Earlier this week the IBF ordered an immediate rematch between Steve Cunningham and Yoan Pablo Hernandez. This decision followed the highly controversial ending between the two fighters in the bout that occurred on Oct. 1 in Germany where Cunningham lost his IBF cruiserweight title via technical decision.
In the first meeting Cunningham was dropped in the first round but got to his feet. He survived the knockdown and then, to most observers, took control of the fight shortly afterwards. In the third and sixth rounds the challenger Hernandez suffered cuts from accidental head butts. After the sixth round the ringside doctor stopped the fight based on the cuts, despite the fact that no blood was coming out of the cuts at that time. The explanation stated the cuts could cause blood to go into Hernandez's eye.
I had the opportunity to talk with Cunningham about the bizarre ending of his last fight. We also discussed the rematch, having to fight in Europe, being with a European promoter, his desire to fight at home, and plenty of other topics.
Boxing Tribune: Congratulations on getting the rematch with Hernandez. What are your thoughts?
Steve Cunningham: Just get in there and pick up where we left off at in the sixth round. Just go in there and do work. It's personal, I take this very personal. They stole something from me. I feel I got robbed. I feel somebody came into my house and stuck me up and took some of my belongings. I know who did it, so I gotta go get it.
BT: Looking back on that fight, what is your opinion of the stoppage and the cuts?
SC: It was a bunch of garbage. They were waiting to see how the fight was gonna go. They see I got knocked down in the first round so they figured he could beat me and they were wrong. So they wanted to wait and see if he could beat me so as the rounds went by they see I was picking up steam and I was winning rounds and winning rounds.
They figure we got two cuts. The first cut occurred in the third round they would have had the doctor stop it then it would have been a no contest and I would have retained my title. Then the second cut in the sixth round they figure this is our chance because I was really beating him up and he was about to go. They see the opportunity there and stop the fight on cuts. Now the cuts were not going into his eye and weren't bleeding at all.
It was a sham. That was the same doctor who allowed Arthur Abraham to fight with a broken jaw for four, five rounds, and he wouldn't let this guy with a cut that wasn't bleeding continue.
BT: I was not aware that was the same doctor who allowed Abraham to fight with a broken jaw.
SC: That was amazing. It really surprised me when I found out it was the same doctor. That is the same doctor Sauerland uses all the time for the promotion so he is like an in-house doctor. They gave Arthur Abraham a chance to show he is a warrior and actually because of that fight that got him a lot of fans because of the way he fought.
BT: If the fight kept going do you think you had the momentum and what would have been the specific outcome if it was not stopped?
SC: I feel we had the momentum from the third round. I thought I won the second round but I was still not one hundred percent The knockdown did take its toll but I was in there, don't get me wrong. Third round, fourth round, was a little close but fifth and sixth round we were breaking him down. When you are in there fighting a guy you can tell he is losing steam, he's lost steam. I was walking him down from the third round on. He was really panting a lot and the body shots really were affecting him. I felt that within two more rounds either this guy was gonna quit, or they were gonna throw the towel, or he was not going to be able to get up after we got him out of there.
BT: When it was stopped before they read the scores were you confident you had the decision?
SC: To tell you the truth I was leery. When we first got up after the fight got stopped we jumped up and went and talked to the ref. Me and my assistant trainer asked the ref what's the call? The ref kind of whispers technical draw. So I'm like okay, that's cool, I'll accept that. So there was some commotion going on over by the judges' table where they tally up the scores. My lawyer, my manager, my wife Livvy, they go over there and start arguing with the guy. There was some fishy stuff going on.
Next thing I know my wife looks up to me and says they stole our belt. So when they read the scores I already knew they had stolen our belt. Then when they read the score 57-56 (for Cunningham) I felt that was what the score should have been, but I know once they read you first they read the other two for this guy. You could see the disgust on my face.
BT: Hernandez is from Cuba but makes his home in Germany; do you feel that affected the decisions and scores?
