By Jake Donovan
Tyson Fury and Steve Cunningham were in New York City to hype up their April 20 fight at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden, which will air live mid-afternoon on NBC. Things went relatively smooth for the majority of Thursday’s press conference, with both fighters appreciative of what the other brings to the table
Fury applauded Cunningham for accepting a fight that few others wanted, a fact the former cruiserweight champion cited as the very reason he immediately agreed to terms.
The closest that Cunningham came to disrespecting anyone was his openly questioning the means in which ringside judges approach their job. The commentary was warranted, given his receiving the short end of the stick in a highly controversial points loss to Tomasz Adamek last December, which also aired live on NBC.
The afternoon shaped up to be one where both camps would exchange pleasantries with one another and do all of their talking in the ring. But there was something about the presence of a charismatic 6’9” heavyweight playing the media room that disallowed for such a low key conclusion.
Fury sensed it, and it merely took one comment for the ball to get rolling and for the final ten minutes or so to turn the event into something worth discussing for the next five weeks leading all the way into fight night.
“I’m wondering if the bottom of Steve’s boots have been sponsored,” Fury (20-0, 14KO) wondered aloud, suggesting that Cunningham will eventually land flat on his back, with the soles of his boxing shoes then visible to the crowd.
“As there’s going to be a lot of people watching around the world, I’d like to put my Twitter account on the bottom of them to get more fans around the world to follow me on Twitter. I was wondering how much it was going to cost me to sponsor them.”
Cunningham then felt compelled to retract his previous statement, where he suggested that he’d rather train than talk.
“See here’s what we have here,” Cunningham (25-5, 12KO) began to explain. “Like I said, I grew up in Philadelphia, right in the cusp of kids from fist-fighting to guns. That’s way before I stepped into the gym. I started boxing at age 19 (in the United States Navy), all of this happened when I was 13, 14 years old.
“Back then there was a code and it still rings true today. The guys who talk a lot – they’re chumps. That’s why I’m not going to talk all that – Twitter, sponsorship, all that junk. Ain’t none of that gonna help you on April 20.”
In one fell swoop, both fighters went from viewing the fight as the biggest opportunity of their respective careers, to dismissing the other’s credentials.
“The only reason this dude is winning fights is because he’s big. Shrink him down to 6’2, 6’3, 6’4 and he’s garbage, flat out,” Cunningham insists. “The one thing I can say about the Klitschko brothers because I’ve been in camp with Wladimir, they’re big but they work hard. They’re skillful and if were normal sized, they’d still be champions.
“This dude right here is just winning fights because he’s big. He leans on guys and gets them tired. I don’t get tired, I get better.”
The righteous side of Fury suddenly surfaced. The unbeaten Brit of Irish descent has far too often fielded claims of his size having more to do with his success than does his skill level.
The 20 wins preceding this event have naturally come against smaller fighters, given that 6’9” heavyweights are few and far between, even in a “big heavyweight” era. But there is plenty of substance to support the hype surrounding Fury, including dominant wins over Dereck Chisora and most recently against American fringe contender Kevin Johnson.
Fury was no longer in any mood to field claims of size outweighing his skill set. Nor did he seem particularly interested in the trials and tribulations Cunningham had to endure to make it to this point.
“Not only am I big, but I’m tall, dark and handsome. I’m cool, calm and collected, super sexy,” insists Fury. “This guy has got no chance at all here. Let’s talk about talent and size, whatever you want to be. I’m the best fighter on the planet, including all weights. There’s not a man born from his mother who can beat Tyson Fury. I don’t care if he’s 7 foot or 3 foot tall. Steve Cunningham is in big trouble. Come April 20, this guy is getting knocked spark out.
“I hope he and his trainer believe in magic, because he’s gonna need a lot of magic to beat me. Steve Cunningham and every Phil and Yankee combined couldn’t beat me. There’s not a man 200 lb. on the planet who can beat me, never mind you. I’m not coming here to play games, and I hope you’re not either. I’m coming here to fight, not to talk nonsense. You talk a good game, ‘I’m from Philly, I’m a tough guy gangster’.
“Let’s be real here. Fighting is in my blood, in my veins, every generation. Let’s go back and see if yours can. I doubt it. Maybe you’re a one off. You’re not a heavyweight, for one, and I am. You are in serious trouble come April 20. I am going to hurt you. I hope you understand that. I hope your trainer understands that. I hope your wife understands that. I hope everyone understands that I mean business. I didn’t come to the U.S.A to play around and play tit-tat boxing. I came here to do demolition jobs to cruiserweights.”
The last statement piqued the interest of Cunningham’s trainer, Brother Naazim Richardson. So too did the suggestion of his turning to paranormal means to attempt to secure victory.
“ I’m Muslim, I don’t believe in magic,” Richardson explained, before citing an analogy to question Fury’s motives in accepting this fight. “My thing is, I heard what you said about fighting. One thing, though – I have a lightweight fighter (Karl Dargan, Richardson’s nephew), who – if the guy isn’t a (true) lightweight, he doesn’t want to fight him. I have a heavyweight who, if the guy isn’t a (true) heavyweight, he doesn’t want to fight him.”
“So the thing is, if my guy isn’t a heavyweight, then why do you want to fight him?”
“Nobody wants to fight me,” Fury explained. “You’re going to make the same mistake that Kevin Johnson made. He got beat to death for 12 rounds.
“Listen (Steve), you’re not even the same level as Kevin Johnson. You’re a small man, you’re chinny. You’re getting knocked out. You’ve been put down in nearly every fight you’ve had. You’ve never been hit by anyone like me.”
To that, even Cunningham questioned why he was even on stage with such a fighter.
“Then why do you want to fight me? Why would the best fighter on the planet waste his time with such a fighter?”
To his credit, Fury did his best to once again explain himself. His patience was wearing thin, though he still had the wherewithal to drop the names of several North American fighters who passed on previous offers to face the hulking Brit.
“I just told you why and will tell you one more time – because there’s nobody else to fight. Not Deontay Wilder, not Seth Mitchell, not Chris Arreola, not Bermane Stiverne. They all do not want to fight. You’re the only man stepping up to the plate. This is why I’m giving you credit.”
Fury even acknowledged a question often asked of his young career, immediately followed with a witty response.
“All I hear is, ‘Who have you fought?’ That’s what is asked. Everyone who has been put in front of me - that is who I’ve fought.”
Steve Cunningham is next on that list, if only because he’s the only man willing to stand in front of Tyson Fury, at least on April 20. Fury gives him credit for that, if not for much else. He certainly doesn’t give credit to anyone else in the division, least of all those at the top.
“Wladimir Klitschko is the biggest bitch I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t want to fight Tyson Fury. He promised me the fight after I beat down Dereck Chisora. Listen, still no glory. I’m not even going to talk about Vitali Klitschko.
“I’m here talking about Steve Cunningham. I’m a fighter. I’m not named after a battleship. Tyson Fury’s the name, fighting’s my game.”
Time will tell, though Thursday’s festivities guarantee a captive audience on April 20 and beyond.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox