Joseph Santoliquito

Fury proves to be the bigger man, not better, in KOing Cunningham

NEW YORK, N.Y. – Tyson Fury possesses the kind of cockney brio and Irish charm that can fill any arena, along with his boxing skills, potent right hand, and imposing size.

The undefeated British heavyweight contender just better leave his singing and dancing back in England. He should leave his susceptible chin in customs, too.

What looked like a scary fight in the early going, Fury (21-0, 15 knockouts) turned into a dog fight Saturday afternoon against feisty, undersized Steve Cunningham, gaining a seventh-round knockout victory at the Theater at Madison Square Garden on NBC’s Fight Night.

Fury recovered from a second-round knockdown to stop the two-time cruiserweight titleholder Cunningham for the first time in his career with a brutal, chopping right hand at the 2:55 mark of the seventh – a right that was helped by a left forearm that propped up Cunningham’s chin.

“I was hunting him down, and boom,” Fury said. “I didn’t come here to play any games, even though I played a few in there. I came here to get a knockout and I’m very grateful for the knockout. He got me with one, and I wanted to get him back double.”

Fury, 6-foot-9, 254 pounds, used his considerable size to lean and gradually wear down Cunningham, who is 6-foot-3 and weighed in at 210. Fury landed 106 out of 336 total punches, and 82 of 193 power shots. But here was the telling difference: 53 of Fury’s 82 power shots came over the last three rounds.

“It was just a matter of time, because every time I hit this guy, it was going right to his boots,” said Fury, who danced for the crowd between the fifth and sixth rounds. “I know I have the power in both hands to do damage and that showed tonight. The guy is a good boxer, but the guy isn’t a good dogfighter. I brought him into a dog fight and he came out the loser. The bigger dog will always win. Stronger. Bigger. Better. He put up a good fight.”

Fury, making his United States debut, looked eerily like another New York heavyweight – Gerry Cooney. Fury is Cooney-esque in physique, without Cooney’s jab, skills or punching accuracy.

At the time of the knockout, Fury was trailing, 57-55, on judges John Poturaj and Waleska Roldan’s scorecards, with a point taken away for head butting in the fifth round by referee Eddie Cotton, while judge Glenn Feldman had it 56-56 after six rounds.

Early in the second round, Cunningham threw a major shock into the crowd when he sent Fury down on his back with a straight right to the chin. For the rest of the round, Fury hung on for dear life, his trunks falling and his backside went builder’s bum (in America, called “plumber’s crack.”) Fury taped the waistband of his trunks the remainder of the fight.

“He’s not the best fighter in the world, in my opinion, I’m 6-foot-3, 208 pounds, and if he didn’t do a little damage to me, he should retire,” Cunningham said. “If you look at the tape, and see someone who fouls, with all the shoulders, and elbows, he went and took it to the alleyway. There were some things he did illegal in there. I’m disappointed I lost, and the guy is 6-9, he’s a giant. With a big guy like this, he keeps coming and you have to fight. I fought. I saw I could put him down.”

Fury did well in the first round, keeping the smaller Cunningham away with a lumbering jab. What sparked Cunningham was when Fury shoved him after the bell ending the first. Cunningham charged out in the second, landed the right that felled Fury, and the fight was on.

It took Fury a few rounds before he could regain his legs. He then began leaning on Cunningham, forcing him to gradually tire. By the fifth, Fury began finding his distance and connecting.

The end may have come before Fury unleashed his formidable right that knocked out Cunningham. With roughly 30 seconds left in the seventh, Fury connected with a right to the body, and that seemed to sap any strength Cunningham had.

Fury then honed in and leaned on Cunningham, leveraging his left forearm under Cunningham’s chin, and slamming the right hand that spelled the end of the fight. Cunningham thought the tactic was a dirty move.

“I knew Tyson was going to grab him, get him in a headlock; I come from the streets. I respect it. Sometimes young man you have to do what you have to do to win,” said Naazim Richardson, Cunningham’s trainer. “That’s for someone else to say what’s right and what’s wrong. You put me on my ass, I’m going to fight like a wild maniac, too. He got up and started panicking and I understand that.

“Steve figured someone was going to do something about it. Sometime in a boxing match a fight breaks out. I was a little shocked that a big man had to do what he did.”

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