Heavyweight Tyson Fury (21-0, 15 KOs) survived a second round knockdown to defeat Steve Cunningham (25-6, 12 KOs) by seventh round knockout on Saturday afternoon at the Theater in Madison Square Garden.
Fury, who talked up a storm coming into the fight, tried to intimidate Cunningham by slapping his gloves in the touch up before the fight, trash talking during the first round and shoving him after the bell rang at the end of the first stanza.
Cunningham showed just how intimidated he was at the start of the second round when a huge overhand right from the Philadelphia native put the giant Irish traveler from Manchester on his back on the canvas.
Fury was hurt, but he picked himself up. Though he was groggy and unsteady on his legs, he somehow managed to get out of the round.
The 6’9” Fury, who weighed in at 254 pounds, some 44 pounds heavier than Cunningham, did not box well. Instead, he used his size and weight to try and bully Cunningham into submission.
The 24-year-old never used his reach advantage or established distance to get his shots off. He barged in with fairly crude assaults that Cunningham managed to quell quite well.
Cunningham stunned Fury with a straight right in the fourth, and the only boxing that was being done was by the former two-time cruiserweight champion.
In the fifth Fury was deducted a point for illegal use of the head, but during the round he finally started to connect with a few shots and had his best moments in the fight, doing enough to redress the point reduction on the judges’ score cards.
That theme continued in the sixth as the toll of holding off such a huge adversary began to tell on Cunningham, who was still out boxing his opponent.
In the seventh Fury finally cornered Cunningham and connected with some powerful uppercuts that hurt Cunningham and forced him onto the ropes.
Fury seemed to use his left arm to tee up Cunningham for a right hook that floored the American, who did not beat the count with 2:55 gone in the round. At the time of the knockout, Cunningham was ahead 57-55 on two judges’ cards while the other card was even, 56-56.
Fury made no excuses about his performance after the fight. “Nothing went to game plan, my game plan went out the window and I turned it into a dog fight. I roughed it up a little. The dogfighter came out of me on the night,” he said.
Of his unscheduled trip to the canvas, Fury was characteristically blunt.
“I got caught with a shot. It’s part of boxing. You get caught, you get back up and you have a fight. Simple as that. You either get out and be a bitch or you fight on like a man,” he said.
The absence of Peter Fury, Tyson’s uncle and trainer – who was reportedly unable to enter the U.S. because of visa issues – was a significant factor, as his promoter Mick Hennessy told the Irish Voice after the fight.
“With Peter, he sticks to the game plan. Tyson has got a tendency to just want to get involved in fights,” said Hennessy.
“Peter has taken that out of him. He made him stick to game plans, made him box and made him disciplined. I think it was apparent tonight that there was no discipline early doors.”
Fury the trainer took to Twitter to vent his frustration at his nephew’s showing on the night.
“Tyson is temperamental and needs guidance otherwise [he] goes in to fight,” he tweeted after the fight, and in a later update added: “That wasn't him last night I give it two out of 10 to what he can do.”
Fury went on to say in later tweets that Tyson could be back in action in July in an IBF eliminator with Kubrat Pulev.
For his part, Cunningham gave props to his opponent but did question some of his tactics.
“His size is his advantage. He did what was supposed to do and that is be the big man,” Cunningham said.
“I saw the highlights and there was a lot of elbows and holding, especially at the knockdown or knockout or whatever. He held me up with his forearm and he punched me. That is illegal.”
There is no doubt that Fury is a consummate entertainer. From dancing between rounds to serenading the crowd and NBC viewers with his rendition of Rickey Van Shelton’s “Keep it Between The Lines" after the fight, he is colorful, brash and exciting.
Fury showed great heart to pick himself up off the canvas and grind out the win, but he did not wow boxing fans with his skill inside the squared circle. Fighting a smaller, faster fighter might not have suited Fury.
“If Tyson is disciplined and sticks to his game plan he is a very, very special fighter,” said Hennessy.
“Tyson prefers to fight bigger fighters, taller fighters as he gets his shots off better. The Klitschkos are a perfect size for him.”
Neither Klitschko will be unduly worried about the threat posed by Fury based on Saturday’s performance, but if the fighter can overcome Pulev in his next fight, he will earn a tilt at Wladimir’s IBF title.
For Hennessy, though his man did not fight the fight they wanted, Fury still showed that he can put on a spectacle.
“This game needs a bit of show business, it needs a bit of entertainment. The heavyweight division has needed an injection in the arm for a long time and it just got it with Tyson Fury,” he said.
Earlier on the undercard, Fury’s cousin, heavyweight Hughie Fury (2-0, 2 KOs), scored a first round TKO over Alex Rozma, ending affairs with 2:26 gone in the first stanza.