Championships Chairman Lindsay Tucker has informed RingTV.com that the IBF has ordered an immediate rematch of the cruiserweight title bout in which Steve Cunningham lost his belt by sixth-round technical decision to Yoan Pablo Hernandez on Oct. 1 in Neubrandenburg, Germany.
ESPN.com originally reported the story.
“It means a lot to us. This is the second time that Steve has been involved in a controversial fight for his title with the IBF, and the second time that he’s gotten a rematch,” said Cunningham’s attorney, John Hornewer.
“In this case, it was the way that the fight was really stopped that the fight was stopped and the way that the fight was going that we felt very strongly that the ending wasn’t satisfactory for the guys, and, particularly and especially for Steve.”
The fighters accidentally clashed heads twice in the early rounds, causing a cut over Hernandez’s right eye that widened as the fight progressed. In the sixth round, Hernandez’s trainer, Ulli Wegner, asked for an examination by referee Mickey Vann, who then stopped the bout on the advice of ringside doctor Walter Wagner.
“The cuts weren’t dangerous, but the blood could have run into the eyes and affected his vision. I think the head clashes that the referee felt were accidental weren’t entirely accidental,” Wagner told the Associated Press.
“You can have different opinions there. Hernandez was at a disadvantage from the cuts, so I gave the recommendation.”
Tucker said that he and IBF President Darryl Peoples reviewed the video of the clash and determined that there “was an improper stoppage of the title fight.”
“We ordered a rematch for Cunningham and Hernandez,” said Tucker. “The rematch has to take place within 120 days.”
The winner must face mandatory challenger Troy Ross by May 11, said Tucker. Cunningham rose from a fourth round knockdown to defeat Ross by fifth-round knockout in June of last year.
“I’m so glad that they corrected the situation. The ringside doctor whose decision led to the fight’s being stopped kind of did us a favor when he said that the cuts were very bad, but that Hernandez was at a competitive disadvantage. That didn’t sound like a medical opinion to me, that sounded like a strategic opinion,” said Hornewer.
“That was pretty much the center of our complaint, is that there was an accidental headbutt and when a guy gets up at the end of the round and his cuts aren’t bleeding, unless there is some kind of risk to his healthy as a result of the cuts, then it’s hard to understand why the fight was stopped. It was our opinion that because the fight was getting closer and closer, that people seem to agree that if the fight’s stopped were it was, then Hernandez has the chance to win it [on the cards.]“
The move comes not long after the IBF’s decision to order an immediate rematch between winner Abner Mares and former bantamweight titleholder Joseph Agbeko after referee Russell Mora failed to penalize Mares for repeated low blows in their fight Aug. 13 on Showtime.
Peoples ordered the rematch between Mares and Agbeko after reviewing replays of their Showtime-televised bout with Tucker, including an 11th-round knockdown punch that Mora ruled legal even though replays clearly showed the punch landing on Agbeko’s cup.
The Showtime-televised return bout between Mares and Agbeko will take place on Dec. 3.
Another such order was made last year, when a rematch was mandated between IBF junior flyweight beltholder Luis Alberto Lazarte and challenger Ulises Solis, who battled to a foul-filled draw in December.
Solis dethroned Lazarte by unanimous decision in April
“A lot of people didn’t know about Lazarte-Solis because their fights happened in Buenor Aires, Argentina, but we ordered the rematch in the fight between at that time. The champion was Luis Lazarte, and he fought a mandatory defense against the former champion, Ulises Solis, There were a lot of fouls in that fight, kind of similar to Agbeko-Mares,” said Tucker.
“We ordered a rematch in that. That fight happened and Solis won the rematch. The Agbeko-Mares fight got a lot of attention, but a lot of people didn’t even know about the Lazarte-Solis fight, which was similar. There were a lot of fouls. At one point, it looked like Lazarte had bitten Solis in the neck. If something is improper, then we try to make it right.”
As for the latest fight to fall under the rematch order, judges Pawel Kardyni and Dave Parris scored it for Hernandez 59-54 and 58-55, respectively, while Howard John Foster had it 57-56 for the 35-year-old Cunningham (24-3, 12 KOs).
Although he barely beat the 10-count to continue after being down in the first round against Hernandez, Cunningham immediately called for a rematch, saying he was “set up” and that he was still the best cruiserweight in the world.
Hernandez, who has now won 11 consecutive fights, last lost when he was knocked out in the third round by Wayne Braithwaite in March of 2008.
Hernandez won a clash of southpaws in February when he dropped Steve Herelius (21-2-1, 12 KOs) twice in the seventh and final round to end the fighter’s seven-bout winning streak.
Trained by Naazim Richardson, the same man who works with former undisputed middleweight champ and RING and WBC light heavyweight titleholder Bernard Hopkins (52-5-2, 32 KOs), Cunningham was considered to be the world’s No. 1 cruiserweight.
The loss to Hernandez ended Cunningham’s winning streak at three, having last tasted defeat in December of 2008, when he lost the IBF cruiserweight title to Tomasz Adamek (44-2, 28 KOs) via split-decision.
Before falling to Adamek, Cunningham had won two straight: a majority decision over Krzysztof Wlodarczyk (45-2-1, 32 KOs) of Poland in May of 2007, and a 12th-round knockout of Marco Huck (33-1, 24 KOs), who are the current WBC and WBO titleholders, respectively.
By defeating Wlodarczyk, Cunningham dethroned him as IBF beltholder and avenged a split-decision loss from November of 2006.
Cunningham also already owns a split-decision victory over current WBA titlist Guillermo Jones (37-3-2, 29 KOs) from April of 2005.
“Steve Cunningham is the only guy I know who has three losses, and in each of his losses, one of the judges voted for him,” said Hornewer. “Steve Johnson is an established fighter in the division, and the great part is that an accomplished fighter gets the chance to do it again.”
Lem Satterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org