PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Philadelphia native Steve Cunningham has been yearning to get back in the ring for years now following his last fight against Andrew Tabiti in August of 2017. In just two weeks, he gets that chance, returning to the squared circle for a heavyweight bout against former MMA champion Frank Mir as part of Triller Fight Club’s Jake Paul vs. Ben Askren card on Saturday, April 17.
The 44-year-old Cunningham took the fight on short notice after Antonio Tarver had to pull out of the event. As Cunningham told CBS Local’s Ryan Mayer, the short notice wasn’t a problem because his retire to return has kept him in the gym with his fighters at USS Fight Academy in Pittsburgh staying ready.READ MORE: Shooting Inside Lancaster's Park City Center Mall Leaves Some Employees Feeling 'Not Exactly Safe'
“I’ve been attempting to get back in the ring since 2018, my last fight was in 2017. We took time to open our gym, USS Fight Academy out here in Pittsburgh. So we wanted to take some time eight months to a year off,” said Cunningham. “By that time I was contacting my agent and said, ‘Listen, I want to do a couple more fights before I retire.’ We had a few fights that were scheduled but then fell through in 2018 and 2019. Then 2020 hit and that shut everything down. This fight, I got the call, I’ve been in the gym I train fighters, I spar with fighters, I still have that fire in me. And we get this call and it’s like, hey opportunity knocks. I was raised as a boxer in a way of saying stay ready so you never have to get ready.”
The fight is an intriguing one because it marks Mir’s first foray into boxing after an illustrious career in the MMA world which included two reigns as the UFC heavyweight champion. Cunningham knows that Mir’s size and his background in MMA makes him an opponent not to be taken lightly.
“There’s certain ways to fight a big guy. The plus for him is, he’s an MMA guy and they fight different than boxers. I’ve fought MMA guys before and it’s a little different because they throw different combinations. It’s a different flow until I get that rhythm,” said Cunningham. “But, the negative for him is, he’s a novice at boxing. But, like I said in the press conference, he’s a two-time champion. He’s a warrior and there’s a line there warrior and then champion. He’s both of those. So he knows how to get in there and push and try to make something happen.”READ MORE: WATCH: Dozens Of People Riding Dirt Bikes, ATVs In Philadelphia's Holmesburg Section
“His drive, his determination as a champion, that is dangerous in itself,” continued Cunningham. “He knows how to try to figure out and get out of an uncomfortable situation. That plays in this whole thing as danger for me because I’m going to put him in some dangerous spots, some uncomfortable spots. And we’re going to adapt off of each other and work.”
That all said, the goal for Cunningham is a simple one.
“My goal is to win, period,” said Cunningham.
While the goal is to win and then figure out future fights after, the opportunity to return to the ring is not one that Cunningham is taking for granted.
“It means everything because I didn’t want to go out on the last fight as a loss that we thought we won it just leaves a sour taste,” said Cunningham. “And it’s also, they’re billing this as MMA vs. boxing so I’m like hey I’ll carry that flag and represent my sport. Represent what I love. I’ve been boxing 20 years and represent it with all my heart and have fun doing it. And much respect to Frank Mir, like I said, he’s a two time champion, he’s a warrior. But, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose.”MORE NEWS: 'Everyone Was In Pure Panic': Good Samaritans Rush To Shooting Victims' Aid At Park City Center Mall
More information on the April 17 card and tuning in to watch Cunningham fight can be found on TrillerFightClub.com.