SC: Truthfully, yeah. His trainer is Ulli Wegner who is the man as a trainer in Germany. He's got a lot of pull, he's got a lot of backing and he's got a lot of pride. Because I beat Marco Huck in 2007 they were always talking about revenge. We kind of knew they would try to do something, that Ulli Wegner would try to do something. I just didn't know to what extent.
We believe in God, we know that God blessed me with skills and talent. We went over there with faith knowing that we can beat any man, but like I said in the other interview I was fighting way more than just Hernandez. I was fighting those two judges that had the scores really crazy and I was fighting against the doctor. It was basically me vs. Ulli Wegner.
BT: Has the site been set for the rematch? Will it be in Germany or would you like it in the states?
SC: Oh yeah, it is gonna be in Germany again. We both have the same promoter that is a German-based promoter and that's how we get our money. That's why I signed with them originally because they have the television. When I fight oversees my fights get televised throughout Europe, England, South Africa, Australia -- so I have to go where the fan base is. In America it is not like that at all for the cruiserweights. They are talking about January 14, 2012 possibly.
BT: As much as you love Philly and it is your home, do you ever consider making your home in Germany to get a better shake?
SC: We were thinking about trying to be more of a presence over in Germany. We were asking the promoter to help us be more of a presence and it seemed like nobody was really helping. I know they were saying I would have to learn some German, which is really no problem. We were already in the process of trying to learn.
But then we just need extra help with some of the contacts. We were thinking of staying over there this summer. I was originally scheduled to fight in late June and we were gonna stay there for two months to make connections, but that didn't happen. But right now I can care less about all that. All I want to do is go fight, beat this dude, get my title back, and then we'll see what happens from there with Germany.
BT: Now that the rematch has been ordered, does that ease your feelings on the situation from the first fight?
SC: Oh yeah. Listen, going into the first fight Hernandez was a tough guy. As everybody can see that's all I have been fighting for the past six years. But getting in there and breaking him down the way we did even after getting knocked down like that, that makes me even more confident than I was in the first fight. Not that I am going to be cocky and stupid, but I know I can get this guy outta there. I know we can beat him and it is just about going there and doing it.
BT: Do you think you need a knockout or can you win on the cards?
SC: I don't think we need a knockout, but I think we're gonna get one.
BT: What has this whole situation done for you as a fighter? Has it changed your outlook?
SC: This has happened to me before. As you guys know my history, I went to Poland and they robbed me of my undefeated, of my "zero." We got the immediate rematch and went back over there and got the title. The thing that has changed is the simple fact that we are just more aware of who we're with. First you know it is different when you are dealing with a wolf in sheep's clothing. And now we know we're dealing with wolves.
My mindset is the same. Like I told them in Poland they created a monster. This is gonna make me go and work even harder and I've got so much energy, rage, and anger and fight in me -- so I'm gonna channel that to my training and the fight.
BT: In the rematch is there anything you need to do differently to avoid something like the knockdown in the first round or is it the same game plan?
SC: It's really go out and there and do what I do. What happened in the first round with the knockdown, it was really just a punch I didn't see. I mean my right hand was down and he caught me with a good shot. I slipped the one punch and just didn't expect him to throw such a punch backing out. As you can see after that I adjusted to that and everything went accordingly. He would never catch me with that shot again or anything like it.
Truthfully, I don't think he can change, but if he does change we'll be ready. But I don't think he's a fighter that can change. I can change and adapt to the situation but he can't because he was breaking down after he got such a big knockdown in the first round. He should have been able to finish the job but he can't, so I believe I don't think we're gonna have any troubles with this guy. But I know we'll be prepared knowing Brother Naazim (Richardson, Cunningham's trainer).
BT: Did this make you regret signing with Sauerland or was that the right move for you?
