Former world cruiserweight champion Steve (USS) Cunningham is known almost as much for his good work outside the ring as he is for his prowess inside the squared circle.
The Philadelphia native has used his position as a top-ranked boxer to champion a number of good causes, including the prevention of dog-fighting and childhood obesity.
His latest cause will be keeping his nose from being rearranged on his face.
For all of his success in pro boxing, Cunningham (22-2, 11 KOs) will have his work cut out for him on June 5 when he meets Brampton's Troy Ross for the vacant world IBF cruiserweight title (under 200 pounds).
Ross' promotor, Yvon Michel, closed the deal on Thursday morning. And while Michel was originally hoping to bring the fight to Montreal (via a winning purse bid), the former Canadian amateur team head coach said the deal to fight Cunningham in Neubrandenburg, Germany on June 5 is a good one for all involved. Cunningham was originally supposed to fight Matt Godfrey for the vacant title on March 26, but that bout fell apart and, after Godfrey dropped in the rankings, Ross, ranked No. 3 by the IBF, became the next leading available contender.
"In Germany, it will be an even playing field since Cunningham is from the U.S. and Troy is from Canada, so the crowd will not be on one side or the other and the judges won't have any favouritism either. I'm very, very confident. Troy knows what is at stake. He knows Cunningham, and he'll be ready for it," Michel said. "And Troy gets almost the same money as the winning purse bid between Cunningham and Godrey."
Ross has been waiting for the title shot, seemingly, forever. Once one of Canada's best amateur fighters, a winner of numerous international tournaments and a two-time Olympian, the personable boxer was largely ignored after he turned pro following a disappointing performance at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Only once has the Brampton native fought as a pro in his home province, and that was in his third fight, nine years ago. Despite an excellent record (23-1, 16 KOs) and explosive power, Ross seemed to be destined for journeyman status.
"The problem he had was ... the stature of the cruiserweight division in America, well, it's not very popular. And because of all his qualities as a fighter -- he's left-handed, he can punch -- he has speed, he was never going to be invited in an optional title defence," Michel said.
In other words, Ross was too good for his own good.
So Ross, 34, devoted much of his time to outside interests, including his clothing line (Ross Wear) and an acting career. He has had significant roles in a number of major Hollywood movies, including the 2005 boxing flick Cinderella Man, in which Russell Crowe starred as world heavyweight champion James J. Braddock.
'HAD TO PAY BILLS'
"I had to pay the bills somehow," Ross said. "But it was frustrating. I fought for the Canadian title and won it (an eight round TKO over Claudio Rasco) and I expected doors to open. But nothing happened."
The Rasco bout was in May, 2005, and Ross didn't fight again until January, 2007. The tide finally turned in his favour when he joined the boxing reality TV show The Contender in 2008. After winning three straight, Ross then met Nigerian fighter Ehinomen Ehikhamenor in the final in February, 2009 and won by a fourth-round TKO.
That win earned him not only a six-figure pay cheque, but some notoriety. Since winning The Contender, Ross has won two straight fights, including a first-round knockout over Daniel Bispo at Casino Montreal on Dec.5.
Michel said arrangements have been made for Ross to travel to Europe more than two weeks prior to his fight. Ross and the Groupe Yvon Michel team will head to Paris on May 20 in advance of a May 28 bout in Hauts-de-Seine between Ross' stablemate Antonin Decarie and Souleymane M'baye for the interim WBA welterweight title. After that, they'll head to Berlin for two days and then on to Neubrandenburg.
"We'll be there early enough so there won't be any jetlag and they'll be good sparring and training," Michel said.
"I feel great, this has been a long time coming," said Ross, who will give up a four-inch height advantage to the 6-foot-3 Cunningham. "It's going to be like chopping down a tree. But I'm used to fighting taller guys. My whole career has been fighting taller guys."