The Boxing Esq. Podcast, Ep. 32: Kevin Cunningham
The Ring is proud to present “The Boxing Esq. Podcast with Kurt Emhoff”. Emhoff, an attorney based in New York City, is a top boxing manager who has represented over 10 world champions in his 20-plus years in the sport.
His guest on this podcast is world-class trainer and manager Kevin Cunningham. They discussed Kevin’s establishment of a world-class training camp in West Palm Beach. They further discussed Kevin’s work with junior middleweight contender Erickson Lubin, WBA super featherweight champion Gervonta Davis and Adrian Broner.
Additionally, they spoke of Kevin’s relationship with former junior welterweight and welterweight champion Devon Alexander and where it’s at today.
Below are a few excerpts from the interview:
On his training camp set up in West Palm Beach:
“I moved down here about three years ago and set up camp. I mean in South Florida, athletes, not just boxers, you got football, basketball, baseball, MMA, everybody’s down here training. The weather is like 80 degrees in January – it’s all year round great weather. It’s the home of the fitness gyms. All of these strength and conditioning gurus and fitness centers, they’re everywhere in South Florida. Some of the best athletes in the world are down here training in South Florida. St. Louis is my home, always will be home. But I mean, a lot of guys wanted to work with me, but who really wants to go to St. Louis for training camp, you know what I mean?
So, me and my wife got to a point to where we wanted to probably retire in South Florida eventually. So I just decided, let’s go ahead and make the move. I’ll set up the gym and set up camp. I’ve been blessed to have a really great strength coach. He works with a lot of the major league baseball players and NFL players. We got together and hit it off really well. He has a private time for just my fighters and he gives them undivided attention and he’s really got these guys getting a lot stronger and explosive. So, I got the gym and the lab for teaching skills and technique and boxing training. You know, I’ve got that down pat. But now, it’s a beautiful thing and it’s a blessing to have a guy like Ed (the strength coach), who has a multimillion dollar facility. He’s one of the best at what he does in getting guys to be more explosive and having the strength and the power without losing the speed. He’s got that all figured it out to a T and you just see the results in all the fighters that we’re working with.
So we got the whole kit and caboodle. Everything that a fighter would need when he’s training and getting ready for a big fight. If he wants to come to camp and have it run professionally and have a good chance. I think we got everything that any fighter would want in a training center.”
On working with Gervonta Davis:
“I thought he looked great (when he trained with Kevin for the Jesus Cuellar fight). I mean he came to camp and we had to get the weight off of him and that was no problem. He was a pleasure to work with too. He wasn’t a problem. He came down and got with the program and kept the weight off. Got sharp. What I realized about Gervonta was, watching him fight, you just see a guy that’s aggressive and has great power. And I’ve even been a (television) commentator on one or two of his fights. And when I watched him on the outside looking in, I see a guy that has a lot of aggression. He’s aggressive.
It’s almost like he had the mentality of he’s so focused on taking this guy out that he was getting hit with shots that he shouldn’t get hit with. So when he came to camp, I didn’t realize that he had the skill set that he had. You know, because the fights that I’ve seen him fight, he’s just so busy going after guys that I’ve seen where he could be a little sharper on the defensive side. So, I felt like there was some fundamental skillset things that probably needed to be worked on with him. But when I got him in camp and started working with him – it was like he could do it all. Everything I worked with him on or showed him, he was right there. He caught on. He’s just really a lot more talented than what I saw initially. So I was really impressed and that was a pleasure to be able to work with a guy like that. Because I’m real deep into teaching fundamentals and skillsets. I worked with him, he’s a natural puncher, so I didn’t wait on working on punching power with him. I worked on being aggressive, but having smart aggression and being a little more slicker in there and being a little more clever. And he just picked it up. And you make the statement that he looked sharper than he’s looked in most of his fights in that fight. We worked on a lot of things and he went out and displayed it.
So, I was really pleased with that. He asked me to work with him for that fight. I guess he was going through some things back home. You know, so I worked with him for that fight and it was a pleasure. He decided to go back home and get back with his old coach and whatnot and I wish him nothing but the best. It was a pleasure working with him and he’s a really talented kid.”
On Erickson Lubin being rushed into his title challenge with Jermell Charlo:
“Here’s the thing – that was a fight that a 21-year-old kid with 18 fights should’ve never been in. And I’m not saying he couldn’t have beaten Charlo. But I’m saying from a managerial and guiding your fighter in the right direction – that’s just a fight I wouldn’t have put him in at that particular time. From a monetary standpoint, the money wasn’t (big) money. For that type of fight, he didn’t make any serious money. If you just wanted to get your young fighter a title, I mean you could’ve found somebody else a little longer in the tooth. You get him with a strap. You got Charlo with a strap. Erickson keeps growing and maturing and developing over here and moving up the ladder. And Charlo keeps winning and then they can get together and make some real money. That could have been a really big fight. But that thing was just rushed and rushed into that particular fight.
I speak to this because I have the experience to speak to it. But that’s a prime example of, you know, you got some people in boxing that really don’t know shit about boxing. But they’re in it because they got money. Involved with fighters and don’t have a clue. When you got that type of situation going, that fighter can get put into a situation that he has no business being in. And that’s what happened to Erickson Lubin.
What was the rush? What was the rush?
