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Cunningham Should Return To Cruisers, Super Heavyweight Division Redefined

By Robert Brizel, Head Real Combat Media Correspondent

New York, NY (April 21, 2013)– After opening his professional boxing career at 24-2, Steve USS Cunningham has fallen to 26-6. A great Philadelphia fighter in the classic tradition of Philadelphia fighters, Steve’s record before his two cruiserweight title losses in Germany to Yoan Pablo Hernandez was essentially pristine. He appeared to beat Tomasz Adamek last year, and he knocked Tyson Fury down, but now Steve Cunningham’s career is in the reassessment mode. Part of the problem is: one, Steve Cunningham is fighting in the wrong division; and two, Cunningham is fighting do or die big name and big payday fights, as anything else would be beneath him. His stock will now fall, and another loss will put him at having lost five of his past six, and why did he go up to heavyweight?

This reporter has tremendous respect for Steve Cunningham’s ability, and the ability of promoters like Main Events and Peltz Boxing Promotions to move their fighters to the top and give them every chance to succeed. The ability to move a fighter is the bottom line in my view, but I also consider the question of fairness.

Soon to turn age 37 in July 2013 only three days after Independence Day, Steve Cunningham has always been a bright and independent spirit in the cruiserweight division. But unlike the days of Joe Louis (who stood 6’2″ and fought at 181 to 218 pounds), Jack Dempsey (who stood 6’1″ and weighed 181 to 200), and Rocky Marciano (who stood 5’11” and fought at 179 to 189 pounds), the heavyweight division has transcended beyond its previous range and limits in the 21st century to something very different. And as boxing grows closer to its parallel roots of wrestling with Mixed Martial Arts eventually to become legal across America, boxing may resemble something between the two sports one hundred years from now, as it once did many years ago in the time of Jack Johnson and earlier.

I challenge any reporter out there to tell me Steve Cunningham versus Tyson Fury was a fair fight by the numbers.

At 6’9″ and 270 pounds, Tyson Fury is not a heavyweight. Likewise Nicolai Valuev at 7’0″ and 310 to 348 pounds was not a heavyweight. Dr. Vitali Klitschko at 6’7″ and 232 to 252 pounds is not a heavyweight. Dr. Wladimir Klitschko at 6’6″ at 220 to 249 is not a heavyweight. Lennox Lewis at 6’5″, and 242 to 256 pounds, was not a heavyweight. Robert Helenius at 6’6 1/2″, and 239 to 249 pounds is not a heavyweight. At 6’6 1/2″, and 238 to 259 pounds in his prime, Jess Willard was not a heavyweight. These fighters are all super heavyweights, a different category.

Even if you just look at weight, to me 300 pound plus fighters like Butterbean, Richard Carmack, Billy Wright, David Saulsberry and Gabe Brown should be labeled super heavyweights, not heavyweights. Eric ButterbeanEsch , at 280 to 417+ pounds, actually held the mythical IBA Super Heavyweight title when he knocked out George Linberger in Las Vegas in the first round in March 2000. This is the only IBA title which does not appear on BoxRec, though the IBA distinction does appear on Esch’s record.

My current argument-one sure to raise controversy-is once a heavyweight crosses the 240 pound threshold-they should be recategorized as a super heavyweight. A new super heavyweight division should be created for all fighters 240 pounds and up, and once a fighter goes above 240 pounds, they can no longer fight in the heavyweight division no matter their weight. This is because there is a tremendous difference in weight class and power at 240 pounds and up, and the big man at this weight standing 6’5″ or higher needs to have a different distinction at this point in the game in my view, because he is not a heavyweight. He is super heavyweight.

Since Marciano never fought above 189 pounds as a heavyweight, the rules and categories as ‘heavyweight’ as defined have changed. They need to change again.

Some minor world boxing authorities like the IBA recognize a so-called super cruiserweight or junior heavyweight division at 190 to 215 pounds or so. Once today’s talented cruiserweights move forward above 200 pounds into the full heavyweight division, in the majority of cases it’s like a talented panther or cougar trying to stake a claim to a lion or tiger’s territory. The lion and tiger are going to win in the modern era. Today’s lions and tigers are too big.