SC: It's the right move for me. When we became a free agent from Don King we knew our goal was to sign with a European promoter. The sport is different over there. I know in America HBO and Showtime are not shelling out any money for a cruiserweight. Actually, we had contracts from American promoters and it didn't look right. I'm coming in with a world-title fight and the numbers are just bananas.
We got a contract from the European promoters and they were totally different. Sauerland was the one we wanted to go with because, Marco Huck, that's a rematch that could possibly happen. Marco Huck's a champion and has been doing great after I beat him and that's an easy fight to me. We really liked the fact that they kept Marco Huck busy. This dude fought seven times to my two. The activity, these guys got television, they've got dates which equals money. That's what we went to and I don't regret it. The only thing I regret about that last fight is just getting knocked down to tell you the truth.
BT: Is it disappointing or difficult seeing so many American fighters such as from your hometown of Philly, like Mike Jones or Danny Garcia, who was on HBO PPV this weekend, get to make money and fight at home -- but because you are a 200-pounder you have to go oversees?
SC: It was very disappointing like three, four years ago. I was a top cruiserweight, a world champion, but the only fights I could make some money at, my promoter Don King kept sending me oversees. I'm like, wow, finding out that HBO and Showtime weren't interested. I took it personal.
Nowadays, to see guys like Mike Jones and Danny Garcia, even Eddie Chambers, all these other guys that are getting signed I'm happy for them. I'm very happy for them. That's what God has for them. This European tour, that's what we call it, this is what God has for me. That's the way we look at it.
I'm a Christian, I read my bible, I try my best to live by what it says. He won't put nothing on me I can handle. We go overseas and we always hear people, you're gonna get robbed and you gotta knock them out and I say listen, this is what God has for me. I'm going to do what I do. I train very hard anyway. I'm gonna do what I do and if the knockout comes, fine, but if not we're gonna box and box to win. Everybody has got their spot and I guess I found mine, I'm in mine.
BT: Assuming you get past Hernandez, what then? (yes, this writer remembered as he asked this question that the IBF ordered the winner to fight Troy Ross immediately)
SC: Once we get past Hernandez, Troy Ross. There is another situation that is pretty funny. This guy (Ross) gets to fight for a world title twice without fighting one eliminator. I fought for the title two times and had to fight an eliminator both times against former world champions Kelvin Davis and Wayne Braithwaite. This guy been just sitting around for a year getting pity.
But like I said before, what God has for me no man can take, so that is why Hernandez is going to lose and Troy Ross is got to lose too. I am looking for any fight to continue to seal my legacy in the history of boxing no matter what division I'm in.
BT: Switching gears before I let you go, what is it like being trained by Naazim Richardson?
SC: Oh man, it's educational. You learn about yourself, you learn about what you can do. The way Naazim looks at everything is just different than any other trainer I've been with. I had a trainer before and he could only take me but so far, which was great, but Naazim has taken me even further. He has been making me realize my potential even beyond the potential I thought I had. We go into a fight very well-oiled, in shape and confident. It's educational, it's like you're in school and you love to go to school. You just learning and learning. This guy has so much info your just amazed.
BT: Last question, any chance as your career moves forward, maybe even a few years from now, that boxing fans get to see you in the states and maybe even in Philadelphia?
SC: I would to love to fight in Philly. I am praying we are able to put on a fight in Philly before I retire. As long as I keep winning and get in position I will be able to have more power and more say. I fought here in 2003 on the Bernard Hopkins undercard, but I would love to fight in Philly as a champion. It would be a dream come true.
BT: Any last thoughts you want to put out before we go?
SC: Just putting out there continue to pray for me, those who have been praying for me and my family. We got some things in the works. I'm working on a comic book. Hopefully by the end of the year turning me into a superhero. I draw most of it and getting people to help me and make it look sharp. This fight coming up here for Hernandez we already coined it "It's time for War." It's like the scripture says, there is a time for love, there's a time for peace, and there's a time for war. This is time for war.