By Johnny Walker
IBF cruiserweight champion Yoan Pablo Hernandez triumphed on the scorecards today with a unanimous decision win in a thrilling cruiserweight showdown with former champ Steve “USS” Cunningham, held at the Fraport Arena in Frankfurt, Germany.
Hernandez (26-1-0), who won the title in a disputed bout with Cunningham last October, came out sharp in the early rounds of the fight, working the body of the challenger, whose punches were too often falling short of the mark. The Cuban expatriate often appeared to be outworking Cunningham, but the first three rounds were close and could have legitimately gone either way on the judge’s scorecards.
The fourth round, however, turned out to be decisive. The round was close until the last minute, when Hernandez connected with a crushing short left to the American’s jaw, sending him sprawling to the canvas. Cunningham got to his feet, only to be decked again. With referee Eddie Cotton seemingly on the verge of stopping the fight with every passing tick of the clock, Cunningham gamely got to his feet and managed to tie Hernandez up enough to get out of the round.
Amazingly, Cunningham (24-4-0) appeared to swing the fight in his direction in round five. With Hernandez pressing hard to try to keep the momentum from the previous round going, Cunningham found an opening for a short right hand that stunned the champion. Hernandez then backed off and became tentative, though Cunningham himself was starting to bleed profusely from the nose and eye.
For the next few rounds, Cunningham seemed to be the fresher man, letting out some war whoops as he unleashed sharp combinations on the champion. But just when it seemed the fight and the title might be slipping away from him, Hernandez caught a second wind, ending round ten with a flurry of blows that was enough to stop the momentum of the game American challenger.
The penultimate round was another tight one, but the final round saw Hernandez demonstrate championship grit. With the fight seemingly in the balance, the champ unloaded a wicked left hand shot that rocked Cunningham to the core. That the American stayed on his feet is testament to his own grit and willpower, but the tide had once again turned, now for the final time.
The judges’ tallies—116-100 (twice) and 115-111–seemed too wide for a fight as closely contested as this one. Boxing Insider had it 115-113 in favor of the champion. Regardless, the right man won, but such was the magnificence of this matchup that the idea of a making it a trilogy is very appealing. For even though Hernandez won the fight, in no way was Steve Cunningham a loser.