Steve Cunningham fights best at 181 to 199 pounds. He’s not a heavyweight in the true sense. Tomasz Adamek fights best at 176 to 199 pounds, but I still believe his fight against Dr. Vitali Klitschko giving away six inches and 27 pounds was a mismatch by the numbers.

A smaller heavyweight like Cunningham or Adamek can start well against a bigger
‘heavyweight’ due to their considerable technical boxing skills, but in the long run, against a heavyweight standing 6’5″ and weighing 240 pounds or higher, it is too difficult a bridge of skill and power to gap in a ten or 12 round bout. Jean Marc Mormeck at 5’11” and 168 to 198 pounds at his best, still had no business moving up to heavyweight where Wladimir Klitschko towered over him and knocked him out.

From David Haye to Evander Holyfield, some cruiserweight champions have transitioned to heavyweight successfully. The problem is the Valuevs, the Klitschko brothers, Robert Helenius, Tony Thompson, David Price and Tyson Fury are clearly too tall, too heavy and too big to be classified as heavyweights any longer.

If AIBA grants Wladimir Klitschko’s request to allow him to return to amateur competition for the 2016 Olympics, amateur and professional boxing will have conceded too much. Former professional boxing champions should not be allowed to return to amateur, Olympic, or amateur seniors (40 and over) competition. There may be a 25 year retired allowance to return to seniors competition (the late boxer and marathon runner Noel Johnson did it past age 80), but even still a former world champion as a professional should not be allowed to return to the amateurs.

To me, the outcome of Steve Cunningham versus Tyson Fury is less important than the miscategorization. Most boxing reporters will look at the fight and the outcome which resulted. I choose too look instead at the disparity in the matchup before the fight.

Steve Cunningham had the right ideas against Tyson Fury. Steve had home court advantage, knew he had to get to the inside and press the fight, and knew he had to control the tempo of the fight with lateral foot movement, superior body work, and using his overhand right to keen advantage. The combination of the above factors led to the overhand right getting through and dropping Fury in the second round.
Fury lost a point for a head butt on the inside in the fourth round as well.

However, Fury was too big and too strong to truly hurt or keep away in the long run, owing to the weight and size disparity. What did promoters think was going to happen at The Garden? Shades of Cassius Clay’s knockdown by Henry Cooper emerged all over again as Cunningham trainer Naazim Richardson took a minute to fix the hand tape on Cunningham’s left glove and give the fighter some time to recover in round six, with Steve already taking too much punishment from the bigger Fury and no longer able to match the ‘Furious’ pace.

Fury’s uppercuts and rights did knock out Steve Cunningham in the seventh round, but my first question is, was this a heavyweight fight? Officially, yes, by the rules. My second question is, can we categorize Tyson Fury as heavyweight fighter? My personal view is no, he’s a super heavyweight fighter, the so-called missing division.

Can David slay Goliath? 99 and 9/10 percent never in the boxing game, but then again, The Manessa Mauler, Jack Dempsey slayed Jess Willard of March 25, 1916, at Madison Square Garden, despite being outweighed by nearly 60 pounds and giving away a 5 1/2 inch height advantage, so history proved me wrong in the same venue as Cunningham versus Price. One outcome I do like is Price, a European fighter, was willing to come over to the states and fight an American and endure a hostile booing local crowd. The way foreign fighters are alleged to be abusing steroids these days, I no longer expect the foreign fighters to come to America anymore. it was nice to see Price and Cunningham, both clean fighters, fight on public television.

I would just prefer to see Steve Cunningham back in the cruiserweight division. I would also prefer to see Tomasz Adamek back in the cruiserweight division too, although with a few correct tuneup fights, Adamek (6’1 1/2″, and 222 to 225 pounds) versus Alexander Povetkin (6’2″, and 229 to 231 pounds) would be a closer matchup if Adamek reaches that point.

Part of the cruiserweight problem is cruiserweights seem to reach threshold where they have trouble getting back to 200 pounds or less beyond a certain point once they go over. As trainer extraordinaire John Schaeffer of Pennsylvania proved when he shrunk Carl Davis of Chicago from a 238 pound heavyweight to a 197 pound cruiserweight, which led to Davis winning a United states title at the lower weight, specialized physical conditioning training with proper nutrition can facilitate weight loss when dealing with older fighters confronting weight loss issues.

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