By Lem Satterfield
Considered the world's No. 1 cruiserweight, IBF champion, Steve Cunningham, of Philadelphia, is trained by Naazim Richardson, the same man who works with former undisputed middleweight champ and recently crowned WBC light heavyweight titlist Bernard Hopkins.
In February, the 34-year-old Cunningham (24-2, 12 KOs) earned his third straight win with a unanimous decision over Serbian-born Enad Licina (20-4, 11 KOs) of Germany at Jahnsportforum, Neubrandenburg, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany.
Licina (20-3, 11 KOs) had won two straight since losing an October, 2009, 12-round unanimous decision to Cuban-born southpaw Yoan Pablo Hernandez (22-1, 12 KOs) of Germany. Licina wa coming off of a November, 2010 unanimous decision over Felix Cora, who had scored three straight knockouts.
Priot to facing Licina, Cunningham had regained the vacant IBF cruiser weight crown with a June, 2010, fifth-round technical knockout of Troy Ross (24-2, 16 KOs). Ross had won his previous 11 fights, eight of them by knockout, and had floored Cunningham in the fourth round.
Cunningham has not lost since December of 2008, when he was dethroned as IBF cruiser weight king by Tomasz Adamek (43-1, 28 KOs) following a split-decision.
Prior to the loss to Adamek, Cunningham had won two straight comprised of a May, 2007, majority decision over Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (45-2-1, 32 KOs) of Poland, and, a December of 2007, 12th-round knockout of Serbian-born Marco Huck (32-1, 23 KOs) of Germany, who are the current WBC and WBO champions, respectively.
The win over Wlodarczyk dethroned him for the IBF belt, avenging a November, 2006, split-decision loss.
Cunningham also already owns an April, 2005 split-decision victory over current WBA titlist Guillermo Jones (37-3-2, 29 KOs).
For this Q&A, BoxingScene.com caught up to Cunningham in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand.
BoxingScene.com: What does Naazim Richardson bring to the table for you as your trainer?
Steve Cunningham: Well, I'm 34 years old, and I'll be 35 on July 15. But like Bernard Hopkins, I'm only getting younger. What Naazim brings to me is something special as an athlete and as a boxer.
Everybody's got their specific trainer. The world calls Freddie Roach the best trainer because of his success with Manny Pacquiao.
But I remember that a while back, they were calling Buddy McGirt the best trainer because of what he was doing with Arturo Gatti. But you have to look at the trainer's overall track record.
A guy like Brother Naazim, he's got a son who is an Olympian and who fought in the Olympics. He's got numerous national titles under his belt. He's got numerous world titles under his belt.
And even with me, he's got a cruiser eight title under his belt. But he's also got Bernard and I'm trying to follow that dude. I'd say that Naazim is the best trainer for me.
I say that he's the best for me because when we get together and we work, it just fits. It's the way we mesh and the way that he articulates things to me. It's like a perfect marriage.
We get together and we're on the same page. He knows his rules, I know the rules, and we know our rules together. It works perfectly. I don't see me working with Freddie Roach and that happening.
I don't see me getting with Buddy McGirt and that happens. It's something that is unique to us. Everybody knows that I trained by myself before I even got with Brother Naazim. I was already a monster.
BoxingScene.com: How long have you been with Brother Naazim?
SC: I've been with him for about two years now, ever since I fought Wayne Braithwaite [unanimous decision in July of 2009,] and then, Troy Ross and then Enad Licina.
BoxingScene.com: What your vision for your future?
SC: For the future, I want to be a heavyweight champion. My next fight, I don't know who it's going to be. But it doesn't matter. I'm not a picker or a chooser.
I don't have an opponent yet. But you can check my resume, I don't duck anybody, but I've been doing it for peanuts and I've beaten all of the other champions already.
And I'm still living in the city. I'm still living in West Philly. I'm not complaining, though. I'm very grateful for what God has done for me in my life.
Hopefully, by the end of this year, we can do a unification bout in this cruiser weight tournament.
BoxingScene.com: Whom do you want to fight?
SC: Man, I'm going to tell you the truth -- it's down to whether or not they want me. I've beat them already. I don't to sound like I'm bragging, but these are just the facts.
I've beaten the WBC champion already, and I've beaten the WBA champ. I've beaten WBO champ. I've beaten all comers, and I'm going to continue to beat them.
I've put it on them, and I'm putting it out there. I want any one of the belt-holders.
BoxingScene.com: How long before you make the move to heavyweight?
SC: Hopefully, by next year at this time I should be a heavyweight. But that's my plan. God knows that he has his own plans. In Jesus' name, he's got his own plans.
But you know, I'm just going to continue to do what I've done, which is to stay in the gym and train and give God the glory.