Livvy wears a manager hat, but tonight at the Pru, she will be the devoted wife, watching husband Steve make his first step in the heavyweight division.
The Biggs Morrison boxing gym in Atlanta will always be remembered as a special place for Steve “USS” Cunningham.
It was there that the former two time cruiserweight champion of the world, newly discharged after four years of service in the U.S. Navy, began to train for an amateur boxing career and met a neophyte boxer who would have a profound and lasting effect on his life.
His path through the gym’s doorway would lead to a professional boxing career and allow him to meet his future wife and partner in life, Livvy.
“Steve had moved to Atlanta after the Navy and I had moved there after graduating from college,” recalls Livvy Cunningham. “I had always been a casual boxing fan and joined the gym to get in shape. That is where we met in 2000.”
Their newly formed relationship would take them from Atlanta, Ga to Martinsville, Va, from the amateur to professional ranks, from undefeated prospect to world champion, from Martinsville to Philadelphia; and from dating to married life, parenthood and now the heavyweight division.
After fighting as a cruiserweight for the majority of his pro career Cunningham, (24-4, 12 KO) , will step into the ring for the first time as a heavyweight when he faces Jason Gavern (21-10-4, 10 KO) in a ten round bout tonight at the Prudential Center in Newark.
His fight is the co-feature in a card headlined by Tomasz Adamek (46-2, 28 KO) clashing with Travis Walker (39-7-1, 31 KO).
The fight is the first in a new promotional agreement with Main Events, who achieved great success in guiding Adamek from cruiserweight champion, into the heavyweight division and a world title opportunity.
It was that recent blueprint along with the job Main Events did in revitalizing the career of Zab Judah, a Cunningham friend, that convinced Cunningham to sign with Main Events and begin his heavyweight journey.
When his multi fight deal with Germany’s Sauerland Event expired, Cunningham saw limited opportunities remaining at cruiserweight and fighting overseas. Former champions Adamek and David Haye had left for the heavyweight division, and a hoped for rematch with Marco Huck did not appear to be on the horizon.
With that realization Cunningham trained his sights on the heavyweight division, although with some hesitation, “My mindset was I wasn’t chasing money, so there was no immediate need to go to heavyweight,” the Philadelphia fighter related during a break from training. “I felt I could be comfortable with what a cruiserweight champion could make. My goal was to be the best cruiserweight of all time. If the fights had unfolded as I planned, I would have retired as a cruiserweight.”
As often happens in the business of boxing the fights did not unfold the way Cunningham planned, and a move to heavyweight was now an exciting reality.
As Cunningham moved through the various phases of his career and the highs and lows that came along with them, Livvy was right by his side.
As soon as he began his pro career she started to assist and work with the promoter’s office with the desire to learn as much as possible about the business of boxing.
“I graduated with a degree in business management with a concentration in marketing, and I wanted to put what I had learned to use in helping with Steve’s career,” the personable Mrs. Cunningham said.
As she continued to gain experience it became a comfortable and natural progression to assume the role of manager for her husband’s career.
As Cunningham himself put it, “who better to have your best interests at heart than your wife?”
Being married to and managing a professional fighter does bring a lot of emotions into focus. “As a wife I realize that my husband is literally putting his life on the line to provide for our family," she said. "As a manager I wear many hats on the business side of things, but when it’s fight night I go back to being a concerned wife.”
Gaining acceptance of her role in the male dominated landscape of boxing has taken time and Livvy encountered resistance along the way. “Naazim Richardson is the first trainer to accept me, not feel threatened by my presence, and keep me at arm’s length thinking I might take his job," she stated emphatically. “Naazim welcomes me into the corner to watch and learn, he is willing to take the time to explain things if I have a question.”
With her husband now campaigning back in the U.S., and a solid promotional team in place, Livvy has plans to capitalize on his winning personality and years of service for his country to raise his profile in the world of marketing and endorsements.
Outside the ring the Cunninghams live a life centered around family and faith.
They are devoted parents to sons Steve Jr.(9), Cruz (1), and daughter Kennedy (7) . Their faith is the bedrock of their family life as Kennedy has been diagnosed with a serious heart condition and after several surgeries still faces uncertainties regarding her condition.
As he embarks on his journey to capture the heavyweight crown, Cunningham now has the opportunity to build the homegrown fan base that a fighter of his accomplishments deserves.
“That’s my prayer for Steve,” states his wife and manager, “to experience an arena full of fans cheering for him.”
The first step in that process begins tonight at the Prudential Center.
Who will win? Wladimir Klitschko or Tyson Fury?