn’t matter — the additional point didn’t make a difference on the cards. One judge had only given Mansour the first, second and fifth rounds. Another judge had only given Mansour the first, fifth and eighth rounds. The third judge, Alan Rubenstein, only gave Mansour the fifth round — the round in which he knocked Cunningham down twice.
Cunningham, who was fighting in front of his hometown Philadelphia crowd, improves to 27-6 with 12 KOs. Mansour, who is billed out of Wilmington, Del., and had his own vocal supporters at the arena, falls to 20-1 with 15 KOs.
Pick up a copy of David’s new book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsamazon or internationally at http://bit.ly/fightingwordsworldwide . Send questions/comments via email at [email protected]