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Steve Cunningham stops Natu Visinia after seven rounds

19
Oct

 

Steve Cunningham (R) and Natu Visinia weigh in for their Oct. 18 heavyweight bout in Philadelphia. Photo by Rich Graessle - Main Events.

Steve Cunningham (R) and Natu Visinia weigh in for their Oct. 18 heavyweight bout in Philadelphia. Photo by Rich Graessle – Main Events.

PHILADELPHIA – Standing next to each other, it was like a wide receiver against a nose tackle. That was the eye-test disparity between Steve Cunningham, the sleek 205-pound receiver in this case, and Natu Visinia, the rotund 278-pound nose tackle.

Size has never mattered to Cunningham, though. The 38-year-old former two-time IBF cruiserweight world champion would take on Godzilla if they could find gloves large enough. Visinia wasn’t exactly Godzilla, but he did have a glossy 10-0 record with eight knockouts against a who’s who of nobodies, along with a rock-hard head and granite chin.

NBC Sports Net’s “Fight Night” at Philadelphia’s newly renovated 2300 Arena would be Visinia’s grandest step on largest stage to date.



But his 73-pound difference made little difference. Cunningham chopped up the game, but raw Visinia with a 7th-round TKO when Visinia’s corner decided to stop it. Visinia’s face was a tender crimson mask by the time Cunningham was done with it, and there were large blotches of blood splashed all over Visinia’s blue and white trunks.

It marked the first time Cunningham (28-6, 13 knockouts) stopped an opponent since he regained the IFB cruiserweight title when he beat Troy Ross with a 4th-round TKO in June 2010, on a cut. You’d have to peel back even further when “USS” stopped a fighter, beating Marco Huck with a 12th-round TKO in December 2007.

Cunningham’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, kept imploring him to use his legs and make the slower, plodding Visinia work. By the third, Visinia’s upper left cheek was beginning to swell, as was his left eye from homing Cunningham jabs. But Visinia (10-1, 8 KOs) closed the third with a right that stunned Cunningham, and had him grabbing his left cheek with his glove.

Visinia, his mouth agape, looked like a vampire in the fourth, with blood dripping from his lower lip.

But the fight seemed to veer off slightly in Visinia’s favor in the fifth, when referee Gary Rosato ruled a knockdown. It looked like a slip, when a grazing punch barely caught Cunningham on the shoulder and sent him down off balance.

“There’s only been a few times in my career when I was hit by a punch and it was like whamÔÇöand with him being so big, I could feel his punches,” Cunningham said of Visinia. “He’s a heavy hitter. The knockdown, I was off balance, but it was the force behind his punches. Give him his due.”

In the sixth, Cunningham seized back control with a huge right that stunned Visinia, momentarily wobbling him, opening up the seventh, which was all Cunningham. His right hand was sore from hitting Visinia’s head.

“I kept hitting him, hitting him, and it was like hitting a rock,” Cunningham said. “I opened up on him up a few times, but I could see his output (dropping) from the first round, when I was stabbing to the body. Then there were points when I was in front of him and he didn’t attempt anything. I was thinking they could stop this on the stool.”

In the co-featured bout, Edner Cherry made fast, easy work out of late replacement Osumanu Akaba (31-7-1, 24 KOs), stopping him in the second round of what was supposed to be a 10-round junior lightweight co-feature. All it featured was Cherry (33-6-2, 17 KOs) showing his dominance over a C-level opponent. Akaba traded briefly with Cherry in the first, but the separation in class between the two fighters became apparent by the second.

A Cherry left hook led to the first of three knockdowns, courtesy of three left hooks, in the second. Akaba, who was replacing the injured Jerry Belmontes after he hurt his right wrist during training, should have stayed down after the first knockdown. But he didn’t.

Cherry was all over Akaba, registering two more knockdowns before referee Shawn Clark stepped in and mercifully called it over at 2:15 of the second.

“This meant a whole lot, I think it put me right back on the map,” Cherry said. “I tried to get busy and work on my rankings to get better and bigger fights. I’m a fighter and whoever they put in front of me, I want to be prepared. I’ll leave everything in the future up to my promoter, J Russell Peltz, and we’ll get together and get it done.”

What Cherry actually gained from this is anyone’s guess.

But Cherry’s trainer, Dan Birmingham, made a valid point.

“Let’s get the champs to fight us, we’re calling anybody out in the 130-pound division,” Birmingham said. “All three knockdowns were all three left hooks. We needed the work and we needed Edner to be seen on TV and the fans to see him. I think his stock went up.”

In a mild surprise, DeCarlo Perez (13-3-1, 5 KOs) stopped Philly’s Tyrone Brunson (22-3-1, 21 knockouts) in the fifth round of a scheduled 8-round middleweight fight.

Buoyed by a groundswell of local support, Brunson seemed to have Perez in some trouble in the second round, pounding away with a flurry of shots in the corner. But Perez bore up under the storm, and Brunson looked as if he punched himself out. In the second half of the second round, it was Perez coming at Brunson. But Perez couldn’t take advantage and Brunson escaped without any damage being done for the risk he took.

In the third, Brunson regained some of his stamina. He became the stalker. And just when it looked as if Brunson would be okay, Perez hurt with a right, and nailed him with a few more rights. After three, Brunson was up 30-28, but was leaking gas.

By the fourth, Brunson was robotic and slow. After four, it was evenÔÇöthe momentum in Perez’s favor. By the fifth, Brunson was backing up, leaning up against the ropes. Brunson’s work rate had decreased considerably since the opening two rounds, and when Perez caught Brunson with a right uppercut, that spelled the beginning of the end for the hometown favorite.

Taking a close look, his face inches away from Perez’s attack, referee Shawn Clark finally saw enough, creased his way between the two fighters and waved it over at 2:29 of the fifth round.

“This was the biggest win of my career,” said Perez, 23. “I’m very proud of myself, because I took great shots in the second round. I showed the referee that I was okay, and I proved to myself that I can be resilient. The thing for next time is to never put myself in that situation again. Once he shot his load in the second round, I saw his pace slow down.”

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