On April 20, Steve “USS” Cunningham will port in New York City to welcome England’s Tyson Fury across the pond and into the historic realm of Madison Square Garden. The 12-round heavyweight bout is the 2013 debut of boxing programming on basic NBC.
Cunningham (25-5, 12 KOs), a career cruiserweight until two contests ago, returns to the network after a questionable split-decision loss in a rematch with Tomasz Adamek on Dec. 22. At heavyweight he is 1-1, having garnered an easy decision in beating Jason Gavern in September, but he now faces his tallest order yet.
Indeed tall — Tyson towers over most opponents at 6-foot-9 — the Manchester native is undefeated with 14 knockouts in 20 bouts. He earned a wide decision over Kevin Johnson in December and stopped Vinny Maddalone by the 5th round in July. Against Cunningham, Fury steps into the squared circle for the first time on U.S. soil. All but one of his bouts had been fought in the United Kingdom, the lone exception an eight round sweep of 32-loss Zack Page at the Pepsi Coliseum in Quebec.
A physical specimen in his own right, the 6-foot-3 Cunningham is at a slight height disadvantage, but the Philadelphia-born-and-bred fighter possesses a fan-friendly style and — for a competitor often willing to travel to opponents’ home countries himself — will have the predictably raucous MSG crowd behind him. While Fury’s reach is 85 inches, the U.S. Navy veteran’s is 82.
Unlike Cunningham, the 24-year-old Fury has spent his entire career at heavyweight, a professional for nearly four and a half years. Physically, Fury is one of the most imposing individuals in the division and has the fan base to make him a viable contender. His record speaks for his skill, with victims such as the aforementioned Johnson and Dereck Chisora, whom he also dominated in a unanimous decision win. He has some cab drivers on his resume, but Fury has shown heart, peeling his giant frame off the canvas in the 2nd round to score a stoppage of previously unbeaten Neven Pajkic in the following frame during a November 2011 outing.
No stranger to knockdowns himself, the sometimes chinny Cunningham has been caught and dropped at times in multitude. Yet this man of many talents — Cunningham also raps and draws comic books — has never been stopped in his nearly 13 years in the ring. Incredibly, those shaky moments have often led to the 36-year-old letting his hands go with ferocity and creating ebbs and flows that make Fight of the Year type bouts, a tendency evidenced in his first skirmish with Adamek at cruiserweight in December 2008, which Cunningham lost by split decision.
In a division dominated by the brothers Klitschko, the victor between Cunningham and Fury will likely have their sights set on Vitali or Wladimir. And as NBC brings a broader audience than premium channels, the winner might just get his shot.