Monday, April 7, 2014

Daughter's failing heart fuels the heart of a champion

A man who fights and possesses skill is always a threat; but a man who fights with a purpose is virtually unbeatable. Heavyweight contender Steve
'USS' Cunningham is that man. A former two-time cruiserweight world champion, Cunningham fights for much more than glory.

A family man, 37 year old Cunningham has an eight year old beautiful daughter named Kennedy who at first glance looks like any other eight year old. However, if you took a closer look at the TV cameras focusing in on her at ringside by her mother's side in her father's latest fight this past Friday, you could see part of a scar; one that ran from near the top of her chest down into her dress. That's because Kennedy Cunningham was born with a congenital heart defect; one that needs to inevitably corrected by a transplant before it stops beating.

It is with that type of reality that Steve Cunningham forges ahead and does what does. His record (27-6, 12 KO's) is a bit deceiving considering he's fought his last five fights as an undersized heavyweight; or more likely as a blown up cruiserweight. Considering he's 6'3", it's not like he doesn't have the size to be a heavyweight. However, at 206 lbs., which is what he weighed in for his last fight this past weekend against heavy-handed and previously undefeated Amir Mansour (20-1, 15 KO's), who was 25 lbs. heavier, he's definitely a small heavyweight for sure.

So why does a man who has had worldwide success as a cruiserweight and is not that big to fight in the heavyweight division move up to tackle those giants? It's simple mathematics; the cruiserweight division has never drawn much attention, thus that means it doesn't draw much money. However, in the heavyweight division there is money to be made. A successful run there to a potential title shot against Vladimir Klitschko can mean financial security for Cunningham and his family, including a new house to aptly care for his daughter and the eventual transplant she needs.

It is with that purpose that Cunningham (pictured above @ left in his fight against Mansour) got up off the canvas in the sixth round, not once, but twice after Mansour nearly finished him with some bombs. Mansour, who realized he was behind at the time and fighting with his own desperation due to a closing left eye was throwing haymakers with each punch and at one point a left hook to Cunningham's chin nearly decapitated him. Most fighters after that punch would have been down for the count. How Cunningham got up is beyond me?

Yet he did, both times, and survived the round. Renowned trainer Nazim Richardson and his corner did a great job in reviving him and surprisingly he came back in the seventh and won back that round. He avoided any further damage and eventually made up for those falls in the sixth by dropping Mansour himself in the 10th and last round. That knock down solidified his case for a unanimous decision victory.

When asked in his post fight interview, while holding his daughter in his arms, what drives him he emphatically said, "Faith!" It's what he had stitched in the belt line of his trunks and it's what he holds onto to help him deal with his daughter plight. However, in this quest to become a heavyweight world champion, it's his daughter's failing heart that fuels the heart of a champion.

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