By Ollie Salt, courtesy of The Daily Star
STEVE CUNNINGHAM came close to spoiling Tyson Fury’s US debut back in 2013.
Not many envisaged the former two-time world cruiserweight champion causing Fury much difficulty at Madison Square Garden.
Yet, weighing 210 pounds, Cunningham sent the Gypsy King’s 254-pound frame crashing to the deck with a sweeping overhand right in the second round of their bout.
In the end, he was unable to capitalise on the knockdown, with Fury instead climbing off the canvas to win by knockout five rounds later.
Nevertheless, the latter recently insisted Cunningham provided his sternest test to date - which the American was chuffed to hear.
“That was an epic statement for him to make,” he told Starsport.
“It was genuine and it was true. I mean, you can even see in his latest fights no one’s giving him problems like I did. Even Wladimir [Klitschko].
“When I first heard it, my mouth opened up and hit the ground like ‘whaaat?!' That’s an amazing compliment from a guy on his level. He’s at the top of all levels right now. So that was awesome man.”
Fury’s eventual stoppage of Cunningham proved controversial, as the British heavyweight seemingly grabbed hold of him with his left hand before finishing the job with his right.
And Cunningham, not wavered in his belief the move should have been deemed illegal, claims Fury apologised face-to-face when he was invited to his training camp ahead of a potential fight with David Haye months later.
“Of course, I felt a certain way about the way he won,” he said. “But I went to camp with him before he was meant to fight David Haye and I got to talk with him face-to-face about the fight.
“We talked and he apologised for how it went down. I’m very vocal about the other things he did to get the win, you know, the hand on me. That knockout shot was illegal.
“But he basically said ‘sorry, I had to do what I had to do. I couldn’t outbox you’.
“I said ‘listen, don’t worry about none of that. If the referee doesn’t stop you, why would you stop?’ That’s boxing man.
“There’s nothing I can do to go back and rewrite the fight. The fight’s over, it’s done, it’s in the books. He beat me.
“Once I got the knockdown in that fight, I’m like ‘alright, I’m gonna get him. Let me go in, see what I can make happen and we’ll try and do the same thing. I landed a couple of other shots that buckled him in the next few rounds and I thought I could get him.
“But one thing I knew I did wrong was I stood and fought with him a little too much.”
On December 1st, Fury returns to the States for a colossal heavyweight showdown with WBC chief Deontay Wilder at the Staples Center, Los Angeles.
Many forebode a painful evening for the 30-year-old, who only ended his two-year exile from the sport in tune-up wins over Sefer Seferi and Francesco Pianeta over the summer, up against the unbeaten American.
Cunningham, too, fears Fury could fall victim to Wilder’s notoriously menacing right hand.
“This is my honest opinion of the fight: I believe Fury could get stopped in the eighth or seventh round, but up until then he wins every round,” he said.
“At some point that right hand is going to land, and you’d be a fool to bet against it.
“People talk about Wilder not being strictly to the form of a boxer, he’s wild and whatever. But that doesn’t matter. If that right hand connects you are going to feel it. So that alone will make Tyson be on his game.
“With that being said, Fury is crafty. He can make something happen. I’m not saying he can’t get up off the canvas, but you can’t just nullify Wilder’s right hand because it will land at some point.”
As a proud American, Cunningham’s loyalties will be divided on December 1st.
Yet the 42-year-old admits Fury’s glowing critique of their 2013 dust-up has swayed who he will be rooting for on the night.
“I’m one of them guys that likes to see a good fight. One thing I do hope is that it lives up to the hype, because they’ve promoted the hell out of this fight.
“But after me and my wife watched that Joe Rogan interview [where Fury said he was his toughest fight], I said ‘hey, I’m leaning a little more towards Fury now!’”