Tyson Fury will face Oleksandr Usyk this Saturday in a crowning of the first undisputed heavyweight champion since Lennox Lewis more than 25 years ago. Usyk has the chance to etch his name in the history books and become a two-weight undisputed champion, after he achieved the honor at cruiserweight in 2018. Fury may be fighting for undisputed for the first time, but this is not his first encounter with a former cruiserweight champion. The WBC titlist made his U.S. debut against former IBF beltholder Steve Cunningham back in 2013 – and was given the fight of his life.

Fury struggled to get to grips with Cunningham early on, and in the second round he was dropped by a looping overhand right that landed flush on his chin. Fury eventually broke down the much smaller Cunningham by using his size and weight to his advantage. He repeatedly grabbed and leaned on the former cruiserweight, tiring him out and eventually stopping him in the seventh round. Cunningham recalled their encounter and how he hoped that Fury would stay down after he was dropped in Round 2, giving the now-titleholder credit for how well he adapted.

“I hoped I had him [with the knockdown],” Cunningham told BoxingScene. “You know, because I'm like, ‘Oh, please, please [don’t get up].’ But he got up, and I was just like, ‘Alright, let's do it again.’ That's the way it goes. I've knocked down guys before and they’ve gotten up. I've been knocked down before and gotten up, so I knew it wasn't over. You know, Fury was like, ‘F*** it, I'm going to do this.’ And Fury went to the next level. So we weren't prepared for that. And Fury's next level is, ‘Screw it, I'm bigger than this guy, I'm going to impose my weight and size on him.’ And that's how he got the victory.”

Fury has given Usyk high praise this week, calling the Ukrainian his best opponent and biggest challenge. Fury in the past has heaped praise on Cunningham, saying that their fight was the hardest of his career and that he is the best he has faced. Cunningham believes the similarities in size and skill between him and the former undisputed cruiserweight may be why Fury holds Usyk in such high regard.

“I mean, he's saying Usyk is, on paper, his most difficult or the most top guy that he's ever faced,” said Cunningham. “He said that I was the top guy that he has faced, amateur or pro, and look at the similarities [between me and Usyk]. The height, size, coming up from cruiserweight. Cruiserweights are very athletic and mobile. Especially when we move up to heavyweight, we have to understand our movement, our feet movement. And Usyk does that, most definitely.”

Usyk stands six inches shorter than the 6-foot-9 Fury and will be outweighed by around 50 pounds on fight night. Cunningham believes that this could work in Usyk’s favor, but he has warned that the Ukrainian will have to make Fury commit to his shots if he is to land a similar punch to the one that he knocked down Fury with.

“I think the height might be the advantage for Usyk,” Cunningham said. “It's actually an advantage for smaller, athletic fighters. But the difficulty in fighting a taller fighter like that is you have to do something different than you normally do to get to him, to score punches. You have to make the taller fighter commit to attacking you. And then, within his attack, you can land solid power shots. And that's how I caught him with that overhand right.”

Cunningham believes the key to victory for Usyk on Saturday night is to keep moving and to not allow Fury to use his weight to tire out his opponent – a tactic that proved successful for Fury when they fought. 

“Stay mobile, you know, keep moving, make the angles, turn, turn, turn,” Cunningham said. “Once you sit still with Fury, he will grab you, he will get you, he will hold you, he will lean on you. Some say that's not legal, it's a tactic, you know. It's a good tactic – if that's what you got to use, use it. It drains your opponent. People always ask me, ‘What would you do different if you fought Fury for a second time?’ I would most definitely do a lot of squats with heavier weight. So I can withstand a bit of that laying on, a bit of that 250-pound frame of Tyson Fury. That would help. But Usyk's movement and angles should be enough.

“Fury is a great fighter, he's a good boxer,” added Cunningham. “His size, his height is an advantage for him, and his boxing mind is an advantage for him. But fighting guys my height – 6-3, 6-4 – that are very athletic and mobile, like myself and Usyk, Fury has to resort to grabbing and laying on them to slow them down in order to catch them. So I don't think Fury wins an outboxing match against Usyk. He didn't win one with me. He had to do what he had to do to kind of drain me.”

Cunningham heaped praise on Fury, calling him a special fighter. However, he thinks his former foe will not be able to get up to his usual tricks in the ring. He believes that Usyk’s team will be well aware of Fury’s plan to use his weight and will be hounding the officials, which could theoretically lead to a disqualification.

“Fury is a unique fighter in many areas,” said Cunningham. “His height – we don’t see many 6-9 boxers. We don’t see too many 6-9 world champions. We don’t see many 6-9 world champions that are very adaptable, move like their 6-2 or 6-1 and have great ring generalship. Fury is very special, but he’s in there with another fighter that’s just as unique – just a little smaller.

“So with that in mind, I believe Usyk wins. Ukrainians are very powerful in boxing right now. I think they are going to be on the officials this week during the fighter meetings about [Fury leaning on Usyk]. I think Fury might get disqualified. That's a possibility.

“It's going to be competitive at times, but Usyk is going to win the competitive exchanges. Fury, he’s either gonna lose a decision or Fury is going to get to the point that we've all seen Fury say, ‘F*** it,’ bite down on his mouthpiece and do what he needs to do to win the fight. And sometimes that's leaning and laying and holding and pushing. I think he might be getting called on that a bit throughout this fight and it could lead to a disqualification, possibly.”