By Jake Donovan
Steve Cunningham’s boxing career has always been that of a man without a country, ironic considering the four years he proudly served in the United States Navy. Through 12 years as a pro, Cunningham has fought beyond the U.S. borders on eight separate occasions, including five trips to Germany, while fighting just once in his hometown of Philadelphia – an undercard bout in March ’03.
Yet the former cruiserweight never felt farther away from home than in his first fight with Tomasz Adamek. Not only did the event take place a mere 90 minutes away in Newark, New Jersey, but also served as Cunningham’s first fight in the U.S. after nearly two years spent on the road in Europe.
“I fought him in Newark and thought it was close to home. It was worse than if we fought in Poland,” insisted Cunningham (25-4,12KO), an authority on the subject considering he actually fought twice in Adamek’s home country. It was the site of his first loss and also his first title win, both of which came in the span of six months against Krzystzof Wlodarczyk.
Cunningham gets his long awaited rematch with Adamek. The sequel takes place one division north at heavyweight, headlining a Saturday afternoon telecast on NBC live from the Sands Casino Resort in Bethlehem, PA.
Their reunion comes four years after the American fell short in their Dec. ’08 World cruiserweight championship. The clash was universally regarded as high among the year’s best fights, one in which Cunningham was dropped three times in losing a split decision. ‘
One win and 18 months later, Cunningham found himself once again fighting abroad, signing with Sauerland Event and fighting in Germany in four consecutive contests. His journey ended in back-to-back losses to Yoan Pablo Hernandez, the second of which came in lopsided fashion earlier this year.
The rematch with Hernandez was his last ever at cruiserweight, abandoning boxing’s bastard division for its once most identifiable. Cunningham’s heavyweight debut came in September, pitching a shutout against Jason Gavern in their 10-round supporting bout below Adamek’s stoppage win over Travis Walker.
Adamek was already being steered towards this weekend’s NBC date, though originally scheduled to face Odlanier Solis. When the Cuban heavyweight bailed on the opportunity, Cunningham willingly jumped in, thus saving the date for Main Events.
“When you’re dealing with live television in this context, you don’t have the luxury of just pushing it off to another date,” said Main Events CEO Kathy Duva, who worked feverishly to secure a deal with NBC Sports earlier this year, thus leading to boxing’s return to NBC in nearly a decade. “There is always a Plan B and Plan C in the works.
“Steve was Plan B from Day One. It came down to Solis was rated higher and we were interested in doing an eliminator. When Solis couldn’t do it, Jolene (Mizzone, Main Events VP of Operations) called Livvy, Steve’s wife and manager. She called Steve, who called us back within a couple of hours to accept the fight.”
Where the fight took place was far less important to Cunningham than the fact that it takes place at all. The 36-year old has enjoyed two reigns as a cruiserweight titlist, but still envisions a run at a heavyweight crown before calling it a career.
The depths of that journey depend largely on the outcome of this weekend’s affair – one where he believes to have stronger support than was the case four years ago.
“He may win the fan base contest,” Cunningham says of Adamek’s bi-continental popularity. “But I’ll have more fans in the house than I did the last time.”
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com. Follow Jake on Twitter: @JakeNDaBox