I don’t even think he fought any former world champion. Usually, you get a couple of older former world champion guys that are skilled and talented enough. But like I said, they’re long in the tooth and the youth will prevail but they’ll give you a stern enough test where the guy can develop and learn. You know what I’m saying? And when he came to me and asked me would I consider training him, I didn’t even hesitate because I just felt when it happened, I told everybody before the fight happened, I’m like, why are they rushing this kid? This kid shouldn’t be in this fight right now.”
On what’s next for Erickson Lubin:
“We got the announcement coming up soon. We’re looking at a few guys and they were talking about Dennis Hogan. But I don’t know if that’s going to happen. So we got to see if that’s the fight that Showtime wants to make and that’s what we’re waiting on. I think this fight we’re fighting in is a WBC final eliminator. So we will definitely be getting one of the champions after this next fight.”
On how he sees the welterweight division:
“You know you got the Boogeyman (Errol Spence) at 47 and then you got everybody else. Well, I should say you got the Boogeyman and Terence Crawford and then you’ve got everybody else. The reason why I don’t put Pac(quiao) in there with everybody else because I don’t think he wants to see the Boogeyman or Terence Crawford.
You ain’t going to get Terence Crawford because of the Top Rank thing. You know what I’m saying? He’s across the street with Top Rank. So that probably ain’t happening. And, I don’t think he had any interest in fighting Terence Crawford anyway, or he’d of stayed with Top Rank. I know that Pacquiao and Sean Gibbons are smart enough to know better than to go anywhere near Errol Spence.”
On his current relationship with former world champion Devon Alexander:
“Well, like you said, Devon is like my son. You know, I love him just like he’s my son. But the situation with Devon in the last three, three and a half years, I’ve noticed there was something going on, not right with Devon. His situation was well-documented. He fell victim to being addicted to opioids, painkillers. He almost OD’ed and all of that stuff was well-documented and talked about and everything. We went through the whole rehab process and I moved to Florida. I brought him down to Florida, had him down here for like eight months to get him turned around and straightened out and he dealt with the rehab thing and how we brought him back.
He had his comeback fight (with Walter Castillo). He looked good in that fight. Al (Haymon) got us the Victor Ortiz fight. But I just noticed when he went home from that first comeback fight and he came back to camp for the Victor Ortiz fight because Al wanted to bring him right back and he did bring them back. So Devon went home for like a month and a half. Then when he came back to camp, he came back like 36, 37 pounds overweight – within just a month and a half. That’s just, I mean, you gotta be kidding me. Like I said I raised him, he’s been with me since he was seven years old. I just noticed in camp and I didn’t want to start thinking, you know . . . but so we went on and did the camp.
We had our camp, did our thing and went out and fought Victor. Thought we beat Victor. They called it a draw because he faded in the last four rounds. I thought he won seven rounds clearly, it wasn’t even close. But you know, the judges scored it a draw, it was what it was. So, we got the Berto fight. So I’m like this, this is the fight Devon’s been wanting for a while and I wanted the fight because you know, Berto’s a friend and we’ve known Berto for years but Berto ain’t Berto no more. You know, Berto knows that he’s at the end of his career. This is a guy that if you got your shit together, you should dominate Berto and you’re right back in the mix to fight Thurman, Spence and Danny Garcia, you know, a multi-million dollar fight. You know, just take care of Berto.
I just started noticing, Devon just, I’m saying to myself, something’s not right. It’s just not right. Like I’m back in the same boat again when I eventually found out about the opioid addiction. So we fought Berto, he looked to me, he just didn’t look like himself. He looked like a shell of himself. He should have dominated Berto, but you know, Berto won a close fight. But Devon just didn’t look like himself at all. I just made up in my mind – I sat in the dressing room and you know, his family, he has a beautiful young family, his kids are crying, devastated and whatnot. And I say, you know what, my gut and I have a sense for knowing when something’s not right. And I was just, personally I feel like I don’t know if he’s fallen off the wagon and he’s back doing the opioids. I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right and I care about it too much to put him in a boxing ring. When I’m walking him to the ring, knowing that my fighter is not right. I just can’t. You got a lot of trainers, they don’t give a shit enough. Just get him to the ring, get paid, blah blah blah. With me, I don’t roll like that, so if I don’t feel right about the situation, I remove myself. So, I just thought about it for a while.
A couple of months after the fight, I had a conversation with Devon. I said, look man, you just don’t look like yourself anymore. You know what I’m saying? And I don’t want to see you get hurt. And I think it’s time to start looking to come up with an exit strategy. I got people in City Hall, powerful people back in St Louis. (They can) pick up the phone and they’ll make whatever happen, happen. . . I made a call to sort of really high profile politician. They had a position for him. It’s kind of in the field that Devon likes. He kind of likes the city politics stuff.
So they were going to put him in a nice prestigious position. They just wanted him to come down and do the application process. Well, he never showed up. So like autumn, I called him a couple of times and said hey man they were still there waiting on you to come down to do that and he never responded back to me. So, you know, I’m training fighters and he’s at home. He’s back in St. Louis and I’m in Florida, I’m training fighters and I hadn’t heard anything. I got a text from him. He said you know what, I’ve just thought about it. I want to continue on with my career, so I’m gonna move on and try to work with somebody else. I appreciate everything you did for me, this, that, and the other. I texted him back. I said, okay, good luck and wish you the best with all that and be careful. Next thing I know, I seen a press release that whoever these people he’s working with, they put out a press release and he’s working with Roy Jones. So that’s how it went.”