Saturday, March 25, 2023  |


Steve Cunningham, Vyacheslav Glazkov turning hardship into hunger

Vyacheslav Glazkov (R) throws a right at Darnell Wilson during their heavyweight fight in November 2014. Glazkov stopped Wilson in the seventh round. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP-Getty Images.

Vyacheslav Glazkov (R) throws a right at Darnell Wilson during their heavyweight fight in November 2014. Glazkov stopped Wilson in the seventh round. Photo by Don Emmert/AFP-Getty Images.


It is common to hear fighters vowing to “go to war” against each other in the ring, but very few of them have seen war up close and personal in the way these two fighters have seen it.

Vyacheslav “Czar” Glazkov (19-0-1, 12 KO), a native of Ukraine, had to endure from a distance the loss of his grandmother in a street bombing during the ongoing confrontation between his country and Russia. And Steve “USS” Cunningham (28-6-0, 13 KO) had his share of armed conflict in his four-year tenure in the U.S. Navy, only to return home and face a personal battle to keep one of his children in good health after a heartbreaking initial diagnosis.

Now, they both seem inspired by their personal hardships and are ready to face each other in a do-or-die battle of their own as they clash for a chance to become the mandatory contender for Wladimir Klitschko’s IBF heavyweight belt. They will be fighting on March 14 on the undercard of the Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal light heavyweight title fight at the Bell Centre in Montreal, televised on HBO World Championship Boxing.

“It was pretty hard in the beginning,” said Glazkov during a conference call on Thursday, referring to the unrest in Ukraine during some of his most recent bouts and training camps. “It was upsetting my concentration and interrupting my training. I lost my grandmother. It was always distracting to talk with my family back there. Right now I am concentrated 100 percent and I am here, I am training, I am ready.”

Cunningham’s trainer, Naazim Richardson, thinks that the timing for this fight benefits his prot├®g├® instead.

It is an opportunity, but also a test. He’s moving to heavyweight and fighting his third undefeated heavyweight in a row. And that speaks for itself, taking all those challenges in that order. So we look forward to this test,” said Richardson, who is credited by Steve Cunningham v Enad Licina - IBF Cruiserweight FightCunningham as the “commander” in his own personal quest to take over the heavyweight division.

“He is such a mad scientist when it comes to figuring guys out,” says Cunningham. “He is one of the best trainers in the world for a reason. He looks at the fighter and he tells me what we are going to do, here’s what we’re going to work for. So it is still like I am in the military taking orders. Whatever Commander Naazim tells me to do, if he tells me to go take that hill, I am going to take that hill the way he tells me to do it. That’s the faith and the trust I have in my team.”

After a few unwise changes in his chain of command, Glazkov made a call to his old mentor to keep him focused and devote his services to him in a way that his last few trainers had failed to do.

“We are trying to work on his strategy”, said Egis Klimas, manager and translator for Glazkov. “He never had a good teacher. He always had trainers. He was at one time with Don Turner, which I think is one of the best trainers. But [Glazkov was] always in Ukraine. He comes here and Don can’t change him in the two weeks before the fight, it’s impossible. So then we went to John David Jackson, but he was away with Sergey (Kovalev) preparing for (Jean) Pascal, so Jackson cannot pay attention. So this time we brought his old trainer. They know each other from Russia. [He is] working with him in Oxnard getting good sparring and a longer preparation time.”

Glazkov seemed to feel the connection immediately, and hopes that the results will become evident in his next bout.

“Everything is going very well. We are closer together. We understand each other. He sees a lot of my mistakes and we are working on them,” said Glazkov, who is currently rated No. 7 at heavyweight by THE RING, about his trainer, Victor Petrochenko. And according to Klimas, this is not the only reunion that has brought the much needed peace and stability that the fighter needs during this troubled time in his native country.

“Glazkov moved to the United States with his family, his wife, and [has] already lived [there] for more than six months. He is not coming back and forth anymore”, said Klimas, who nevertheless insists that now that his personal situation is settled, Glazkov needs to focus his energy in a change of mentality.

Vyacheslav Glazkov v Derric RossyI was talking to [Glazkov] about being too nice of a guy in the ring. We are trying to put him where he has to be mean in the ring. No matter how good you are when you get in the ring you gotta be mean. You have to be aggressive. That is what we have been working on in the last few months.”

Cunningham has a plan that involves a more controlled aggressiveness.

If Naazim says spin backwards and flip three times and that is what is going to knock Glazkov out, that is what Steve Cunningham is going to do,” said Cunningham, pledging total allegiance to his trainer’s methods once again. “I let Naazim look at the guy and analyze and break him down. He comes to the gym and tells me what we need to work on. Every fighter needs a game plan.”

Cunningham especially needs one, as he has carried an additional burden in his mind during almost his entire career. But he feels his ordeal has inspired him in ways that he himself wouldn’t have been able to achieve on his own.

“My daughter is nine years old,” said Cunningham of his child, Kennedy, who recently underwent a life-saving heart transplant to correct a congenital defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. “I have been traveling all over the world while I have been dealing with this. This is my life. I have been a two-time world champion with this in my life for nine years. I do the same thing that I’ve been doing: I use it as energy. I use it as fuel and I press on. I have three children, not just Kennedy, so I have to provide for my entire family.”

Kennedy’s way of coping with her illness may very well have inspired Cunningham to think that an assault on the heavyweight division by such a small fighter (by today’s standards) has the same chances of success that any other fighter may have.

Since she had her transplant I’ve seen her do things that would make grown men shake in their bones, but she takes them on with a smirk on her face and says, ‘Let’s go!'” said Cunningham. “I do remember that look on her face going down to the transplant and I have visited that look in my memory when times have gotten hard in training camp. If she can go in there and get a transplant with that much heart, then me going into these fights is nothing.”

As challenging as their personal situations may be, the ultimate game plan for both fighters is a possible confrontation with heavyweight champion Klitschko, a plan for which they should summon all of their strengths.

I’d love to face Wladimir,” said Cunningham. “I am a fighter, and if you put a challenge in front of me, that is a force that I can’t even explain. If I get to face Wladimir, if you beat the man, then you are considered the man. Going up against Wladimir would be like a dream come true. I am an old-school fighter’s fighter. I want to be put into a challenge where people think Cunningham can’t make it out and then get in there and do stuff and have people looking at me sideways when the fight is over. I want people saying, ‘This dude is crazy.'”

Glazkov, though equally enthusiastic, seems more cautious about his chances of facing Klitschko within this year.

That’s what I am training for, fighting for the heavyweight title. When it’s going to be? I don’t know.”