Fury gets off Madison Square Garden floor to gain a knockout victory over Cunningham
Mancunian boxer takes his record to 21-0 and is now nearing a shot at a world title fight
Tyson Fury lands a left hook on Steve Cunningham.
Even for Madison Square Garden, which has hosted all kind of dramas sporting and absurd, it has to a first that even as the first round of the NBA play-offs between the Knicks and the Boston Celtics were taking place in the main arena, one of the tallest men in the building wasn’t even on the basketball court.
“All I showed was the heart: the dog in me to fight,” Fury said late on Saturday afternoon, leaning his huge frame against a ring side table after the lights had dimmed and the theatre staff were stripping the tape off the ropes.
And it was true that his American debut, complete with a national NBC broadcast and the obligatory “Ahh-let’s-get-ready-to-rummmmmble” introduction from the ever-dapper announcer Mike Buffer, made him look like a curiosity more than a champion-elect: cartoonish, menacing, stubborn, wily and, as his opponent marvelled afterwards, very, very big.
“The guy is 6ft 9ins,” Cunningham said, as if nobody had noticed.
“ And he is a giant.”
The contrast between the pair could not have been greater; Cunningham a neat and agile cruiserweight trying to make his way in the heavier division while Fury is a massive specimen, a long-limbed at 6ft 9ins and shrinking the ring as he sought out the Philadelphian with an early series of punishing, no frills jab.
Things went wrong
But almost from the beginning, things went wrong. It didn’t help that Fury’s coach and uncle, Peter Fury, was not at ringside because visa problems had prevented him from travelling.
In his absence, Fury seemed a little caught up in the adrenalin of the afternoon and was punished when caught cold with a terrifically swift and disguised right hook from Cunningham 18 seconds into the second round.
The sound of his frame crashing against the deck travelled around the arena, followed by a thrilled surge of excitement from the American support.
“The guy is a good boxer but he is not a good dog fighter and I am so I brought him into a dog fight,” Fury said of his response.
“I take my hat off to him but he lost to a better man on the night. There is no shame in losing. When you get caught like that, you don’t really think about anything. You just get up. It is a part of boxing: you get caught, you go down, get up and have a fight.”
For the remainder of the second, Fury looked distinctly wobbly on those stalks of legs of his. For a worrying minute, humiliation seemed the most likely outcome of the afternoon as his shorts, which might serve better as a circus tent, slipped below his padding and seemed in danger of falling down. Several times the big Mancunian tried to scoop them back up with his glove he as he evaded the fizzing shots through which Cunningham tried to score what would have been an expected career win.
But Fury survived. He did so in a perversely cocky way. He concluded the first round by shoving Cunningham in the chest seconds after the bell had sounded and was fortunate not to be deducted a point.
The referee’s patience had snapped by round five and he had a point deducted for head-butting. In between rounds, Fury danced in time to the music and lifted the crowd and when he produced what was his best round, he returned to his corner with his arms aloft.
Even when Cunningham was besting him in the exchanges, Fury dropped his gloves and taunted him. The showmanship was a distraction but it might have been futile but for the huge punch 55 seconds into the seventh round which brought a sudden end to the fight. For once, Fury had managed to trap the smaller man against the ropes and landed two heavy punches to the American’s head and then followed him right towards Cunningham’s corner before landing the definitive blow.
And he did appear to almost tee Cunningham’s head up, pressing his left forearm against the American’s neck even as he wound up with the big sledgehammer right. It lifted Cunningham off his feet and all of a sudden he looked his 36 years as he attempted to sit up, bleary eyed and alone now, before lying onto his back again. Fury danced a jig of triumph around the ring, which was soon filled with his brothers and supporters.
Afterwards, Cunningham, now in the closing laps of a respectable career, was judicious in his appraisal of the 24 year old.
“He is a good fighter. But his size is his advantage. There was a lot of elbows. Even his knockdown – he held me up with his forearm and punched me. That’s illegal.
“But he did it. He used his size – put all his weight on me. We attempted to get away. But that was his tactic. I’m 210lbs. He is 250lbs and I am sure he is more so if he couldn’t do a bit of damage to me, then like he said beforehand, the guy should retire.”
And the American shook his head when asked about Fury’s claim that is the heavyweight champion elect. “Nah, he is not the best fighter in the world. I don’t think so. You look at the tape – all the fouls and elbows.
The dude . . . no disrespect, he's a good fighter. I thought he did it dirtily. But whatever. He knew he couldn’t box me so he went and took it to the alleyway.”
And now the boulevard is opening up for Tyson Fury.