By Jake Donovan
It wasn’t at all pretty, but Tyson Fury’s stateside debut came with a picturesque ending. The unbeaten heavyweight overcame an early knockdown and a point deduction to knock out Steve Cunningham in the seventh round of their main event Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Fury earns a #2 ranking with the IBF, which will now lead to a final eliminator against Kubrat Pulev to determine the next mandatory challenger for lineal heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko.
The crowd on hand made it clear – in voice and thin representation – that Fury was nowhere nearly as popular or even liked as he believes (or lets on to be the case. The 6’9” heavyweight was booed from the start by the sparse but vocal patrons in attendance and throughout the main event.
Cunningham – who proudly served his country in the US Navy – fed off of the emotion, jumping out to a quick start. Even if he didn’t win the round, the American forced a furious pace if for no other reason than to force his hulking opponent to unnecessarily expend energy.
Fury spent most of the round taunting his opponent while his hands were down below his waist. Both fighters made their presence felt, though Fury’s bully intentions were clear when he shoved Cunningham at the end of the round.
The best way to handle a bully is to simply punch him in the face. Cunningham did just that in a big way in the second round, scoring with an overhand right to send Fury crashing to the canvas.
The sequence caused Fury – who had six inches in height and 44 lb. of body weight on the former cruiserweight king – to finally use his size advantage. Any hint of infighting was met with the British slugger of Irish descent leaning on Cunningham, but never really reclaiming momentum.
His adrenaline running high following the scored knockdown, Cunningham stayed the course. Lateral movement was complemented by ripping body shots and the occasional overhand right. Fury’s only true defense was to clinch and lean on his smaller foe.
The unbeaten heavyweight enjoyed a big moment in the fourth, scoring with a right hand to frustrate Cunningham. However, the rally was momentarily stalled when he was docked a point in round five for headbutting while in the inside. Fury managed to regain his composure and take control of the round, with Cunningham showing visible signs of fatigue for the first time in the fight.
Veteran trainer Naazim Richardson recognized his fighter beginning to slow down and found a way to sneak in an unofficial time out. Round six was delayed by nearly a minute after the trainer took his time redoing the tape around Cunningham’s left glove.
It hardly did him any good. Fury took over the fight for good and never looked back. Cunningham simply couldn’t keep the bigger man off of him, with it all catching up to him in violent fashion. Consecutive uppercuts froze Cunningham, leaving him a sitting duck for a final overhand right to send him crashing to the canvas.
“Him putting his weight on me,” was Cunningham’s observation in the determining factor. “He kept leaning on me. I couldn’t keep him off me. It was like fighting two people in there.”
The official time was 2:54 of round seven.
Fury improves to 21-0 (15KO), though still has a way to go before winning over fans in the United States. The 6’9” contender has all of the charisma in the world, but his pre-fight arrogance proved offputting in quite a few circles. He attempted to atone for that with humor and even song during his post-fight interview.
A replay revealing the second round knockdown was met with a witty quip. “I slipped,” Fury joked before analyzing the sequence. “No, I got caught with a big swinging right hand. It was a learning experience.”
Cunningham isn’t quite afforded the same luxury. At age 36 and with 13 years in service, the Philly native could be looking at the bitter end of a career that has covered all four corners of the globe. The former lineal cruiserweight king falls to 25-6-1 (12KO), having now lost three of his last four.
One of the losses was a highly controversial decision to Tomasz Adamek last December. There was nothing controversial about Saturday’s outcome, even if the fight ending sequence wasn’t 100% squeaky clean.
“I think he caught me with that right hook,” Cunningham accurately recalled. “He's sitting there leaning on me and caught me, That's illegal, but whatever. He won.”
Fury believes there is a concrete reason why.
“A good big one will always beat a good little one.”
Fury will eventually have to beat some good big ones to prove his worth in a heavyweight division that still appears to be a two-horse (read: Klitschko) race.
In the afternoon’s televised co-feature, resurgent middleweight Curtis ‘Showtime’ Stevens scored a unanimous decision over Derrick Findley. Scores were 78-74 (twice) and 79-73 in a rare lengthy bout for Stevens (24-3, 17KO), who scored back-to-back 1st round knockouts to make for only 3 ½ minutes of ring action in the past three years.
Both bouts aired live on NBC in the United States.