PHILADELPHIA — There are no long lasting friendships along bash street.
Steve Cunningham and Amir Mansour know that all too well. There was a time, not that long ago, when Cunningham and Mansour were pals. They sparred with each other. Mansour even credits Cunningham, one of the real good guys in boxing, for his progress as a pro.
But the world of boxing doesn’t care about that. It’s a truth machine that’s usually a great divider. Friendship is damned when it comes to keeping one’s career alive. And that’s what Mansour and Cunningham were each faced with if either lost their 10-round USBA title fight on NBC Sports Network’s Fight Night at Temple University’s Liacouras Center, promoted by Main Events.
Mansour knew a loss would mar his dreams of a rapid rise. At 41, his window is only so open. His skills are coarse. He does almost everything wrong. There are times Mansour (20-1, 15 knockouts) swings so hard he looks like a human helicopter. But when he connects, Mansour has the kind of one-punch power that can break anyone.
The 37-year-old Cunningham (27-6, 12 KOs), who had lost four of his last six fights entering the bout, is not easy to break. And though Mansour busted the veteran up pretty good, it was Cunningham that arose from two fifth-round knockdowns with a unanimous 10-round decision.
Judges Dave Braslow and John Poturaj both had it 95-92 for Cunningham and Alan Rubenstein scored it 97-90 for “USS.” THE RING had Cunningham the victor based on punching accuracy and superior skills, in line with the two judges that had it close, 95-92.
So much for friends.
As fight time approached, the relationship got contentious—even when it came to the walk-in. The two almost came to blows before they even stepped into the ring, arguing over who should enter the ring first.
Cunningham finally relented and entered first, since “Hardcore” Mansour held the USBA heavyweight trinket.
In the opening round, Mansour quickly gained Cunningham’s attention with a blunt right jab to the face. He cornered Cunningham and had him backing up in the final minute of the round. In Round 2, "USS" went away from boxing and tried fighting with the heavier-handed Mansour. Cunningham stunned Mansour with a right, but Mansour bounced back. He connected with two big rights, and though he was crude and swinging wildly, he was exciting.
After Round 2, Cunningham was pretty cut up. He was bleeding from a slice over his left eye.
Round 3 marked a cruder Mansour. His flailing lefts and rights missed Cunningham by a considerable distance. The rare times he connected, his shots carried an impact. With blood pouring from his left eye, Cunningham gallantly outboxed Mansour, whose left eye began to swell.
In Round 4, Cunningham’s superior skill began to surface. He used his reach and quick jab to keep the hard-charging Mansour at bay—and that’s what gave Cunningham the round—making the fight even after Round 4.
Cunningham seemed to be winning Round 5, when Mansour uncorked a right hook on the chin, dropping Cunningham. When USS got up gingerly and didn’t have his legs under him, Mansour went on the attack again, putting Cunningham down a second time.
After that, Cunningham's superior skills took control. He pelted Mansour with jabs and shots to the body that had a telling effect on the older fighter. Mansour made a bad choice by taking Round 9 off, and paid for it when Cunningham tagged him with a right to the face. In Round 10, Mansour bounced back and was more active. But it was Cunningham that peppered Mansour and had him backing up and his glove touched the canvas, forcing referee Steve Smoger to call it a knockdown.
It threw more thrills into what was already a thrilling fight.
Two of the three judges gave Cunningham the last five rounds, and the other judge gave him four of the last five. Rubenstein only gave Mansour Round 5.
In the co-feature, middleweight Curtis Stevens (27-4, 20 KOs) kept his comeback drive alive with a rousing, 10-round stoppage over a very game Tureano Johnson (14-1, 10 KOs), who hadn’t fought in 14 months.
If there was any ring rust, Johnson didn’t show it. Every ringside observer keeping score had Johnson up in the last round, when Stevens had him in trouble against the ropes and referee Gary Rosato stepped in to wave it off at the 2:09 mark of the 10th round.
Rosato’s choice was received with great consternation from the crowd, who rained down boos on the decision.
“He wasn’t punching back,” said Rosato, defending the stoppage.
At the time of the stoppage, Johnson was ahead on all three scorecards. Judges Pierre Benoist and John Poturaj both had it 89-82 and judge Dave Braslow had it 87-84 for Johnson.
Johnson threw 624 punches to Stevens’ 557. Johnson landed 235, for 38-percent, while Stevens landed 223 punches for 40-percent. Stevens’ thudding shots did have an impact, connecting at a 45-percent rate (210-of-470), while Johnson connected on 39-percent (231-of-598).
On the undercard, Edner Cherry kept his comeback going. Campaigning as a junior lightweight, Cherry (32-6-2, 17 KOs) won an eight-round decision over Robert Osiobe (14-9-4, 6 KOs). It was the second time Cherry fought in two years.
Light heavyweight Sullivan Barrera (11-0, 6 KOs) remained undefeated with a six-round decision over Larry Pryor (7-8, 4 KOs).
In an eight-round, rock’em-sock’em light heavyweight fight, Lee Campbell (7-0, 3 KOs) outlasted Robert Acevedo (8-2, 5 KOs) by a majority decision.
Mike Lee (12-0, 7 KOs), he of the Subway sandwich commercials, was coming off a layoff of about 19 months, the longest of his career. Lee was making his Main Events debut after being dropped by Top Rank due to host of cancelled bouts. Lee was also recovering from dealing with headaches due to Invisalign braces.
Lee, with former heavyweight world champion Chris Byrd in his corner for the first time as his trainer, took on Peter Lewison (6-1, 5 KOs) in a six-round light heavyweight battle.
Lee bloodied Lewison’s nose in Round 5 with a straight right. In Round 6, Lee dropped Lewison with another straight right, and a staggering, incoherent Lewison had nothing left after that. His corner jumped in to stop it at 1:39 of Round 6.
“I felt relaxed,” Lee said. “The first four rounds I wasn’t as sharp as I was in sparring, but in the fifth round, I was back. This is amazing, to come back with a one-punch knockout. I feel great.”
Evincil Dixon (4-4-1, 2 KOs) won by second-round TKO over Edgardo Torres (2-3, 2 KOs) in a junior welterweight bout.