Have we indeed seen another British invasion? Well, the jury may still be out on that.
But Tyson Fury demonstrated on Saturday afternoon that he’ll be heard from again in the heavyweight division, as he used his bulk to advantage with a seventh-round KO win over former cruiserweight champion Steve Cunningham at the Theater at Madison Square Garden.
Tyson Fury (White/Green) knocks out Steve Cunningham (Gold/Orange/Black) in the 7th round of their 12 round heavyweight bout at the Theater at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
The end came at 2:54 of the round, after Fury landed a mean right hand.
The fight was televised live on NBC.
Fury, the undefeated Brit, remains unbeaten and now becomes the #2 contender as recognized by the International Boxing Federation, as this fight was billed as an IBF “eliminator.” This should lead to an eventual fight against champion Wladimir Klitschko, who, in the meantime, is slated for a fight in two weeks against unbeaten Francesco Pianeta.
The win did not come without some anxiety, however.
After a first round where Fury used his jab somewhat effectively to capitalize on his edge in reach, then shoved Cunningham in a show of bravado when the bell sounded, he came out more aggressively in the second, but was nailed on the forehead by Cunningham’s solid overhand right and went to the canvas. Fury endeavored to hold on, while Cunningham had difficulty finishing.
Fury came out a little stronger in the third, and ultimately settled into a strategy of laying on Cunningham and trying to physically wear him down, and he accelerated this to an extent in the fourth after getting hit flush with another overhand right. This led to him being warned for holding. But the strategy was starting to have its effect. Cunningham was quicker, but he was certainly not strong enough to wrestle. The tide started to turn, and Fury found that he could not only lean on Cunningham, but also put his opponent on the end of his punches when there was distance.
Only a point taken from Fury for using his head too much prevented him from winning the fifth round outright. And Cunningham was clearly tired. In fact, his corner must have felt he needed some extra rest time, because the tape on his glove “accidentally” needed some adjustments, which delayed the start of the sixth. Fury stalked him and managed to shake him up a bit with a right hand. The bigger man was getting much more active.
The difference in size had gotten Cunningham worn down, and in the seventh Fury got him in a place he wanted him – against the ropes. A big right uppercut landed, which put Cunningham into trouble, and finally a right hook floored him for the ten count.
Cunningham, the former cruiserweight champion who was giving up six inches in height, weighed in at 210 pounds, while Fury, who came into the fight undefeated but rather lightly tested as a pro, tipped the scales at 254 pounds. According to the statistics provided by NBC, Fury landed 82 power punches to 69 for Cunningham.
Fury told an NBC reporter before the fight that he was simply going to “smash Cunningham’s face.” Well, that happened, though with more effort than he must have thought was going to be required. His response afterward was that “A good big one will always beat a good little one.” He was right in this instance.
Cunningham, whose record is now 25-6 with 12 KO’s, came into the fight having lost three of his last four bouts, including a controversial decision defeat to Tomasz Adamek last December. He had twice won the IBF cruiser title, but lost two fights to Yoan Pablo Hernandez before a tuneup victory over journeyman Jason Gavern, prior to the bout with Adamek.
The question is whether he will continue to campaign in the heavyweight division. Many of the top people populating this weight class are going to carry considerable physical advantages. When interviewed by NBC, he said he felt like he was fighting two people in there – the fighter who was leaning on him and the fighter who was throwing punches at him.
Fury moves to 21-0 with his 15th knockout as a result of this fight, his first in the United States.
Before the fight, he had said “I’ll retire if I don’t stop him,” referring to Cunningham,
After the fight, Fury broke into song, and all indications are that he should unquestionably retire from that avocation.
The evaluation of his first impression might still be one of skepticism by some, but the fact remains that even though he was knocked down by a much smaller man, he did recuperate and come back with a strategy that worked very efficiently.
If he finds himself matched up down the road with Wladimir Klitschko, he may be looking down (as he is three inches taller) but he’ll be fighting someone who, in general, can match up with him in the size department. By the same token, Klitschko may have fought some smaller heavyweights, but no one with these dimensions. Some would nonetheless call Fury’s chin in question.
Both fighters were facing adversity in a sense. Fury’s mentor, his uncle Peter Fury, did not make it to the fight, encountering visa issues, and Cunningham’s baby daughter is in the hospital with heart and lung problems, having just been admitted.
The IBF had left its #2 spot vacant. Fury went into the fight ranked #8, with Cunningham in the #12 position, just behind Adamek. With this fight, Fury now leapfrogs Bryant Jennings and David Haye, among others. Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev is the #1 contender, by virtue of a knockout of Alexander Ustinov last September. A couple of months ago, Tomasz Adamek had stated that he was not interested in fighting an IBF title eliminator against Pulev because, in his words, “engaging in a bout with Kubrat Pulev at this time simply does not make financial sense.” supposedly Fury would now meet Pulev to see who will get a title shot.
At the very same time the fight was happening, the New York Knicks were hosting the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of their NBA playoff series in the main Garden arena. As you might imagine, in the midst of the Boston Marathon bombings, security measures were tightened, with customers patted down and bags searched.