Steve Cunningham was demoralized after his August fight with Antonio Tarver, figuring that if he couldn't beat the 46-year-old ex light heavy champ, maybe this boxing thing had to come to the end of the road.
But today, his mood is different; Monday morning, the ex Navy man, highly regarded in the sport for his cajones, as an undersized heavyweight looking to make a score against men outweighing him by 20-30 or more pounds, told me that he's re-invigorated. Why?
Because if it plays out as the Chris Mannix/Sports Illustrated report states, and Tarver's A and B samples tested positive for a too-high level of testosterone, synthetic testosterone, then Cunningham sees their Aug. 14 fight with different eyes.
The bout was not a barn burner, and ended in a draw. To Cunningham, it sent a rough message, that maybe after being a pro since 2000, it was time to transition away from active participation.
But this AM, “I'm doing great. I had a bad feeling after the fight, and was looking for an exit strategy out of the sport,” he told me. “Tarver was out of shape, I was in tip-top shape, but I wasn't able to do anything (to him).”
He said he thought maybe he'd just play out the string, keep fighting, but more so purely for a title crack and the money. “Now, if we find out he took PEDs, which help power, stamina, endurance, that's flat out cheating.”
Tarver, who turns 47 Nov. 21, has a history here; in 2012, he tested positive after his fight with Lateef Kayode. He was fined, and suspended a year, and lost a Showtime announce gig. “This has given me an extra spark,” the PA-based Cunningham, advised by Al Haymon and managed by wife Livvy, said.
Cunningham, who popped on many radars when non-boxing fans learned of the grace under fire shown by his whole family as they dealt and deal with daughters Kennedys' heart condition, which necessitated a transplant last year, told me why he's so heated about the PED issue. “We are already super human,” he said. Then you give PEDs to someone already super human…it can be deadly.”
Indeed; we were reminded Saturday, as we sadly periodically are, that this sport is no game. Cunningham was ringside doing TV analysis for the Prichard Colon-Terrel Williams bout. Colon took punches behind the head in a scheduled ten rounder in Virginia, and suffered a brain bleed, and had emergency brain surgery after the fight. He is not currently conscious and is in intensive care. “Illegal drugs can (help a fighter kill an opponent)! There should be such strong repercussions against Tarver” if the story plays out true and he used a PED ahead of the Cunningham fight, said Cunningham.
That fight took place in New Jersey, so I contacted the NJ commission chief, Larry Hazzard Sr, and await a reply.
I also texted an interview request to Tarver.
“Now we have to look at all Tarvers' knockouts. He is known for knockouts, for knocking out Roy Jones. Why did he have such power? If (the story plays out as true) and he was headed to the Hall of Fame, that should be scratched. It's a disgrace to every boxer who wants to do it right!”
Cunningham (turns 40 next July; 28-7-1 record, with 13 KOs, stopped once) said Haymon is looking into the matter, and he's talked to a lawyer about a legal avenue for him. “Lives are on the line…it's like assault and battery to me…look what happened this weekend!” We touched on the Colon tragedy; “I don't assume Williams is on anything…regarding the Colon fight, Williams took it to the trenches. Colon was hit on the back of the head a few times…the referee possibly dropped the ball not having more points taken, more warnings.”
Cunningham said he got done dirty when he fought Tyson Fury a couple years ago, so he's quite sympathetic to team Colon.
“After the Colon fight, I learned about his condition, and me and my family prayed in the hotel…we know how dangerous this sport is.” And, he reiterates, to exacerbate the danger, with the addition of an illegal aid to ones' power and stamina, that's criminal.
We stand with Steve Cunningham, and hope and pray and demand all powers that be do better, much frickin' better, at keeping PEDs out of the veins of pro boxers, and out of this sport which deserves better.