One man’s loss is another’s gain.
Two-time cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham stepped in from the sidelines to replace Antonio Tarver as the foe for one-time UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir’s boxing debut on Triller’s April 17 PPV showcase in Atlanta with the event headlined by Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren.
The 44-year-old Cunningham (29-9-1, 13 KOs) has not fought professionally since dropping a unanimous decision to Andrew Tabiti in August 2017, but he still considered himself an active fighter despite the age and layoff.
“For me, the [comeback] process is simple. I'm a two-time world champion. I'm always in the gym. I'm always in shape. That's the goal -- to die at 100 years old in shape,” said Cunningham. “You buckle down, go to the gym, train hard and push. Even short notice, it's just a few notches. Adjustments here and there, we're ready … A lot of people have been saying, 'I'm retired.' I haven't retired. I still want to fight a few times before I retire and pass the torch to my children.”
The former US Navy veteran is not worried about the size of the enemy he plans on sinking. Although each stand at 6-foot, 3-inches tall, the Philly fighter will weigh around 210 pounds come fight night versus Mir, who plans on tipping the scales at 270.
“Once I went to heavyweight, they've all been bigger than me. Size in combat sports really doesn't matter, especially to a trained warrior,” said Cunningham. “I was happy for Antonio Tarver [when he got the fight]. Triller is opening up doors for fighters to make money, showcase their skills and present themselves to the fans. Then I get the call, and I'm like, 'yo, alright.' I'm always ready to step in.”
Although Cunningham is 1-3-1 in his last five fights including a split draw versus Tarver in 2015, he’s had previous success at heavyweight, knocking down Tyson Fury in 2013 before suffering a KO five rounds later.
Cunningham said he’s preparing for Mir as if the Las Vegas-based MMA fighter were the undefeated British heavyweight champion.
“He's competed at a high level in the UFC, and that itself makes him prepared for our fight,” said Cunningham. “He's a warrior and a champion. For anybody who thinks this is easy or that I'm going to breeze through him, I don't think like that. In the words of my great late trainer Brother Naazim [Richardson,] 'you take everybody seriously.’ That’s Tyson Fury right there. I’m about to fight Tyson Fury again. That’s the mindset that I’m going through.”
Manouk Akopyan is a sports journalist, writer and broadcast reporter. He’s also a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and MMA Journalists Association. He can be reached on Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube at @ManoukAkopyan, via email at manouk[dot]akopyan[at]gmail.com or on www.ManoukAkopyan.com