Two Months Before Her Transplant
Rich Graessle/Main Events
As the 38-year old USBA Heavyweight Champion and two-time former cruiserweight world champion Steve “USS” Cunningham (28-6, 13 KOs) prepares to defend his title against Vyacheslav “Czar” Glazkov (19-0-1, 12 KOs) and fight for the mandatory position in the IBF, he does it a little differently than he has in the past, but with a newfound level of strength and courage he gained from an unlikely source, his nine-year old daughter Kennedy.
For the first time in almost five years, Cunningham will be away from his family while he trains in Philadelphia with his trainer, the legendary Brother Naazim Richardson. He is staying alone in a dorm-like room at his gym, but is not bothered by it as a Veteran of the United States Navy: “I was in the Navy for four years so I lived in crowded rooms with 80 guys before; so this is alright with me,” explained Cunningham.
As much as Steve misses his family, they are apart for a great reason: his daughter, Kennedy, is in Pittsburgh with his wife and sons recovering from a heart transplant. Kennedy was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and doctors told Steve and his wife, Livvy, that she would most likely die at a very young age. Kennedy defied the odds by surviving multiple surgeries and a lifetime of doctors and hospitals, until last year, when doctors told the Cunninghams all hope was lost and they needed to take their daughter home and make her comfortable. A few days later, on April 4, 2014, a devastated Steve put on a career-defining performance (with Kennedy front and center), overcoming two knockdowns to hand Amir “Hardcore” Mansour his first pro loss and take the USBA Heavyweight Title.
After his victory over Mansour, Steve and Livvy decided to get a second opinion. Their search brought them to Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh where Dr. Victor Morell told them Kennedy was a candidate for a transplant. They listed her for a new heart and the Cunninghams relocated to Pittsburgh to anxiously wait for the call that would save their daughter’s life. The boxing community responded with an outpouring of support, raising over $30,000 to help defray the costs associated with the surgery and move that would not be covered by insurance. During this emotionally fraught time, Steve continued to train and defeated Natu Visinia by knock out on October 8, 2014 at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia with Kennedy at ringside.
Finally, in December, Kennedy got her new heart. It was the same week that Steve learned he would get another shot to earn a world heavyweight title fight against Glazkov. Steve said that Kennedy was rock solid while they waited in the hospital for the surgery that might save her life or end it. He said, “The way she handled the whole thing head-on, I just need to remember the confident look on her face as she was in the hospital waiting for her surgery to give me all the steam I need. Kennedy is my motivation. She was going into her transplant surgery with a “Let’s go!” attitude. That is my attitude right now.”
After several weeks in the hospital and a few hiccups along the way, Kennedy was finally allowed to leave the hospital, but she must remain in Pittsburgh to be near her doctors while she recovers. So, Steve happily trains alone.
Despite appearing in eight IBF Cruiserweight World Championship fights, Steve has never fought on HBO before. When asked about making his HBO debut on March 14, Steve said, “I am super excited to be fighting on HBO, FINALLY! And I want my performance to ensure that this is not my last time fighting on HBO.”
This fight against Glazkov will be the second time Cunningham has faced a Main Events’ stablemate. In 2012, he lost a split decision against Tomasz Adamek. Glazkov has also faced Adamek (on March 15, 2014) and defeated him via unanimous decision. Cunningham was on hand to witness Glazkov’s defeat over Adamek and appeared as a guest commentator on the telecast. He said, “He beat Adamek and did a damn good job with it and I think I am going to see a better version of Glazkov than the one that fought Adamek.” However, Steve added, “Glazkov is a damn good fighter and good fighters bring out the best in other fighters. That is what I believe is going to happen. The game plan is the same as usual: win by all means.”
About Kovalev vs. Pascal
Kovalev vs. Pascal is a 12-round fight for the WBO, WBA and IBF Light Heavyweight World Championship Titles. The fight will be televised live on HBO World Championship Boxing® on March 14, 2015 from the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Tickets are on sale now at the Bell Centre ticket office, at www.evenko.ca, by telephone at 1-855-310-2525 or through Club de Boxe Champion (514-376-0980). This event is a co-promotion of Main Events and InterBox, presented by Vidéotron in association with Mise-O-Jeu.